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Students' strategy

Mail Tribune

ASHLAND - A group of Southern Oregon University students are testing their book smarts in the real world.

With a budget of only $2,500, they have created a "mini-agency" and are developing a marketing plan for Town & Country Chevrolet.

The 15 students are part of the General Motors Marketing Institute internship, a nationwide program that gives students hands-on experience in marketing. Interns are required to produce a promotional campaign for a GM dealership.

Their planning culminates with an event today on SOU's campus.

While Town & Country Chevrolet spends about $3,500 for a small marketing campaign, the students must make do with $2,500. Their "agency," called GY Promotions, is already in the heat of the campaign.

"It's called GY Promotions, and that stands for Generation Y," said Teresa Whitney, one of the interns. "That's the target market we are trying to reach."

Whitney, 22, works for the agency's campaign development department. GY Promotions also has research, advertising, public relations and budget departments.

Gretchen Olinghouse is one of GY Promotions' chief executive officers .

Olinghouse, 21, said she applied to GMMI for an opportunity to work with a larger company and bridge the gap between her education and the real world.

"I'm enjoying the experience of understanding how things work," she said. "It's a picture window of what I might be doing in the future."

Olinghouse said GM is trying to attract more young buyers. She admits she hasn't always been a fan of GM products.

"I was the perfect stereotypical kid that GM was up against," she said. Olinghouse said research had given her more insight on the different brands that could appeal to younger people.

"I think we are doing it in a pretty fun and exciting way," said Daniel Krenwinkel, the project's other CEO. "It's something that will draw (the students') attention." He said they chose the "all-American Summer" theme because of the upcoming vacation and its patriotic connotations. He hopes to have at least 300 people sit in the cars and fill out questionnaires.

While a large part of the budget will be spent on advertising, Krenwinkel, who is in charge of budgeting, said GY received about $500 in donations, making the finances sufficient to meet their objectives. Local businesses have donated gift certificates, merchandise and cash.

Derek DeBoer, the students' contact at Town & Country Chevrolet, said it's the dealership's second time participating in the GMMI program. DeBoer said he is letting the students work independently. "We are leaving it in their hands as much as we can." he said. He said the students bring a "fresh new approach" to the dealership's marketing plans. And the students "have the potential to gain a lot from it."

The students say they are gaining valuable experience.

"It really has helped me to work with a group of people toward a goal," said Whitney. "It requires a lot of planning and cooperation."

SOU business students are required to do an internship as part of their graduation requirements. SOU business Professor Sue Corp, internship coordinator, said GMMI is a good opportunity, especially for marketing majors. She said internships not only give students experience and references, but also insight on their chosen careers.

More than 200 colleges and universities have participated in the program since it began in 1990. It is SOU's second time participating in the program.

Reach reporter Ayisha Yahya at 776-4468, or e-mail

Students' strategy