For the past 90 years, the Tennessee Valley Fair has been delighting fairgoers in the Southeast. For the past four years, it has been learning a trick or two from a group of students in a senior-level integrated marketing class in the College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to interact with the University of Tennessee and College of Business Administration and get great ideas and feedback from what people see from outside the fair,” said Scott Suchomski, fair director.
For a semester, the class divides into teams and the fair becomes their marketing client.
“We give the students tickets to come out to the fair,” explained Suchomski. “We encourage them to come out multiple times. We pretty much give free reign on the fair grounds. They can survey and talk to fairgoers. My staff is available all the time for them.”
The teams work hard to devise the most comprehensive marketing strategy. It is a win/win situation. Fair officials get a fresh perspective.
“Over the past four years we picked up some great ideas,” said Suchomski. “It was after one of the class presentations where they emphasized the need for a change in the logo that we put our heads back together and came up with the new logo that premiered last year in 2009.”
The students, instead of the usual classroom simulation, get real-world experience.
“This is the first class that I took at UT where we had a client, where we had to talk to people, where we had to look at prices, where we had to really take in what it is to be the owner of the Tennessee Valley Fair, what it is to be a client of the Tennessee Valley Fair, and how to make the relationship between the two jive,” shared senior Steven Johnson.
After months of analysis, the student teams compile their campaigns – complete with unique television commercials, surveys and fair entertainment line-ups –and pitch their proposals to the client.
And the client listens intently and treats the students as if they are real business professionals.
“It’s always nerve racking,” said senior Julia Taylor. “You’re always self-conscious of how the client is going to respect your ideas.”
But respect, they do. Fair officials attribute many successes to recommendations of the students such as the new logo, an internship program and a social media campaign. Many of the students attribute this classroom experience to their first real marketing gig out of college.
“This class is definitely one of the most real-world experiences I have ever had the opportunity to take,” said Taylor. “I definitely think it has prepared me for a lot of real-life situations I am going to have to deal with.”
The class was taught by marketing lecturer Phyllis Bishop under the mentorship of marketing lecturer Cindy Raines, who has taught the course for more than 15 years.