Raising the Next Generation of Marketers

Merkle Works With DMEF to Teach College Students About CRM

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The future of customer relationship marketing will be in the hands of today's young people, and it's up to us as thought leaders in the industry to prepare them with a foundation upon which they can build the next generation of marketing. That's the mission of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose charter is to attract, educate and place college students in the direct and interactive marketing industry.

Traditional marketers may see the foundation as the institution that provides a conventional direct marketing education. But as the digitization of media has caused an evolution to true one-to-one marketing, the DMEF is itself experiencing a renaissance. With the help and thought leadership of its members from a number of direct, database and interactive marketing companies, the organization is coming of age -- the digital age.

Since the program was relaunched two years ago, the foundation, together with Merkle and other corporate sponsors, has offered the Interactive Marketing Immersion Xperience, or I-MIX, a weeklong intensive educational experience hosted at Merkle's corporate headquarters in Columbia, Md. The program is offered to 30 of the brightest college juniors and seniors who are interested in a career in our industry. Participants are selected from numerous applicants across the country who have expressed a thirst for knowledge and a true passion for marketing in the interactive space.

The marketer of today has a seat at the executive leadership table because of the influence that digital media has on the overall financial performance of a company -- an influence that marketing programs have never had before. This is why Merkle is so heavily involved in I-MIX. CRM is our core business and our passion. As a subset of that , interactive marketing is at the heart of our future success. It is driving a shift in the value that companies place in their marketing operations as they truly begin to build customer strategy as a business strategy.

This impact is driven by a bunch of leaders who grew up in offline direct marketing and now find themselves adapting to the digital world. Imagine the power of our future leaders who grew up in the digital age -- young people who only know a world of at-your-fingertips information and instant results and who understand the power of digital media and engage in it every day as consumers. Once they build a foundation of the historically proven direct marketing disciplines and quantitative methodology that make one-to-one communications effective, digital applications will soar to new heights.

Students in the I-MIX program are immersed in interactive marketing day and night. They spend days with prominent industry thought leaders and professors learning about how digital media is taking a lead role in today's marketing execution. They hear about applications such as social, display, mobile, search and email, and how Web analytics come into play. They are even assigned a project based on a real-life marketing challenge. This year, we were fortunate to have participation from AARP, which delivered a case study about the association's campaign with actress Betty White and instructed the students to apply what they had learned during the week to build an online strategy to address the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities identified. The students worked in teams to build mock programs and present their results to the I-MIX "faculty" at the end of the week. But it's not all work and no play. The students do take a break for dinner and a little fun, and have an opportunity to mingle with corporate executives. This year, they were treated to a Baltimore Orioles game one evening and several team-building dinners throughout the week. Then, in keeping with Merkle's work hard-play hard culture, they headed back to their hotel to work on their team projects. Grueling? Let's just say that not a moment is wasted. As the participants told us on the DMEF blog, LinkedIn and Facebook, it's an invaluable deep dive into interactive marketing and a titillating glimpse into their professional future.* And the future is bright. I am in awe of the business savvy these college juniors and seniors already possess. They are bright and engaging, asking thoughtful questions that open doors to more questions. They know how competitive the job market is in this space and are doing everything in their power to be in-demand. Together with the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, we at Merkle are also doing everything in our power to help them get there.

Craig Dempster is exec VP-CMO for Merkle and a board member of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation.
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