In June 2013, I spent 4-weeks in China with 10 of my top Strategic Communication students from the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. We were not the average, run of the mill study abroad program; we were thrown into a real world, real work and high intensity experience. I work as a branding expert and serve as the Harrison/Omnicom Professor of Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) at WVU and as a Visiting Professor at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS), in the Peoples Republic of China. As somebody who is not academic by profession, I instead developed my expertise by helping to position and launch 200 brands in 70 categories over the past 23 years through my positioning consultancy, CenterBrain Partners. I have been fortunate enough to work with global brands and household names such as Huggies, KFC, HSBC, Bridgestone and Fruit of the Loom.
In 2012, I was invited to teach for five weeks at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) in Guangzhou, China. It was at this time that I started to think about how I could build a program that would expand the knowledge of global branding and integrated marketing communication (IMC) among WVU’s and GDUF’s Strategic Communication majors. These majors are the brand and advertising managers of the future; they need global perspective. The outline of my program consisted of:
- A 5-day intense course of study in branding and integrated marketing communication (IMC)
with a combined group of Chinese and American students.
- Practical application of classroom skills through nightly field study in Chinese retail markets.
- An IMC internship for WVU students in Chinese companies.
In late 2012, I began to coordinate an exchange with my colleagues at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS). Most importantly, I started to sell the idea of a China exchange to WVU strategic communication majors. I marketed the exchange to the Martin-Hall Agency, a student led integrated marketing communications agency, which I helped a group of students to establish in 2011.
The agency gives students real-world experience as they work with national, regional and local clients on real projects for real money. Despite the exchange not being fully planned at this point, my entrepreneurial background pushed me to sell and build the idea concurrently; I like to get something right up to the point where it is ready to sell, and then de-bug it as we move towards the launch.
This is a common approach in app development. Many WVU students don’t have experience with foreign travel and China is a long way from Morgantown, so I knew that positioning the exchange would be critical. I turned to a tried and true approach: exclusivity. I offered the exchange only to the top students and made it clear that the selection process would be brutal, with only the best of the best invited to go.
This approach tends to surface Type A personalities; the competitive, the self-assured, and those not easily discouraged. This personality is exactly what you need to make it in China for four weeks, especially when most of what you will be experiencing is new, sometimes strange, and frequently flat out hard. To my amazement, 10 students expressed interest and passed muster. I had planned on 5 students maximum, so I had to make a quick assessment as to whether I could manage 10. My gut said yes, and it proved to be right.
Ultimately, what we’ve built is a new brand of global exchange, one that my students and I believe is a new standard. Most importantly, China is paving the way to good jobs for our students. This year’s group has even developed a logo for the exchange, which I am pleased to unveil now.