Tuesday, January 17, 2023

by Tom Snee

Building Iowa communities is an annual tradition for Tippie College of Business marketing students.

In recent years, they’ve helped Sioux City increase the number of residents who recycle, a coalition of western Iowa governments bring attention to their outdoor recreational opportunities, and developed a strategic marketing plan for Muscatine to rebrand itself.

The efforts come from the Marketing Institute, a consulting service offered by Tippie that gives 40 marketing students opportunities to help real-life clients solve marketing challenges while gaining experience with the tools they’ll need in their careers. Students learn to research and gather data, conduct surveys and focus groups, develop plans and ideas that meet client specifications, and effectively communicate their findings and proposals, along with other critical skills.

Most engagements are with businesses in the Midwest, but they make sure to work with at least one Iowa community each year. Peggy Stover, associate professor of practice and Marketing Institute director, said the engagements provide learning opportunities for marketing majors considering careers outside of the private business sector.

peggy stover
Peggy Stover

“For students who want to work for a nonprofit, or a government or public agency—which is vastly different than working for a for-profit business—this gives them experience that will support their career directions,” she said.

She also said it’s one more way the University of Iowa can help the state solve its challenges.

“It’s important to give back to the state and provide value to those we serve,” she said. “So many people in these communities have told us how grateful they are for our work.”

For instance, in 2014, institute students surveyed people who worked in Muscatine but didn’t live there. The city was engaged in a broader project to see why so many people who worked for one of the corporations based in the city chose to live elsewhere and commute. The survey and focus group responses showed those employees felt Muscatine lacked entertainment options, retail stores, good housing, and other amenities.

“Community leaders saw the results and acknowledged Muscatine had a perception problem due to a lack of infrastructure,” she said. Since then, leaders have begun a rebranding initiative to change public perceptions of the city, following up on the students’ suggestion to develop and better market the city’s historic downtown and adjacent Mississippi River for recreational, shopping, and dining options.

“We were pleased to see a client so willing to acknowledge our students’ work and act on it,” Stover said.

Other local governments and public agencies Marketing Institute students have worked with over the years, include:

  • City of Washington
  • City of Maquoketa
  • City of Sioux City
  • City of Bellevue
  • City of Sabula
  • City of Preston
  • City of Mason City
  • Waterloo Public Library
  • University of Iowa Energy Collaborative
  • University of Iowa and Grinnell Distance Education Program
  • Des Moines County Conservation Group
  • Johnson County Iowa Food Policy Council
  • Dubuque Travel and Visitors Center
  • Webster County/Boone Forks Recreation Area

This year, the institute is working on two projects with public entities. One is through the University of Iowa’s Iowa Institute for Sustainable Communities (IISC) to make the city of Clinton, Iowa a more sustainable place to live and work. Founded in 2009, the IISC partners with a small- or medium-sized city in Iowa every year, connecting it with UI faculty to help become more sustainable. More than 100 faculty members and students will work with Clinton leaders, focusing on local needs and opportunities in public art, housing, water management, local history, sustainability, urban planning, and more.

Stover says the Marketing Institute works frequently with the IISC and calls it a “dream partner.” This year, institute students will survey Clinton residents as they did in Muscatine to determine public perceptions of the city so leaders can identify strengths they can build on and weaknesses that need shoring up.

The students are also working with the Sioux City-based Western Iowa Regents Resource Center (WIRRC), a collaboration between Iowa’s public universities and four community colleges to improve higher education access to students in western Iowa. The organization provides academic counseling and other assistance to students who attend community colleges in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Creston, and Sheldon so they can seamlessly transfer to the University of Iowa or another Iowa regents’ university.

Stover said WIRRC needs to increase its visibility so that more students are aware that help is available in transferring to the state universities. Institute students will put together a communications plan and strategic marketing plan to aid its visibility.

Students begin work on the projects at the start of each school year in August and finish the following April with a presentation of their findings and proposals to the clients.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (o); 319-541-8434 (c); tom-snee@uiowa.edu