Mars Agency Brings Shopper Marketing to Life for College Students
Detroit — The Mars Agency is in its second year of a five-year partnership with the College for Creative Studies (CCS), a highly acclaimed design school in Detroit. The shopper marketing agency has joined forces with CCS’s advertising department to offer Cross Stitch Creative, a real-world internship program for students.
Each semester, a group of CCS students (including designers, photographers and illustrators) are chosen from a pool of applicants. During a 15-week program, they experience a variety of lectures, field exercises and rapid ideation sessions and ultimately take part in projects, working alongside Mars teams to solve real challenges for the agency’s clients, including Walmart and Campbell Soup Co./Pepperidge Farm, as well as for local community initiatives such as Motor City Brewing Works and The Soulfull Project.
Throughout the program, students learn about shopper platforms, consumer promotions, content development and marketing initiatives focused on business growth. “Our goal was to create an agency within the college that is powered by both,” says Rob Rivenburgh, The Mars Agency CEO. “It’s a real world agency where we integrated Mars creative staff and planning staff with the students.” A studio located on the college campus serves as Cross Stitch Creative’s home.
“We have it running 365 days a year. We work with these students in the spring and fall but bring them into Mars in the summer so we have that continuity of an agency within an agency,” Rivenburgh says. “The students are very much integrated and involved.” They are being paid by the agency and earn college credit upon completion.
A core premise for the program on the outset centered around growth, he says. And since the program’s inauguration in 2016, the company, its individuals and the community have experienced that. “We’re proud to give back to the community, and also excited that we can identify some of the best-in-class talent to bring into the organization,” Rivenburgh says. Being able to leverage the perspectives of next-gen Millennials is highly beneficial to the agency as well. “It’s a whole new dynamic that we can apply to our product.”
Tom Drennen, vice president and creative director at Mars, says the agency designed the curriculum around marketing to shoppers. “It gets them in this head space because nobody is being taught this right now,” he says. The semester starts with a 101 on what marketing to shoppers is about and what that affects, and concentrates on driving conversion versus just awareness. “We’re giving them this rich experience about the whole shopper journey,” he says.
Education leads and project leads work with the students throughout the semester. Drennen says assigning some individuals from the agency to help with projects and others to lead the learning and development of the students is the biggest fundamental change since the program’s inception. Together, they’re opening the students’ eyes to the world of shopper marketing.
“Many of the students didn’t realize that this was a career choice, let alone that it’s happening in their daily lives,” he says. “We don’t do fast turns for clients or real execution kind of work where everything has to be perfect because these are students and we can’t rely on that. They give us great thinking, though, and we really mine it.” He says the agency has seen success with some of the longer-term projects, and has also utilized student-led platform ideas, presented to clients by the students.
As the program expands, the agency’s hope is to see its clients getting more involved from the beginning and investing in the students to continue to cultivate talent for the industry. “As we build our own capabilities, we see this evolving into more hardwiring with key clients because of what the students offer,” says Rivenburgh. “These students will have a profound influence on how our agency thinks from a cross-departmental perspective, which in turn will allow us to deliver increasingly authentic and fresh ideas to our clients.”
Suzanna Bierwirth, Mars’ chief creative officer, says many of the students come in with archaic ideas about advertising. The program helps them see shopper marketing in a new light. “It’s exciting to see them opening their horizons.”