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Marketing Students Increase United Way Giving by 6 Percent at Pitt

Since its creation in 2003, the student-run marketing agency ProsInMotion has completed creative campaigns for the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, American Eagle Outfitters, CitiBank, the CIA, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Mazda, and many others.

The students have entered these projects into national college marketing competitions, winning first place 10 times. Prizes have included many oversized checks, paid trips to present their strategy at the client company’s headquarters, and once their picture displayed for a weekend on the tallest digital billboard in New York City’s Time Square. 

In fall 2014, the agency — which goes to work each semester as part of the Projects in Marketing course taught by Clinical Associate Professor Bob Gilbert — turned its attention inward. The students worked with the United Way of Allegheny County to increase the faculty and staff participation in a October-November fundraising drive at the business school and School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

Early on, students recognized this would be a difficult project. For starters, no one likes to be told by someone else how or where to give their money. Second, students in the course typically create their own standalone campaign, but this time had to weave their campaign into the University of Pittsburgh’s school-wide United Way campaign, which was titled, “Be The Answer.”

Working with a small operating budget, the students organized their marketing agency, ProsInMotion, into four departments: market research, campaign strategy, advertising, and public relations. Professor Gilbert supervised their work, but the focus groups, the idea generation, and the implementation were accomplished completely by the students.

“The opportunity to apply what we’ve learned in the classroom, in a real-world setting, with a reputable client like United Way, has been a great learning experience, one of the most beneficial of my college career,” said student Molly Snyder, a member of the ProsInMotion public relations team.

Early on, the students conducted a survey showing that although faculty and staff give generously to the United Way, they were relatively unaware of the mission of the United Way, didn’t understand what the United Way’s Impact Fund does, and assumed that the United Way’s overhead costs were considerably higher than they actually were.

The students cleared up those misconceptions through an advertising campaign that included a faculty newsletter and elevator wall decals in Mervis Hall among others. Thanks to their efforts, donors learned that the United Way’s 12 percent administrative overhead is very competitive among charitable organizations. Donors also learned that they can contribute to the Impact Fund, which supports organizations and projects selected by the United Way, or they can give directly to one of 4,000 qualified charities.

The students created a buzz about their campaign by getting creative. In the days leading up to Halloween, several of the students dressed up in Batman, Robin, and Spiderman costumes and went reverse trick or treating in Mervis Hall (where the majority of Pitt’s business faculty and staff members are located) and the Forbes Tower (the home of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences). Since it was reverse trick or treating, students passed out the candy, along with literature about their campaign and coupons for a Food Truck Mixer the following week.

The Food Truck Mixer brought mobile food trucks from L.A. Taco and Southside Barbecue to the street in front of Mervis Hall. Beyond the excitement of there being food trucks parked in front of the business building, the event featured music and speakers from the United Way.

Shortly before Thanksgiving Break, the students completed the campaign with a bang. They held a closing celebration in Mervis Hall where faculty and staff from the business school and Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences were treated to treats from Pittsburgh Popcorn Company and a performance from a magician. Roc the Panther also made an appearance.

“We felt that it was important to acknowledge the faculty and staff for being amazing during the campaign and to thank them properly and publicly. Together, we really were ‘The Answer,’” Addy Klonicki, a campaign strategist, said.

Klonicki was right. In the fall 2014 campaign, United Way donations from faculty and staff at Pitt’s business school and School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences increased by 6 percent, lifting the fundraising total to more than $45,000.  

It was another impressive effort by the students at ProsInMotion.