AMA Team Qualifies for Organization's Case Competition Finals

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By: DANA FEUER

A group of marketing management students is taking great pride in becoming one of 10 top American Marketing Association team in the country selected to present a real-world proposal aimed at solving an international corporation’s marketing challenges at the organization's national conference.

Before the fall 2017 quarter began, dozens of students applied to Professor Gregg Arends’ IBM 499 class where the Northwestern alumnus and senior marketing consultant would help prepare them for the 2018 American Marketing Association Collegiate Case Competition.

For 30 years running, the AMA competition asks students from its 370 affiliated campuses nationwide to develop a marketing strategy for a real company with working marketing problems. This year, Mary Kay won the bid and called on students to help brand towards a younger target audience.

In total, 10 students were hand-picked by IBM faculty to spend the quarter preparing a proposal for Mary Kay and the AMA judges. The group was still floating from the news their proposal made the cut when the CBA had a chance to get their reactions and overall demeanor as they become the first Cal Poly Pomona team ever to accomplish the feat.

Grendha Ramos, AMA Club Co-Director of Recruitment, Junior
David Lutrell, Senior
Jay Singh, AMA Club Vice President of External Affairs, Senior
Brianna Davis, AMA Club Director of Communications, Senior
Melissa Corrales, AMA Club Director of Graphic Design, Senior
Gabriel Black, AMA Co-director of Recruitment, Senior
Jason Martinez, AMA Director of Community Services, Senior
Cesar Hernandez, Senior
Dania Montez, Senior
Maria De Los Angeles, AMA Director of Fundraising, Senior

CBA: What will the competition be like in New Orleans, how are you preparing, and what is your biggest hope for the finals?

Professor Arends: In New Orleans, the team will be presenting directly to the client. There will be representatives from the Mary Kay headquarters marketing team and a few jurors from AMA national organization.

We can make small changes to the strategy but, ultimately, the work we have to do right now is to convert the written presentation into a multimedia presentation. We have got to think of ways to bring these strategies to life.

Grendha: The goal is to win! I want our presentation to show our passion and hard work. I have grown as a person through this process and I want our presentation to convey that.

Arends: From a professor’s point of view, I hope that our team making it this far shows something to people who don’t think much of state schools when it comes to high-level, national competitions. Win or lose, this is an opportunity to showcase that our best students can compete with the best students of the Ivy League.

Our students are willing to put in this much work to turn out a really good marketing product - that shows employers that they can take our graduates seriously. My goal is to show that Cal Poly Pomona is a force to be reckoned with in marketing.

(Turns to the students) I mean that, sincerely. You guys have really impressed me.

Gabriel: We are going to win. But it is about more than the win. It is about putting Cal Poly Pomona on the map as a premier marketing program.

As upperclassmen and many of you executive board members of CPP AMA, did you guys have an idea of how this experience was going to be?

Grendha: There was a lot of learning things as we went along. Being on the quarter system and less experienced in the competition came with disadvantages; we started meeting as a team later than most schools and we have a much smaller team of students and advisors than most teams.

We are making a comeback. Last year’s team really struggled. For us, making it to the top 10 has been a great comeback and I hope that we keep this momentum going moving forward.

Tell us about some of the struggles or challenges you had as a team throughout this experience.

Maria: This is probably the hardest thing that I have ever done. I have worked in other places where I have delegated transactional work but it was nothing like this. Here, you are dealing with people and you have to take into account people’s emotions, work ethics, and workloads when delegating to them. Everything was for the sake of getting work done on a given day.

There are so many different personalities and work ethics in this team. You have to get along with your team for ten weeks while critiquing them and telling them what they did good or bad. That stuff gets personal - not to mention that we didn’t get much sleep that last couple of days before the deadline.

Arends: The deadline for the written submittal was during finals week so everyone had their hands full with plenty of other projects and exams, and yet, they still stuck it through - that was really tough. Taking this competition seriously made a big difference in how much they were able to accomplish. It would have been easy to give up in the last week.

Also, Maria was a unique group member in that she had background in the area. She was a great moving force in the group.

Maria:  I think that the main flaw that our team had was not making deadlines we set up along the way seriously enough. If we had to do this again, we would need to be sterner about having adequate material for all our checkpoints along the way.

That sounds like a “learn by doing” experience. Describe some of the strongest points in your proposal for Mary Kay.

Jay: We don’t want to give it away before the competition!

Brianna: I will tell you this: there was one class period that we had that I like to call our “breakthrough day”. We were all talking and going way over-time, as usual, until things just suddenly clicked and we were all the same page and knew exactly where we were going from that point on. I remember this day so vividly because I even went home that night and said, “we made a breakthrough tonight… this thing is really going somewhere.”

(The group laughs, and off-the-record exchanges occur)

Okay, let’s not get into the specifics of your strategy. Can you describe some of the impactful steps you took or moments you had during the development phase?

David: The best tool we had was our open communication. Bouncing ideas off of each other and being receptive to hear different ideas - good or bad - was what led us to our best ideas.

Arends: The students did amazing primary research to set a good foundation for the case. The research was qualitative and quantitative, which really helped us understand what was or wasn’t really working right now for Mary Kay on younger women.

Grendha: We were able to sit in on Mary Kay parties and a meeting of women who sell Mary Kay products and their directors. That was extremely informative. Being able to immerse ourselves into the brand allowed us to understand it better.

We met some very successful women from Mary Kay and got some insight to fuel the question of how we can sell this dream to other, younger women. The potential to inspire young women to overcome hurdles in the hopes of becoming successful businesswomen made this case very real for me.

Brianna: We couldn’t alter their method of distribution, the hierarchy of their sales, or how they pitch ideas. We stayed within the constraints but we definitely pushed on them a little bit. We addressed things such as how, why, where, and when the Mary Kay parties would happen to make it more comfortable and more successful with the younger age group.

I feel like I’ve been thinking about Mary Kay all the time. It was only a 2-unit class, four hours per week, but it has become a seven day a week project. Some of my teammates even became beauty consultants!

David: As a male, I was intimidated to go into those meetings but to my surprise, the Mary Kay office in Montclair was very welcoming, humble, and ready to answer a lot of the questions we had so I am very appreciative of that.

Jay: I had a great party experience - I ended up getting a facial.

(5 minutes of laughing followed by two more to regain composure)

Do you think that your accomplishment is making an impact on your peers?

Jason: Our team shows the power that we can have as a marketing school. I hope to motivate other students and show that we are studying in school has real-world applications and impacts.

Gabriel:  In the past few months we have gone into marketing classes to present what we are doing and encourage people to apply next year. It has been a great source of pride to be introduced by professors as the first team in Cal Poly Pomona history to go on the AMA national stage. You see students faces changing the moment that is spoken out loud.

It is sending a message that you can differentiate yourself - through AMA or any other means. We are ten miscellaneous students from different backgrounds who applied for this class, we stuck through some hard times in this experience, and we made it to the finals. We are a real story of the underdogs who made it.

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