And no other marketing students know how to describe a cup of coffee like Tennessee Tech University's marketing club. The club recently beat out more than 67 schools in an international competition sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts.
Entering the contest was no run-of-the-mill class project. Dunkin' Donuts, the largest coffee and baked goods chain in the world, sent top executives to judge the competition and now owns the rights to work produced by the students.
Tennessee Tech received top honors, including $2,500, for developing a comprehensive marketing plan to introduce a new blend of coffee. What they asked the students to market was a "green" or environmentally-friendly coffee meeting three criteria: it is shade grown (to avoid clear-cutting), grown without pesticides, and originates in a market that uses fair trade practices.
"Some of the schools we competed against have more than 400 students and 20 faculty members in marketing," said Karl Mann, club adviser and Tennessee Tech marketing professor. "We win because we have talented students, we give them quality guidance and they are exposed to professional, real-world experiences and opportunities."
Tennessee Tech defeated finalists including the University of South Carolina, Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin
"More people and greater resources are not as important as good thinking," said Art Johnsen, COO of Nashville's Bohan Carden, and Cherry advertising agency, who helped the club prepare for the competition.
"The team did well for a number of reasons," Johnsen said "Their written case was well thought out and complete. They rehearsed and modified their presentation many times so they were comfortable and poised. And finally, they wanted to win - I told them to expect to win - because they had a big idea."
Mann enlisted Johnsen's assistance while working with him on the Nashville Advertising Federation's education committee. For several years Mann has been adamant about giving students opportunities to learn and work with advertising professionals in his classes and in the classes of TTU marketing professors Don Weinrach and Julie Pharr.
TTU's marketing club has taken advantage of the opportunities and grown from six members to more than 100 under Mann's guidance. They earned the title of Top Regional Chapter in the South last year and were runner-up for International Chapter of the Year. They also won top spots for Outstanding Community service, Outstanding Chapter Communications and Best Marketing Week.
"Good ad agencies are full of creative problem solvers; their ideas are relevant and differentiating," Mann said. "This is what our team did. They creatively solved the problem that Dunkin' Donuts gave them."
Johnsen says Tennessee Tech follows the wisdom that opening the classroom and other student activities to business people who are qualified and have an interest in supporting the faculty gives students the best of the classroom and the workplace.
A member of the team, Melissa Dunn, agrees that her classroom experience and attitude were valuable.
"We were well prepared, but most of all we wanted, and expected, to win," said Dunn. "We each stayed within our area of expertise and entrusted different parts of the presentation to the students who could do them the best."
Dunn says she and fellow students credit their success to the regular interaction with advertising and marketing professionals. Groups of students travel to Nashville each month to network; marketing professors invite guest speakers on a regular basis, and students participate in the glamour of the annual regional Addy Awards by being presenters.
Johnsen says that kind of interaction is what helps make ad agencies in the area strong.
"Professional mentoring works both ways. I use it to identify bright, motivated creative problem solvers for possible employment or referral," he said. "If I can't offer them a job, I want them to come to Nashville and work in this industry where I might get them at a later date."Mann says next year's corporate sponsor told him he was impressed with the level of professionalism in the contest, saying that the level of performance they saw in the Tennessee Tech presentation made them want to participate as Dunkin' Donuts did.