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Putting their money where their mouth is

Wednesday 2 April 2014 11:16am

Tasting their success. From left are Ben Cheok, Tim Ebel, Liza Schillo and Donovan Clarke.

Four Otago MBA students turned words into actions during an elective paper earlier this year.

The foursome, Liza Schillo (USA), Tim Ebel (Germany), Ben Cheok (Malaysia) and Donovan Clarke (Dunedin, New Zealand), were taking an elective MBA paper called Communication and Promotion.

Their lecturer, Professor Brendan Gray, says the 10-point course aims to explore the role of public relations (PR) in marketing strategy and organisational communication, including integration with other marketing communication tools.

In the intensive three-day course students are taught practical skills related to news story and news release writing, interviewing, relationships with journalists, and incorporating social media into strategic promotion plans.

Links between PR and communication theory and practice are also explored, including issues related to ethics and corporate social responsibility.

This year’s course was held shortly after Cyclone Ian devastated islands in Tonga and the students were keen to do something useful to help disadvantaged people.

Professor Gray had visited Tonga 10 months earlier while researching community entrepreneurship and the class decided to help Oxfam raise funds for a desalination plant.

Cyclone Ian had destroyed much of the infrastructure of the central Ha’Apai island group, contaminated drinking water supplies and compromised sanitation.

Providing fresh drinking water for village communities was a priority, so the class decided to use the New Zealand crowd-funding site PledgeMe to raise $2000 over a one-month period, successfully raising just over this amount.

By linking crowd funding to publicity through social media, traditional (off-line) news media and organisation websites, the students were able to combine a charitable aim with an academic project that counted towards their final grades.

Professor Gray says the students’ reflections on the project enabled them to appreciate the challenges of harnessing social media and trying to gain the attention of traditional news media for an event that journalists were already starting to treat as “old news” once the students started their project. “Putting theory into practice is always much harder than text books or journal articles imply,” he says.

The students afterwards rated the project as one of the most worthwhile, yet challenging, assignments they had undertaken in their MBA studies. Donovan Clarke says it was a “real challenge. Times are tight and we were up against many other worthwhile fundraising campaigns. However, the team worked hard to reach our goal”.

Oxfam was also thrilled with the project. Rachel Clark, the organisation’s supporter relations manager, congratulated the students, saying: “Thanks again for your fantastic work, and for all that you do to help create a safer, fairer, and more sustainable world for all."