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Wednesday, 30 July 2014 13:24

Win-win scenario for college MHC students/local businesses

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Marketing some southeast Alberta businesses as well as the Medicine Hat Library is not only helping showcase the clients, but has proven invaluable for the four Medicine Hat College business students involved.

Angela Duren, Sarah Lynn Friesen, Joel Higgins, and Nikayla MacNaughton were hired as part of a Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) project called the Small Business Work Term. All are business administration students except Friesen whose area of study is visual communications.
The individuals were paired up to work on specific businesses. While they were inexperienced as students, Higgins says the participating business owners were easy to work with and they were able to generate some good plans while garnering invaluable experience.
“They were looking for another opinion, and generally were really open to ideas,” explains Higgins in a July 22 interview. The marketing intern adds, “they don’t have any preconceived notions of the program and they were hoping to get ideas out of it ... we’ve been able to give them to tools to market and sold them the foundation of (i.e.) brand creation.
“(For the students) There was not much time to prepare for it. No one knew what the program was going to look like. And now, look what we have done.”
MacNaughton says the students worked hard at accounting for the business’s products, looking at all of the details involved and deciding what brand to work.
The students say while it’s not necessarily a financial burden to hire advertising experts, the problem a lot of small business owners face is staffing. They don’t have the time to do in-depth marketing because they themselves are tied so directly to the business operations. They often don’t have enough staff and experience to effectively promote themselves in today’s marketplace.
“They’re spread so thin as it is,” adds Friesen.
The pilot program is the result of a business retention and expansion research project started three years ago by Medicine Hat College business instructors and lead researchers Miranda Davies and Jon Sookocheff. 
The pioneer project is a result of findings from a business survey done by the Alberta government which was meant to study the needs of small business owners in southeast Alberta to get some help spreading their business messages.
“One of the key findings from the business retention and expansion survey is that small business owners need help becoming more strategic with their operations,” explained Davies, in February. “However, many small business owners lack the resources needed to execute strategic plans.”
According to the college, thanks to a partnership between MHC’s division of business and enterprise and the Alberta Rural Development Network, companies from Medicine Hat needed to invest only $500 to $1,000 towards hiring a student from April 28 to Aug. 15. An open house was held Feb. 6 looking for interested parties.
As a result of that meeting there were businesses who showed some interest.
One of those businesses included McBride’s Bakery who have a new logo and sign on their storefront, but as well have an increased social media presence on Twitter and have a loyalty card which has helped sales.
The students say they worked with the owners of McBride’s by focusing on what they wanted — to emphasize their experience and loyalty to the community. MacNaughton says they hired a photographer to assist them too.
The Medicine Hat Public Library is also part of the program. Library officials have also noticeably increased their social media exposure and pushed a membership drive.
Sookocheff was happy to see how the program progressed.
“The business owners ... they have different challenges — not enough time, not enough resources and maybe lacking in financial literacy ... in order to work with marketing and advertising. They’re spread too thin,” explains Sookocheff, noting the idea stems from similar programs in the United States.
Sookocheff emphasizes they did not want to replace professional advertising agencies, but they just wanted to be able to show businesses how effective marketing can be while getting the students invaluable experience.
The project seems to have had the desired effect. When the program was initially launched, Davies had said they were hopeful this could spread to businesses and organizations in surrounding counties and communities including Brooks and Bow Island.
As well, Higgins and Sookocheff say if this is successful, other colleges will look at doing similar programs in their communities. Grand Prairie Regional College is apparently particularly interested.
Friesen was grateful for the project and what she was able to garner from it.
“I was hired on for the project (as a visual communications student),” explains Friesen. “It was great to be able to generate the idea and follow it through soup to nut. (I) was able to create three identities. It was the extra curricular co-operation stuff, hearing about their ideas, talking about it and then doing something — it made it real.”
Duren enjoyed the client management aspect and watching the protocol and how campaigns unfolded behind the scenes.
“For me, it (proved) we can actually do it. (We) can create an ad campaign for companies,” says Higgins. “The majority if the businesses kept telling us we were exceeding their expectations.”

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Ryan Dahlman

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