NY Campaign program challenges strategic communication students to pitch marketing campaigns at major New York City ad agency

New York program students at VMLY&R

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (Feb. 16, 2023) — Twenty-one strategic communication students from the Missouri School of Journalism traveled over Winter Break to New York City, where they created and pitched marketing campaigns for a real client of global agency VMLY&R. The program was a new venture for the School of Journalism’s New York Program, which also offers students semester-long professional development in the city each fall, spring, and summer.

Co-led by Reuben Stern, BJ ’93, MA ’16, director of the New York Program, and international consultant Sandy Kornberg, BJ ’64, the NY Campaign program allowed students to experience what it’s like to work in a top-tier professional agency environment at one of VMLY&R’s principal offices in its global network. It also provided valuable exposure to working professionals and recruiters for students who will soon take the next step in their careers.

“We are continuing to expand the hands-on, Missouri Method opportunities available to students, and this program really highlights the impact of the School’s industry connections on those opportunities,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School of Journalism. “This is a challenging and deeply rewarding experience that students will carry with them for a long time.”

The students were split into three teams. Over the course of two weeks, each team created a comprehensive pitch for a marketing campaign for a longtime VMLY&R technology client. The students conducted extensive research and provided strategic analysis, sample ads, and a media plan. On the final day the teams presented their work in formal pitch presentations to client representatives and executives from VMLY&R. The client chose one team as the winner.

“While there was only one ‘winner’, our client was incredibly impressed with all three teams,” said Ann Carey, VMLY&R executive director of client engagement. “Each team provided insights about college-age consumers our client will leverage going forward.”

“It’s a really accelerated, intensive sprint for the students to put all of this together in a very short amount of time,” Stern added.

For senior Madalyn Murry, who led the winning team, the program was an ideal opportunity to lay the foundation for her career goals while putting the skills she honed in the classroom into practice.

When I started my senior year, I kind of had a little freakout — I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go into the real world.‘ This experience really made me think, ‘I’m going to be okay.’ I’m fully prepared.

Madalyn Murry

“Living in New York and specifically working for VMLY&R has been a dream of mine for a while, so this felt like a very concrete first step to achieving that goal long-term,” Murry said. “It was incredibly impactful — I already knew I was in the right spot with strategic communication, but this really gave me my first opportunity to lead a team, showcase leadership skills and learn how to manage and operate a successful team.”

At seven members, her team was smaller than the typical capstone team at the School’s student-staffed professional ad agency, MOJO Ad, which performs similar work over the course of a semester. This heightened the challenge further but also helped the students quickly bond within their teams.

“I didn’t know anybody going into the program, and the people on my team became some of my closest friends,” Murry added. “I guess that happens when you spend eight-plus hours a day with people for two weeks straight.”

The challenge of developing a campaign pitch for a real client in New York City was stimulating enough by any standard, but by all accounts, the program’s partnership with VMLY&R set a new standard for providing students with a constant stream of rare opportunities in line with the School’s Missouri Method of learning by doing.

The students met with the agency’s global CEO, Jon Cook — himself a School of Journalism alum — and enjoyed generous access to staff across a variety of disciplines both for help with their projects and for personal professional development. In general, the students were welcomed as if they were employees of the agency, a level of cooperation that left Stern and Kornberg overjoyed.

“Working with VMLY&R was just an unbelievably satisfying experience to me,” said Kornberg, a former Missouri Honor Medalist who has been involved in leading the School’s study abroad programs in Prague, Tokyo and Hong Kong for many years. “They gave us every single thing we could have ever wanted and more, and they made it a most pleasant experience for the students, who completely and totally blew the client away with the results of their presentations.”

The collaboration with VMLY&R built off an existing partnership between the agency and the Novak Leadership Institute to support leadership development opportunities for students, including visits to the agency’s Kansas City flagship office. Expanding that relationship to impact more students is already paying dividends.

“When I started my senior year, I kind of had a little freakout — I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go into the real world,’” Murry said. “This experience really made me think, ‘I’m going to be okay.’ I’m fully prepared. We are doing high level work that both a global agency and a global business can appreciate. The Missouri Method works.”

Updated: February 23, 2023

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