University of Oklahoma Ad Students Pitch Cameroon Tourism Strategy

Real-Life Class Project an Unforgettable Learning Experience

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Case studies are always good practice for students looking to join the ad world, but when the opportunity to pitch to actual clients presents itself, "it's more fun than a puppy with two tails," said Professor Jim Avery of the University of Oklahoma.

University of Oklahoma students pitch to the Cameroon tourism ministry.
University of Oklahoma students pitch to the Cameroon tourism ministry.

As part of the Advertising Account Planning course at the University of Oklahoma, a class of 19 students was tapped to pitch recommendations on how Cameroon could boost tourism. The project was structured like a competition, spanning the entire spring semester. At the end of the semester, the minister of tourism traveled to Oklahoma to choose the winning group. The students then had just 10 days to polish and perfect their pitch before traveling to the coastal country in west central Africa to present to the minister of tourism and leisure, the minister of agriculture and more than 50 other representatives and Yaounde University students.

The recommendations, which include an overhaul of the Cameroon brand image as a transportation hub and a better online presence that utilizes SEO more effectively, are still being reviewed by the ministry. "I personally feel satisfied with the results of the project," Joseph Nji, chief of service for tourism and hotel management training for the country's ministry of tourism, told Ad Age . "Implementation will depend on the discretion of the minister of tourism, who is budget manager." As far as other research projects related to Cameroon tourism, Mr. Nji said there aren't any. However, the work the students did is definitely part of a bigger push the ministry is working on.

Chelsey Johnston, a graduate student at University of Oklahoma, said working on a project with a real-life problem was incredibly challenging. "They're putting all this money into tourism and they were wondering why their numbers haven't been increasing. So they wanted us to create a strategy to better their tourism and encourage more Americans to come to Cameroon. It's a huge project."

While visiting the country, the students had their own glimpse at what a tourist to Cameroon would experience -- from heckling with the natives on merchandise to eating termites, porcupine and pond shrimp the size of their hands. Ms. Johnston said that the opportunity is there, but the issue is awareness.

Upon their return, the three students -- two undergraduates and a graduate student -- agreed that despite a language barrier, the experience was something they'll never forget. "Going into account planning, this was a great experience. We presented for an hour; I was really nervous getting to it," said Brennen Schleuter, one of the participating students. "It was really like unraveling a mystery. We can pitch anyone anything because we just pitched to Cameroon on their tourism. That experience will definitely pay off."

The opportunity came about after Mr. Avery, who is a veteran of Saatchi & Saatchi, was invited to teach a class at Yaounde University in Cameroon last year. While there, the administrator of finance asked if he would be willing to do a project for the country. "I said yeah. It'll be fun," Mr. Avery recalled. So he made it into a learning experience for his class. "What I would like is that the students get smart and experienced in presenting to high-level people," Mr. Avery told Ad Age while waiting to board the plane to Cameroon. "Then the students get really excited and take ownership of the project."

The trip was paid for by the ministry. Considering the travel to and from Cameroon, room and board, and the cost of visas and shots, expenses totaled around $25,000. While Mr. Nji said he's unsure what kinds of projects could be possible in the future, the ministry did ask if Mr. Avery could execute simple things the country could do right away -- press releases, brochures, etc. Mr. Schleuter said he's ready for more work anyway. "The trip was too short. I'm already making plans to go back during the summer to continue working on projects."

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