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Union MBA students offer strategic plans for Millington Civic Center

JACKSON, Tenn.April 5, 2010 – As instructor of the Strategic Marketing class in Union University Germantown’s Master of Business Administration program, Kevin Westbrook knew there had to be a better way.

His students traditionally worked on developing marketing plans for companies based upon cases contained in a textbook. The students worked hard, came up with compelling plans and turned them in for a grade. And that was it.

But in recent months, Westbrook, associate professor of marketing, has come up with a more creative, hands-on approach that allows his students to get real-world experience by working with actual clients. Local non-profit groups – such as the Millington Civic Center -- are beginning to reap the rewards.

The city of Millington purchased a facility from Millington First Baptist Church with intent to transform it into a civic center that would be a vibrant part of community life. City leaders envisioned the facility serving as a site for community programs, weddings, plays, concerts, church services, children’s events and a host of other activities.

The building, however, was in need of major repairs, and the local leaders have struggled to bring all the plans to full implementation.

“It’s just been a burden financially for them,” Westbrook said. “They’ve lost a lot of money.”

In fact, the civic center was expected to lose over $200,000 in the city’s 2010 budget.

Enter Westbrook’s Strategic Marketing class. Millington Mayor Richard Hodges approached Westbrook and asked if the class could write a strategic plan for turning the civic center’s fortunes around. Westbrook agreed and divided the class into four groups.

“Each team was told to attack the problems as if they were an independent for-profit consulting group, and as if one would be selected to handle the account for the city,” Westbrook said. Therefore, he prohibited collaboration across teams.

The mayor took the students on a tour of the facility and told them about why the civic center was necessary in Millington. The students heard a presentation about the center’s past financial performance, sales strategies and future plans.

Then the students got to work doing research, developing goals, determining action plans and assessing environmental, political, economic and legal factors. One student even attended a bridal fair at the civic center as a mystery shopper to learn how the center promoted itself as a wedding venue.

At the end of eight weeks, on the final night of the class, Hodges and Todd Goode, the marketing and programs manager for the Millington Arts and Recreation Department, came and listened as each team took about 45 minutes to present its marketing plan. Among the ideas presented were long-term leasing to an academic institution, new pricing strategies, introduction of a café and coffee bar, hiring of a sales coordinator, creation of a Web site and upgrades to the facility. One group developed a working Web site with more than 200 screens, including an application for rentals using PayPal. Each group gave the mayor a copy of its presentation and marketing plan.

Hodges was delighted with the results.

“This plan is amazing and there is no way we could afford to pay someone to put together a plan like this,” he told the Commercial Appeal. “We are going to have to take baby steps, but now we have a plan to work with.”

Westbrook said the experience was invaluable for his students. It harnessed their creativity, knowledge and skill base, while at the same time allowing them to provide a service for a community entity in need.

“I got nine e-mails beyond the evaluations from students saying this was the best thing they had done in the MBA program, because it was a real project for a real client,” Westbrook said.

“This was a great class to get exposure to marketing principles and full hands on experience of building a business plan,” said Steven Matthies, a student in the class. “In my line of work, we make recommendations that require plans all of the time. This was a big help. I appreciate the opportunity and hope we were able to help someone else with our work.”

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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