Advertising Class Works to Rebrand Iowa Governor’s Mansion


If they didn’t realize it before they signed up for the class, one glance at the semester’s syllabus for Advertising Campaigns (ADVRT 434) and students quickly realize it’s unlike any they’ve taken before in the Greenlee School.

Rather than weekly assignments, quizzes and tests, the course is designed to emulate a real-life agency setting. Students in the course are split into four agencies, complete with positions each student member must apply for, a client whose business they’re all competing to win and a $500 budget to bring their campaigns to life by the end of the semester.

The 400-level course integrates everything students are expected to learn from Greenlee’s advertising curriculum and gives students a chance to showcase their skills and creativity through the campaigns that each group develops throughout the semester.

This semester, students developed campaigns for Terrace Hill, also known as the Hubbell Mansion, the official residence of the Governor of Iowa. To kick off their semester-long assignment, the class met with Iowa’s First Lady Christine Branstad and Diane Becker, Terrace Hill administrator and assistant to the First Lady, in February to learn more about the National Historical Landmark and its advertising needs.

From the start, the teams were presented three problems:

  1. An aging volunteer base which needed new recruits
  2. Declining attendance at their signature events
  3. A lack of brand awareness, especially among younger audiences

After reviewing their assignment and interviewing First Lady Branstad and Becker about their vision and hopes for Terrace Hill, the four student agencies were tasked with conducting research that they would later use to drive the strategy behind each of their campaigns.

“How they shape their campaign upon the emphasis that they place on their targeted audiences brings about a different level of critical thinking — they hear and interpret things differently from the client,” said Lecturer Catherine Huggins, who has taught the course since fall 2015. As a practicing advertising and PR professional, Huggins links industry experience to her classroom environment.

Teams each took their own approaches to solving Terrace Hill’s publicity problems. As they developed their ideas throughout the semester they held weekly conference calls with Becker, who provided feedback on their ideas and helped to steer teams in the direction she felt was right for Terrace Hill.

“It really makes it feel like you’re not in a class, but in a small agency working with a client and it really gives you a perspective that you can’t get just sitting in a lecture,” said Kyle Stazzoni, senior in advertising account manager for the 720 Media agency. “It actually makes you do what you are going to be doing in the workplace, or something similar to it.”

Each team dedicated hours outside of their scheduled class periods to their projects, in the hopes of winning over the client’s business after their final pitches at the end of the semester.

“I don’t know of a better way to teach a class like this,” said Sean McGarvey, senior in advertising and account manager for the Everest Group agency. “It’s not just going out and doing creative, you do the steps of the research, use that to make decisions and finally put the whole thing together and that’s your whole project.”

A Realistic Final Armed with their research findings and strategies, the four student-run agencies pitched their plans before a panel of judges including Branstad, Becker, Huggins and Greenlee School advertising alumni, Alexis Nicholson, ’15, and Nikki Vance, ’15, on Thursday, May 5. Students explained their agency’s research and findings, their strategic plans for Terrace Hill and the logic behind their plans to help raise its visibility, reach new audiences and find new volunteers.

With their $500 budgets, teams pulled out all the stops for their final presentations. There was food, branded merchandise — hats, tote bags, pins, shirts; posters, professionally printed and bound strategic plans and digital copies of each team’s information that the clients could take with them.

Though each of the agencies had unique plans for Iowa governor’s residence, all chose to implement some form of an internship program to help Terrace Hill meet its staffing needs. Teams also came up with their own ideas for events that could be held to draw in more people, including a 5k run, piano classes, writer’s workshops, partnerships with local breweries and wineries and a food truck event.

“I was so impressed by everything they came up with, how creative they were,” First Lady Christine Branstad said following the presentations. “Some events we’ve been doing at Terrace Hill for years and years and just to hear these new ideas and ways that we can implement them, it’s just all so impressive.

“After what I saw today, I don’t think a professional could do any better job.”

After watching each group’s presentations and asking questions of each team, the panel of judges determined that BlüPrint agency had submitted the most comprehensive and creative proposal to help Terrace Hill reach their goals in the foreseeable future. Some of the group’s suggestions included partnering with local breweries like Exile and local food trucks, to hold events that draw in large audiences at other venues in Des Moines and in other cities. The team even brought in freshly-fried sampler platters from the Ames-based Macubana food truck for each of the judges to try during their presentation.

“Really, at the root of it is our strategy to make Terrace Hill what it once was, which was the people of Iowa’s home," said Chris Spendlove, senior in advertising and account manager for BlüPrint. "They already have stuff going on there, but we’re kind of expanding on the best parts of what they’re doing. That’s going to help them raise their visibility."

The team also focused on outreach efforts that Terrace Hill could easily implement to help attract visitors and volunteers—contacting Iowa colleges and National Honors Society leaders from Iowa high schools to gauge their interest in internship and volunteer programs. BlüPrint left Becker and Branstad with the contact information of the people they had worked with so that they could keep the ball rolling where the team had left off.

Once presentations were done and the judges convened, it was clear that Branstad and Becker felt like they were the real winners of the day.

"It was really fun to see what they came up with — they just thought outside the box," said Becker, who will take the lead on implementing the students’ plans. "There’s a lot we will be able to implement, not just from BlüPrint, but from everybody. It was just amazing working with all these students."

Whether their team won or lost, students who took the class came out with new work experience, new clips to add to their portfolios and a whole campaign that they worked on from the ground up. In a class that’s for upperclassmen, seniors like Nina Bernardi, senior in advertising and account manager for the Neighbourhood Group agency, have already leveraged their experience from 434 outside of the classroom.

“I’ve talked about the class in job interviews," said Bernardi. "With my role as the account manager and employers have been impressed that we’re working with a client and producing materials and coming up with this marketing plan."

In the end, ADVRT 434 provides students in advertising, public relations or communications first-hand experience working with clients, conducting research and developing campaigns. For those preparing to take on internships or even their first jobs after graduating, that expeirence can be invaluable.

“I think that this class is what Greenlee is about, giving real opportunities to students to have these real, live-fire situations," said Spendlove, who believes he was tested on everything he had learned as an advertising major throughout the semester. "It has been an incredible experience for each of us, learning and developing our skills for a real-life client, and a perfect finale to our coursework here at Greenlee."