Business students weigh in on
local hospital’s marketing plan © March 5, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich students [left to right] Nate Roeder, Nicholas Choy and David Fimiani, flanked by marketing Professor Bill Jolley and Service-Learning Coordinator Diane Byrne, created an integrated communication plan for Central Vermont Medical Center.

photo by Jay EricsonNorwich students [left to right] Nate Roeder, Nicholas Choy and David Fimiani, flanked by marketing Professor Bill Jolley and Service-Learning Coordinator Diane Byrne, created an integrated communication plan for Central Vermont Medical Center.

Nate Roeder knew his semester-long project for a course in integrated marketing communications would require statistical analysis and social science applications. What he didn’t anticipate was the education he got in the art of managing business relationships.

“I thought it would just be a marketing project where I would learn how to apply what I learned in class. I realized there was a lot more to it than that,” said Roeder, a business marketing major at Norwich University. “It involves showing up to meetings early, following up with people, dressing properly, communicating properly and demonstrating a sense of professionalism in a business atmosphere.”

Roeder, Nicholas Choy and David Fimiani, all members of the Class of 2011, collaborated on a service-learning project for a course, Integrated Marketing Communications, that ultimately led to their drafting an entire marketing plan for Central Vermont Medical Center [CVMC] in Berlin, Vt., the largest hospital in the region.

They add value by learning how a marketing plan works and then how to
critique the plan.

~ Bill Jolley,
associate professor,
business and marketing

Integrated marketing communications is a term that describes a holistic approach to outreach that aims for consistency and effectiveness across different media platforms. Eight students in the fall 2009 class were divided into three teams to study small- to medium-sized businesses, explained Bill Jolley, an associate professor who teaches the concentration course for marketing majors.

“First, they have to document and analyze the existing marketing plan for the business being studied,” said Jolley. “They add value by learning how a marketing plan works and then how to critique the plan.”

The other teams worked with a law firm in Burlington, Vt., and a sports store outside of Boston. Although CVMC is essentially a medium-sized business, it’s similar to a much larger corporation because it has several different “product” lines, such as physical rehabilitation, surgery, cardiology and birthing services, said Jolley. Gaining an understanding of an operation with so many different facets was one of the biggest challenges, Roeder and Choy agreed.

“CVMC may be a nonprofit, but its goals are the same as any other business,” said Roeder. “They want to increase their market share and increase their [income].”

The raw material for any research effort, of course, is information. Early in the project, the students were frustrated that the information they received from the hospital either wasn’t sufficient or precisely what they needed. Another value of the course, Jolley said, is that it shows students that different organizations don’t necessarily do things the way they would like. In the case of CVMC, however, the problem wasn’t quality. Students came to realize they needed to better manage their relationship with hospital officials to get what they needed.

“They started a little rough, and I think they were a bit overwhelmed at first,” said Jolley. “One of the things they struggled with was how to ask a question and how to listen well, so when [someone] is talking they know what to ask for.”

For Roeder and his colleagues, that meant planning in advance, choreographing their presentation and organizing time to get the most out of monthly meetings with CVMC officials. In the end, he said, it was the correct action to take.

The plan the students drafted recommended the hospital increase marketing efforts to three sectors of its patient base: expectant mothers, physical rehabilitation and the elderly.

“We determined which departments brought in the highest revenue, which departments were growing, and what target markets made sense geographically and financially,” said Roeder.

The hospital agreed to participate in large part because of its connections with the nursing program at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college.

“We appreciate all that Norwich University does for the central Vermont community,” said Susan Kruthers, vice president of community relations and development at CVMC and the students’ principal administrative contact. “When we were asked to help out some students our natural inclination was to agree to get involved.”

The plan drafted by Roeder, Choy and Fimiani is being reviewed by the CVMC Community Relations and Development Department, she said.

“We enjoyed meeting the students and hope we were able to help them understand how different it is to actually work with a business in their milieu, compared to doing case studies in an academic environment,” said Kruthers.

Less than a semester after completing the course, the project is already paying dividends, said Choy, who is majoring in both business marketing and construction management. He is enrolled in a marketing research course [also taught by Jolley] and believes the CVMC experience enables him to advise and help the other members of the project team for the course. He has no doubt the experience will influence him no matter what direction his career takes.

“It’s going to be helpful,” said Choy. “Definitely.”