To say they’ve earned their University of Wisconsin Oshkosh diplomas is a colossal understatement.
Four student interns have spent the last 10 months with UW Oshkosh’s Digital Marketing Clinic (DMC)―an enterprise borne out of necessity during the pandemic―rescuing dozens of small businesses in dire need of digital marketing expertise.
“The DMC really started because of the trend during the pandemic of moving from a brick-and-mortar store front to online, and many of our clients don’t know where to start,” said Justin Schmitz, a senior from De Pere, graduating with a degree in marketing.
“Educating them on how and why, has been a huge impact to our clients in order to help them grow their businesses. Along with this, we do quite a few website builds for companies. It’s surprising how many companies don’t have their own website or even social media.”
The students have found many small business owners struggle with digital marketing: knowing how to schedule and post content on social media, understanding keyword research or planning new websites.
With CARES Act funds designated to help businesses suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the innovative program connects talented UWO student digital marketing interns with small business owners. CARES funding is provided through the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The Digital Marketing Clinic works in partnership with SBDC-UW Oshkosh.
“Small business owners typically need a lot of digital marketing help,” said Yasmilet Esquivel of Janesville, another student intern graduating with a degree in marketing with a digital marketing emphasis.
She said her client projects pointed to social media scheduling and implementation as some of their biggest challenges.
“They struggle with taking the time to plan out social media posts or what type of content to post on certain platforms,” Esquivel said.
Schmitz said the students provide a lot of education. Though social media has been around 10-15 years, they’ve found many companies 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 his future. He’s worked with companies in a multitude of industries, met inspiring entrepreneurs and “dove into many different angles of marketing,” with no two days the same. He said the work prepared him for the work world in ways beyond just marketing.
On top of implementing a variety of marketing skills, students developed speaking skills and professional etiquette as they held meetings with business owners.
“Our interns provide owners an improved degree of confidence,” said Kathy Fredrickson, Digital Marketing Clinic director and marketing faculty member at UWO, who noted the students witnessed marked improvement in brand presence and effectiveness online for their clients.
DMC by the numbers
Since its inception 10 months ago, the DMC intern teams achieved 1,758 consulting hours, 123 clients served and 894 jobs supported, according to Fredrickson. They’ve also delivered four social media marketing webinars to more than 200 registered attendees.
Dan Brosman, UWO Small Business Development Center director, said the DMC launched in February using CARES Act funds to hire a managing director and four student interns.
Response was swift. Within 72 hours, more than 30 applications for no-fee consultation 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 business, providing roughly 15 hours of assistance to each client. They address “online deficits” for small businesses with under $2 million in annual revenue who apply to the SBDC.
“The DMC has been an amazing opportunity to apply the skills we learned from school to the real world,” said Adam Branch, a marketing major from Downers Grove, Illinois. “Kathy (Fredrickson) has done an incredible job leading the team to success and I’ve made plenty of memories along the way.”
Branch said in his experience, clients are most interested in social media audits, keyword research and strategic recommendations. A project that stood out was for Elektra Cruise, a fully 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 have prepared him for a career he loves and have shown him that hard work always pays off. He credited Brosman and Fredrickson for their guidance. Branch said he plans to move out west to work for a full service marketing agency.
Tackling real-life issues
Esquivel said a client project that stands out for her was for the Women’s Fund of Oshkosh. It was a large team project that included a “brandscape”―analyzing a company’s branding and messaging.
“I was able to take the lead on the logo design and color recommendations which has helped me find what I’m most interested in when it comes to digital marketing,” Esquivel said. “It guided the way to 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 intent on helping individuals and businesses with digital marketing needs.
SOS: Digital marketers
Client Steve Giese with electrical engineering firm Gain Control in Pulaski said he loved the DMC team’s presentation.
“It was methodical and detailed for each of our social media accounts and our website,” Giese said. “The changes they suggested are easy enough to implement and we have started on them.”
Giese said the students provided a list of recommended changes and they can be worked on as time allows.
“The CARES Act grants that we received were great and held us over during the pandemic,” he added, “but they didn’t help us get better at marketing ourselves, so this has been of a greater benefit.”
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Brent Miller of TNT Fitness, with locations in Menasha, Fond du Lac and West Bend, described the team as “incredible.”
Miller said they broke things down so they were easily understandable.
“There’s not much (for them) to improve on, just keep continuing to learn, grow, be you and be transparent about how it works,” Miller said in a follow-up survey.
The students have inspired clients to continue learning—especially about different social media tools.
At the same time, Fredrickson said the four graduating interns have made significant progress professionally as a result of the experience.
Top image: Graduating interns gather in the DMC workspace in Sage Hall. From left, are Shyanna Kelley, Adam Branch, Yasmilet Esquivel and Justin Schmitz.