April 29, 2014, BY Matt Hughes

MIDE students in front of Vlassic pickles bird
Students of Professor Tim Sweeney acted as brand consultants for Pinnacle Foods (pictured) and Pfizer.

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The School of Management's new Markets, Innovation and Design major teaches future brand gurus to shepherd products from concept to the retail shelf. Last semester, nine seniors gained a real-world taste of what the program holds in store.

Under the guidance of Professor Emeritus Timothy Sweeney, marketing, the students enrolled in the independent study course acted as outside marketing consultants for two national brands: Pinnacle's Wish-Bone salad dressing and Pfizer's ThermaCare line of pain-soothing heat wraps.

"The course objective was for each student to take the theory, concepts and principles they studied in Principles of Marketing and other marketing courses, and apply those concepts to a real brand," Sweeney said. "They developed insights and recommendations for each brand for management, aimed at improving market share and positioning."

Sweeney coordinated the opportunity with alumni Bob Gamgort '84, CEO of Pinnacle Foods, and Paul Sturman '83, president and GM of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

MIDE students in front of ThermaCare wraps sign

"Working with the students was a true win-win," Gamgort said. "We were able to provide a real-world project to give them hands-on experience in brand marketing, while they offered us high-quality analysis and insight on our brand."

The students burrowed into the binders of proprietary marketing data the companies provided, but they didn't stop there. They interviewed physicians, food shoppers and on-campus experts like Bucknell marketing professor and product design authority Seth Orsborn, all to gain a deeper understanding of how consumers might view their brands. Each group suggested specific design changes for their product's package.

"It was true to what you would do if you worked in that industry," said Chelsea Lodato '14, a member of the Wish-Bone team. "It went from top to bottom."

Professor Michael Johnson-Cramer, director of the School of Management, concurred, noting that at many top companies today, the marketing, product design and sales departments do not exist as isolated silos but work together. Teaching marketers to thrive in such a communal environment is what Markets, Innovation and Design is all about.

"Markets, Innovation and Design teaches students to go from understanding consumers, through the innovation process, to bringing a product or service to market, all in a really integrated way," Johnson-Cramer said. "Whatever position they're in, whether it's market research or product design or communications, they're going to bring this mindset of understanding innovative and creative approaches to design and to meeting people's needs in various, very interesting ways."

At semester's end, Sweeney's students presented their recommendations for creatively reinventing the brands to high-ranking executives at the Pinnacle and Pfizer offices in New Jersey, and their insights didn't fail to impress.

"Our Bucknell management team was smart, engaged, thought-provoking and passionate about their work," Sturman said. "It was terrific to gain fresh perspectives on our business, to give aspiring marketers a taste of the real world, and to give something back to a professor (Sweeney) who gave me so much some 30 years ago."

Brian Copeland '14, a member of the Pfizer team, said he gained just as much from the experience. "If we have a presentation in the next year or two, it's probably going to be to someone way above us, so learning to criticize an item in a respectful manner was very useful," Copeland said. "It also speaks volumes about our alumni, who are willing to work college students into their busy schedules."