To say they graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is a colossal understatement.
Four student interns have spent the past 10 months with UW Oshkosh’s Digital Marketing Clinic (DMC), a company born out of necessity during the pandemic, saving dozens of small businesses in dire need of marketing expertise digital.
“The DMC really started because of the trend during the pandemic of moving from a physical storefront to an online storefront, and a lot of our customers don’t know where to start,” said Justin Schmitz, a senior at From Father., earning a degree in marketing.
“Educating them on how and why has had a huge impact on our clients to help them grow their business. Along with that, we do quite a bit of website design for businesses. businesses that don’t have their own website or even social media.”
The students found that many small business owners struggle with digital marketing: knowing how to plan and publish social media content, understanding keyword research, or planning new websites.
With CARES Act funds earmarked to help businesses suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the innovative program connects talented UWO digital marketing interns with small business owners. Funding for CARES is provided by the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The Digital Marketing Clinic works in partnership with SBDC-UW Oshkosh.
“Small business owners usually need a lot of help with digital marketing,” said Yasmilet Esquivel of Janesville, another student intern who graduated with a marketing degree with a major in digital marketing.
She said her clients’ projects indicated that social media planning and implementation were among their biggest challenges.
“They struggle to take the time to plan social media posts or what kind of content to post on certain platforms,” Esquivel said.
Schmitz said the students provide a lot of education. Although social media has been around for about 10-15 years, they have found that many businesses don’t know how it works when it comes to marketing, or even the impact it has.
Schmitz said working on real projects that make a difference has had a huge impact on her future. He’s worked with companies in a multitude of industries, met inspiring entrepreneurs, and “dived into many different angles of marketing,” no two days alike. He said the job prepared him for the world of work far beyond just marketing.
In addition to implementing various marketing skills, students developed speaking skills and professional etiquette in meetings with business owners.
“Our interns provide owners with an improved degree of confidence,” said Kathy Fredrickson, director of the digital marketing clinic and faculty member of marketing at UWO, who noted that students saw a marked improvement in online brand presence and effectiveness for their customers.
DMC in numbers
Since its inception 10 months ago, DMC intern teams have completed 1,758 consulting hours, 123 clients served and 894 jobs supported, according to Fredrickson. They also held four social media marketing webinars to over 200 registered attendees.
Dan Brosman, director of the UWO Small Business Development Center, said the DMC was launched in February using CARES Act funds to hire an executive director and four student interns.
The response was quick. In 72 hours, more than 30 free consultation requests were submitted; and by May, 75 applications had been received, indicating strong demand for the program.
Four additional students and a contracted project coordinator joined the team in mid-May to increase capacity.
Brosman said one or two student interns are assigned to each company, providing about 15 hours of support for each client. They tackle “online deficits” for small businesses with annual revenues under $2 million who go to the SBDC.
“The DMC was an amazing opportunity to apply the skills we learned in school to the real world,” said Adam Branch, a marketer from Downers Grove, Illinois. “Kathy (Fredrickson) has done an amazing job leading the team to success and I’ve made a lot of memories along the way.”
Branch said in his experience that clients are most interested in social media audits, keyword research, and strategy recommendations. One project that stood out was that of Elektra Cruise, an all-electric boat tour service. Most of the work was done face-to-face and involved photography, a social media audit, and best practices to help them understand how to use Facebook and Instagram for business.
He said the skills developed through DMC prepared him for a career he loves and showed him that hard work always pays off. He credited Brosman and Fredrickson for their advice. Branch said he plans to move out west to work for a full-service marketing agency.
Tackling Real-Life Problems
Esquivel said one client project that stood out for her was for the Oshkosh Women’s Fund. This was a large team project that included “brand landscape” – analyzing a company’s brand image and messages.
“I was able to support logo design and color recommendations, which helped me find what interests me the most in digital marketing,” Esquivel said. “It guided my interest in design and branding. In other words, I love working with aesthetics.
Esquivel plans to start a marketing agency with a small group of professionals committed to helping individuals and businesses with digital marketing needs.
SOS: digital marketers
Customer Steve Giese of electrical engineering firm Gain Control in Pulaski said he loved the DMC team presentation.
“It was methodical and detailed for each of our social media accounts and our website,” Giese said. “The changes they suggested are quite easy to implement and we started them.”
Giese said the students provided a list of recommended changes and they can be worked on if time permits.
“The CARES Act grants we received were great and held us back during the pandemic,” he added, “but they didn’t help us improve our marketing, so that was a plus. great advantage.”
Brent Miller of TNT Fitness, with locations in Menasha, Fond du Lac and West Bend, described the team as “incredible”.
Miller said they break things down so they’re easy to understand.
“There’s not much (for them) to improve on, just keep learning, growing, being yourself and being transparent about how it works,” Miller said in a follow-up survey. .
The students inspired the clients to continue learning, especially on the various social media tools.
At the same time, Fredrickson said all four graduate trainees had made significant professional progress through the experience.
Top picture: Graduate trainees meet in the DMC workspace at Sage Hall. From left to right, Shyanna Kelley, Adam Branch, Yasmilet Esquivel and Justin Schmitz.