Students promote business brands on campus

Alli Schultz’s study abroad experience moved her so much that she decided to apply for the Australian embassy’s student ambassadorship to promote the program at AU.

Now that she’s back on campus, she promotes studying abroad in Australia and the country’s progressive institutions.

“[I] had the most incredible experience of my life,” Schultz said, a senior in the School of International Service. “I was enthralled by the idea of helping others in the decision to study in Australia by sharing my own experience.”

Schultz is not alone in her on-campus promotion of off-campus businesses and organizations. While there is no official data on the number of AU students who are “ambassadors” for corporations and organizations, many major advertisers use AU students to bring their products to college campuses.

Organizations believe they can reach students more effectively through their peers, while “student ambassadors” get a chance to gain real advertising experience.

Besides, college students are the largest class in the economy and control $306 billion in spending, according to a 2010 study by Harris Interactive.

“Once you become a student at a university, all corporate entities want a piece of you,” Michael Elmore said, senior director for the University Center. “They know that if you eat their candy bar or drink their soda then you might be a customer for life. You’re in demand.”

Ariel McMillan, a junior in the Kogod School of Business, works to publicize the BlackBerry “brand” at AU with Tannis Spencer, a senior in Kogod and SIS.

The two promote BlackBerry through a social media firm, Mr. Youth, that runs student ambassador programs for corporations like Pop-Tarts and Staples.

“We want everyone to know that BlackBerry is a brand for young people looking to achieve greatness and success,” McMillan said.

Though their job descriptions vary, student ambassadors work to put their brand’s mark on campus.

“Peer-to-peer marketing is what’s effective,” Zoé Jouannelle said, assistant education manager at the Embassy of Australia and Schultz’s boss. “Students would rather hear from other students, and that’s been displayed in studies again and again. I wouldn’t have the credibility that these students have.”

Many of the organizations that now use student ambassadors see better results in terms of outreach and marketing, Jouannelle said.

Are student ambassadorships a nuisance?

While the programs might be a good opportunity for students involved, some students are concerned that, without regulation, they could become a nuisance on campus.

“I worry that it leaves it open for corporations to come in and [advertise]. I worry that it’s unregulated,” Sam Cianell said, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s cool, as long as it’s for good, charitable kinds of things.”

Advertising on campus can quickly become an irritation, Ben Ritz said, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.

“People plugging things at events where they aren’t relevant can be pretty annoying,” he said.

But student ambassadors believe they contribute to the on-campus environment.

“We aren’t aggressive or in your face with our

marketing, its just not our style,” McMillan said. “[The student body and student ambassadors] have a symbiotic relationship. I mean honestly, who doesn’t want free stuff?”

Off-campus organizations typically have to sign a contract with the University to advertise on campus. But student ambassadors are able to circumvent that rule by co-sponsoring their events with on-campus organizations, Elmore said.

Schultz, for example, works primarily with AU Abroad, she said. McMillan and Spencer work with AU Athletics and Relay for Life. Englander works primarily with the Department of Performing Arts.

“Our expectation is that the host unit is taking responsibility for what [off-campus organizations] do,” Elmore said. “Sometimes, even with that, it [on-campus advertising] can’t happen if it violates the sanctity of a contract agreement we already have.”

Many off-campus advertisers, like Coca-Cola Co., have agreements with the University that give them exclusive privileges on campus, Elmore said.

Some advertisers, especially those who advertise controlled substances, are not allowed to promote themselves on campus, Elmore said. For example, bars are not allowed to advertise their drink specials on campus.

Ambassadors plan events, coordinate outreach

Programming, especially at on-campus events, plays an essential role in student ambassadors’ work. Schultz organized four events last semester, including an “Aussie Trivia Night” in the Perch Nov. 5.

“I usually chat with 30 to 50 students at the abroad fairs, a dozen or so at my own events, and all of the students who attend AU Abroad’s pre-departure sessions for Australia,” Schultz said.

While all student ambassadors work to advertise, their jobs can be different.

“One day, I might be on the Quad handing out BlackBerry logo sunglasses, the next I might be shooting a #BeBold video” for BlackBerry’s marketing campaign for the BlackBerry Bold, McMillan said.

Melissa Englander, a student ambassador for the Shakespeare Theatre and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, works to raise awareness about the theater’s events. She advertises events and opportunities through theater list serves, she said.

“I applied because I was looking for an internship, and it was a great way to do that with a smaller time commitment than the typical intern has,” Englander said.

Some student ambassadors work on a volunteer basis; others are paid.

BlackBerry’s ambassadors are paid with a stipend. They are also eligible to receive additional compensation based on their achievement of certain goals, McMillan said.

The Embassy of Australia does not pay its ambassadors, but it pays to send them to training at its D.C. Embassy, said Jouannelle, who also hired other ambassadors.

Jouannelle said she looks for potential ambassadors who can “articulate why to study in Australia beyond ‘it was awesome and I saw koalas.’ Someone who can really articulate the benefits of studying there.”

Olivia Stitilis, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, and Deon Jones, a sophomore in SPA, represent Teach for America as campus campaign coordinators. They reach out to students to encourage seniors to apply for Teach for America and to educate the campus community about Teach for America and educational inequality.

“I get the opportunity to convince my peers to become involved in an organization which I love,” said Stitilis, who has been accepted to teach high school English in Baltimore through Teach for America.

Many student ambassadors say their programs give students an opportunity to engage with their passions and apply the skills they learn in class. 

“It’s amazing working for such a dynamic and evolving company where I actually get to do work that makes a difference in how a brand is perceived,” McMillan said.

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