Students in the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus’ MBA program are helping Manatee County transportation leaders promote mass transit, cycling and other alternative transportation options.
The students, members of the program’s Promotions Management class led by Kelly Cowart, PhD., were asked by Public Works officials this spring to create a marketing strategy around alternative transportation options.
“The class usually works with small- to medium-sized businesses, but when we were approached to work with an agency, I thought this could be interesting and challenge the students to think about branding as it relates to larger public issues,” Cowart said.
Cowart had the students work in teams to develop strategies. Eventually, the plan could serve as the basis of a campaign urging residents to walk, ride bikes and use mass transit instead of cars. While that’s not possible in every case, many shorter trips could easily be accomplished without cars, the officials told the students.
The 10 students were divided into two teams. They started by pinpointing measurable goals and target audiences and then identifying promotional tools and implementation strategies. Each team came up with a marketing budget and a catchy slogan.
“I think I’m the proudest I’ve ever been,” Cowart said of her students. “The implementation of this project was stellar and the outcome was amazing. Both teams did excellent work.”
The students delivered their presentations at the end of the semester with county officials identifying the winning team. That turned out to be Team TAAAZ, which coined the slogan “people > cars,” followed by the sub-tagline “4 wheels move your body, 2 wheels move your soul” to evoke a back-to-basics, pedestrian- and cycling-friendly message.
TAAAZ – comprised of TreBora Morales, Alec Raulin, Alexander Twitmyer, Alicia Hacker and Zifu Zhang– takes its name from the first letter of each team member’s first name.
Among other aspects, TAAAZ’s plan calls for a Facebook page to promote transportation alternatives, adding inserts to utility bills and the launch of a public relations campaign with schools and cycling shops. Other options include exterior advertising on beach trolleys and interior advertising (placards) on buses.
The school campaign would emphasize the county’s walking and cycling trails and highlight the Facebook page. Students would participate in outdoor activities and urge their parents to do the same. The campaign would also target seniors, one of Facebook’s fastest-growing demographics.
“I think one of the best things about this plan is that it can be implemented in small bites or in its totality,” Cowart said. “The representatives from the county said they were very impressed by both presentations and had a hard time choosing a winner.”
Raulin, one of the TAAAZ members, said he enjoyed the team dynamic and how even amid the coronavirus members were able to connect online and collaborate.
“I thought it would be tougher than what it was when the pandemic hit, but honestly, it worked out well,” he said. “We didn’t have any connection issues.”
He said he also liked how the promotional plan controlled costs by using Facebook and collaborating with local schools and bike shops. Even the utility bill insert was a low-cost option. The campaign’s entire budget came to about $12,400.
“I liked that it wasn’t mostly hypothetical, but involved a real-world situation,” he said. “And who knows? They might actually implement aspects of our plan. We might see our slogan on a bus someday.”
Fellow team member TreBora Morales said she appreciated both the assignment’s real-world element and how it drew on her Army National Guard experience in regard to teamwork and problem solving. Morales served in the National Guard for 11 years and attained the rank of sergeant.
Seeking a master’s in sustainable business – merging sustainable practices and administrative knowledge – Morales said she was delighted to learn the assignment dovetailed with her own interests.
“I liked the fact it focused on sustainability and how to communicate messages about sustainability to a community,” she said. “I also liked that it wasn’t just a class where you read a chapter and have a discussion. You read a chapter, but then you apply what you learn in a real and practical way.
“I really appreciated that,” she said. “I think it’s amazing to go in and apply what you learned right then and there.”
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For more about USF Sarasota-Manatee, visit www.usfsm.edu.