Nonprofit Iris House unveils new advertising campaign created by team of Rutgers Flex MBA students

When Rutgers Business School instructor Tyrha Lindsey gave the MBA students in her advertising and promotion course an assignment to create an integrated marketing plan last summer, she wanted them to approach it as if it were a real project rather just classwork they had to do for a grade.

"When MBA students have to do something for a living client, they take it more seriously,” said Lindsey, a second year doctoral student at Rutgers who has 14 years of experience in marketing and communications.   

Instructor and Ph.d student Tyrha Lindsey with Brian O'Brien and David Spiegel, two of the four Rutgers Flex MBA students whose ad campaign will be used by Iris House.

The strategy worked even better than Lindsey might have imagined. Iris House, a non-profit agency that assists women infected and affected by HIV and provides educational as well as testing services, decided to use a marketing plan developed by one of her student teams to help mark its 20th anniversary. The agency formally unveiled a new marketing campaign during a luncheon on Feb. 7, which is National Black HIV/AIDs Awareness Day.   

Students Brian O’Brien, David Spiegel, Chinelo Ray and Joshua Sanders produced a marketing plan that hit different target groups and use a combination of print, radio and social media advertising to raise more awareness about Iris House and its work. Sanders and Ray are students in the Rutgers part-time MBA Program. O’Brien, who focused his studies on marketing and strategy, and Spiegel, who concentrated his MBA in marketing, completed the Flex (or part-time) MBA Program in December.

"We knew if we could come up with something good, we could have a real impact,” O’Brien said. “People assume HIV has been cured because there’s not so much news about it, but there’s still a lot of work that is happening around it.”

The students spoke with executives and staff at the Iris House several times over the telephone to learn more about the agency’s mission and the assistance it provides. O’Brien said the conversations and the team’s own brain-storming sessions resulted in them positioning Iris House as "the experts” to all of their

target markets – women in need of their assistance as well as prospective donors and volunteers.

"We had a lot of discussion and we brought different perspectives,” Spiegel said of the team. One thing stuck with the team though that helped to mold their work, he said: Iris House focused on life. It wasn’t about managing the end of life or treating the disease.

"We decided the way to differentiate them was by saying, we’re here to be part of your life,” Spiegel said. "Then we came around to the idea of them as experts.”

The students developed three versions of the campaign based on different budget levels. The campaign – "How to Save a Life” – uses images of actual Iris House members to raise awareness of Iris House and its mission. Black and white images are combined with the words, “How to Save a Life. It starts with Kindness.” and “How to Save a Life. Courage Required.” to convey messages about the services offered by Iris House to women and teen-agers struggling with a new HIV diagnosis and their extended family members who are trying to cope.    

When the students presented their campaigns in class in August, Ingrid Floyd, the executive director of Iris House, was sitting among the audience. It wasn’t until months later, though, that the students learned Iris House planned to use their work. Lindsey, who included Iris House among some small businesses students could choose from, sits on the board of directors of Iris House.

"I had no clue of what we would get from the students,” Floyd said recently. "I was very pleased. The campaign is something we can use to get the word out about what we do.”

Iris House intends to use the students’ work for a print campaign and posters and to support its social media marketing efforts. In the future, Floyd said she hopes to use a marketing plan presented by a second group of students in Lindsey’s class.

Spiegel said the assignment was more meaningful because the team had a real client with a good cause. But the decision by Iris House to use the campaign made the experience more rewarding to the entire team.

"We were shocked -- in a good way," said Sanders, who is concentrating his MBA on supply chain management.

Lindsey was also relishing the fact that the project had worked to give the students the challenge and experience of creating an integrated marketing plan – and one that would be put into use. “It’s nice to see their work is being recognized,” she said.    

"With advertising, you don’t get it until you do it,” Lindsey said. “People think it’s so easy, but if it (the plan) is not in alignment with the business’s goals, it’s just a creative exercise.”

-Susan Todd

TAGS: Flex MBA Marketing MBA Nonprofit PhD Supply Chain Management