Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

GM Promotion Mines College Classrooms for Future Customers

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

GM Promotion Mines College Classrooms for Future Customers

Article excerpt

By Jamie Beckett

San Francisco Chronicle

In a new twist on working their way through college, students are earning credits by helping General Motors Corp. sell cars.

More than 1,000 students at 43 colleges are using classroom time to design and execute on-campus sales promotions for the giant automaker as part of a GM sales drive in California.

The program, an example of a growing corporate involvement in education, is intended to increase the carmakers' market share while providing students with practical business experience.

"The focus of the program is to expose our product to a generation we haven't been very successful with," said Keith Landenberger, coordinator of what General Motors calls its California Marketing Initiative. "A lot of them grew up with imports and don't even know what kind of products we make."

The nation's largest automaker, GM has been weakened by record losses and continuing erosion of its market share. Its performance has been particularly weak in California, one of the strongest markets for imported cars.

GM has only a 27 percent share of sales in the state, as compared with a 34 percent share nationally, according to J.D. Powers Associates, a market-research firm.

At each school, a marketing class acts as an advertising and sales promotion agency, developing a campaign to sell one type of GM car to students.

In each case, they work with GM executives and with Sgro Promo Associates, the Orinda, Calif., marketing firm that helped develop the college program. A local GM dealer provides $2,500 to cover costs of the promotion.

At the University of California at Berkeley, students in the Haas School of Business have just completed a Geo promotion they call the Geo-Logical Gold Rush. The event tested students' knowledge of four Geo models parked on Lower Sproul Plaza _ and offered prizes ranging from a haircut to Big Game tickets to a $350 grand prize.

To qualify for the prizes, the students had to complete a form that was forwarded to Oakland car dealer Val Strough.

Trudy Kehret-Ward, who teaches the class working on the GM project, said that she initially had some qualms about students providing free labor for corporations. But the students' enthusiastic response to past projects _ a previous class created a marketing plan for credit-card provider Visa USA _ erased that skepticism, she said.

"These are tough economic times, and students feel like anything they can do that's hands on will set them apart," said Kehret-Ward.

"I wasn't bothered by the fact that they're getting work from us for free. I think there was a tradeoff, because I learned so much," said Angela Lau, a UC Berkeley senior.

Lau, who graduates in December and is looking for a job, said corporate recruiters have been impressed by her GM experience. …

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