By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney students are getting some real-world marketing experience while helping promote a Kearney business.
The advertising campaigns class taught by Sonja Bickford teamed up with the Nebraska School of Martial Arts for the collaborative project.
Bickford, an assistant professor in the department of communication, has been taking taekwondo lessons through the martial arts school for more than a year and realized the business could use some assistance with a marketing plan to boost enrollment.
She reached out to owner John Cahill, who was more than willing to work with Bickford and her team of talented students.
“It just sounded like a natural way to go,” said Cahill, whose business at 3811 Second Ave. offers martial arts, self-defense and leadership training.
Bickford views the partnership as a way to give her students an applied lesson that goes beyond textbooks and case studies. By operating like an actual advertising agency, they’ll learn the skills needed to enter the workforce after graduation.
At the same time, she said, the project strengthens the university’s connection to the community and shows the outside world what students here are capable of.
“I think it’s showcasing what the students learn in the class,” said Bickford, adding that the experience could lead to internships or job offers for students down the road.
While Bickford is quite familiar with the Nebraska School of Martial Arts, many of her students weren’t, so the first step in the marketing process was hands-on research.
To get a better feel for their client, the eight-member advertising campaigns class took a self-defense course with the school’s head instructor and met with Cahill to learn more about the business.
“As far as I could tell, they all enjoyed it very much,” Cahill said of the training.
For Madeline Maloley, a UNK senior from Omaha, it was her first experience with martial arts, making the project both exciting and nerve-racking.
“Understanding the terminology makes it daunting, because it’s a new field, it’s a different industry,” she said.
This is part of the challenge Bickford wanted to present so students learn how to adapt to various clients.
“That’s hopefully something they can take with them as part of work experience,” Bickford said.
The project, which started in early January, came with few limitations. Students’ marketing plans can incorporate a range of advertising, including print, radio and television, as well as social media. They also get to choose which demographic to target since the martial arts school offers something for all ages.
“It was kind of a clean slate when we came to them,” said Rachel Smith, a UNK senior from Papillion.
Smith, a marketing intern at USA Communications, believes the collaboration with the Nebraska School of Martial Arts adds value to the advertising campaigns class since students will get to see what the client likes and how their work is utilized.
“I think this is a really good thing to have a class do, especially since it’s in the real world,” she said.
Bickford considers the partnership a win-win since her students can help promote a local business while bolstering their own portfolios.
Each student will create their own marketing plan and pitch before they undergo peer reviews in the classroom. The final proposals will be presented around April, when Cahill will decide which components to move forward with.
“We’re all focusing on a little bit different topic. It will be interesting to bring them all together,” said Maloley, who is interning with the communications and marketing department at UNK.
Cahill, who has operated the Nebraska School of Martial Arts for 13 years, already selected the student-generated tagline “You’ll gain more than just a belt” for his business and these social media hashtags: #BeABetterTou, #YesICan and #Gain the strength to achieve.