Closing the gaps in marketing – Tuesday, April 14, 2009 – Mary Teresa Bitti, Financial Post

Matt Daigle and Elizabeth-Anne McCleave are, well, thrilled. The University of New Brunswick MBA students have just won two Volkswagen Golfs thanks to the ad campaign they created to promote Volkswagen’s new Routan. More important than the prize — perhaps the richest of any university competition in Canada — is the exposure it has given them.

Canada’s Next Top Ad Executive, a national competition for marketing and advertising university students, offers the opportunity to develop a real-world marketing campaign for a real-life company. It was designed to help bring participants, academia and industry together and places the top 10 teams front and centre with top ad agency CEOs and industry executives.

Now in its third year, Canada’s Next Top Ad Executive competition was conceived and is hosted by the DeGroote School of Business at Mc-Master University. Teams were initially required to develop both an elevator pitch and a strategy document. Mr. Daigle and Ms. McCleave, who were one of two groups who made it to the top 10 from the University of New Brunswick, learned of the competition just one week before the elevator pitch was due.

“The advertising world is new to me and the competition piqu ed my interest,” says Ms. McCleave, whose major is entrepreneurship. “The idea to build a campaign for Volkswagen was an awesome opportunity. What drew me to it was the creative aspect. We started brainstorming and came up with a great idea that we felt meshed well with Volkswagen’s current campaign. It was creative, out of the box, catchy, memorable… we really believed in our idea. That’s what pushed us to go further and further.”

Volkswagen and the 20-some industry judges agreed. And the winning pitch will be included in the company’s campaign to promote the Routan — although the details are hush-hush at this point.

“It’s surreal,” says Ms. McCleave, who would like to own her own company in the marketing and advertising field one day.

“I wanted to have that experience of working in advertising so this was the perfect opportunity. I’m a huge car buff and Volkswagen has always been my favourite car company. Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted a Golf, so when I saw this was for Volkswagen, I was so excited.”

Far more attractive than the prospect of winning a car, though, Ms. Mc-Cleave says, was the opportunity to meet industry leaders. And that, says Mandeep Malik, professor of marketing strategy and sales management at DeGroote School of Business, and the man behind the competition, is a key element of the program.

“The nature of business education is changing; there is a need for it to change,” Mr. Malik says. “I started teaching here in 2000 and very quickly realized business schools don’t have labs. Their students can’t experiment and see the results of their experiments and build their confidence in terms of trust in what they are taught in the classroom — that it actually works in practice.”

There was another, more pressing issue: the gaps in the marketing curriculum Canada-wide. “If you were to do a snapshot of what the marketing industry is and what the different functions are and you try and overlay what business students are taught, you find there is a huge mismatch,” Prof. Malik says. “The curriculum is severely lacking.”

In 2006, Mr. Malik surveyed some 50 business schools across the country and found only seven offered an introductory course in advertising and marketing communication.

“With the lack of familiarity with this critical marketing function people are not exposed to the career opportunities in this particular field,” he says.

So he set himself the task of designing a way to bring the major stakeholders together; namely, industry and students. “Ad agencies are working in hyper competitive environment. They recruit from universities. They want well-educated, highly qualified candidates who can represent them credibly. It seemed like a great opportunity to seize upon for students, universities and industry,” Prof. Malik says.

And they have done just that. This year, the competition received 143 qualified submissions from 37 business schools across the country. That’s up from 41 submissions in its first year.

“The response from students is completely beyond our expectations,” Prof. Malik says. “The key issue in marketing is talent acquisition and retention. Where do we get the best talent? This program is helping with that.”

Financial Post