By Sofiya Ballin
Stacey Harpster’s class was huddled around a Subaru Impreza parked outside of Annenberg Hall one afternoon this semester, learning as much as they could about the car and its brand. The students took turns behind the wheel, dove under the hood and soaked in all the information they could from Subaru Product Launch Specialist William Stokes. What they learned that day would be the groundwork for their final project.
“Advertising Campaigns,” the department’s capstone course for senior advertising majors, brings the ad agency experience to the classroom. Students take what they have learned in theory and apply it to a real-world client.
Harpster, assistant professor of advertising, secures a different client for each section she teaches. This semester, her students have been tasked with building a fully integrated advertising campaign around Subaru and The Fairmount Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to improve Philadelphia’s green spaces.
“I work with the client to see what they want the challenge to be for the students and we figure out a budget,” says Harpster. “The client comes in and debriefs the students on their brand and the challenge.”
Students must conduct research, develop strategies to create the ideal campaign and find a niche market for their brand. They must select modes of distribution, write creative briefs and execute a creative campaign. At the end of the semester, they present their campaign to Harpster, representatives from the client and Michael Maynard, chair of the Department of Advertising.
“The clients have provided feedback sharing that the students’ pitches have exceeded their expectations for college level work and that they were impressed,” Harpster adds.
The class has been divided into groups of six with the same budget. For Subaru, the budget is $50 million. The Fairmount Park Conservancy campaigns get $75,000. Each group is made up of an account director, account planner, media planner, copywriter and art director. It takes the effort of the entire group to win over the client.
The Fairmount Park Conservancy gave students a tour showcasing different parks around the Philadelphia region and Subaru’s national advertising manager, Brian Cavallucci, spoke to the class to give students a concrete idea of his company’s brand.
“We’re getting industry professionals in our classes,” Harpster says. “Students are getting face-to-face contact with these industry professionals and they are able to build relationships.”
Having direct contact with the product and a company representative has proven quite helpful to the students. Brian Cavallucci, Subaru’s national advertising manager, was one of the representatives that came to speak with the class.
“There is no replacement for real world experience,” Cavallucci says. “The project Professor Harpster gave her students gives them the opportunity to work on a project that is set up to represent the way an agency would handle a project for a real client.”
Student Annie Aime said this was her first experience working directly with a company representative.
“It’s typically someone from an ad agency talking about a client, never the actual client,” she says. “It’s challenging, but in a good way, because I’m learning more in-depth things about the business world and these challenges are prepping me for the real world.”
Past clients have included Tastykake and Pep Boys; Harpster makes it a point to remain local and to secure both for-profit and non-profit clients.
“We’re bridging the students to the outside world, from academia to industry,” Harpster says. “It really does model what happens in the advertising world as closely as you possibly can in a classroom. They’re going through all the stages of research, planning a project and coming up with a pitch just like you would at an agency.”
As the students worked to figure out the theme at the core of their campaigns, many admitted to feeling a mix of nerves and excitement.
“This is one big experience giving us a better idea of what to expect after college,” student Steve Brydzinski says.