AMA students answer Switchboard of Miami’s call for marketing support.

To succeed, any academic service-learning project should make a contribution to the community that is meaningful and relevant to all involved.

Members of the American Marketing Association (AMA) collegiate chapter at Florida International University (FIU) are taking this goal to heart as they partner with the College of Business Administration’s Dean’s Alumni Circle to help Switchboard of Miami, Inc. infuse its marketing efforts with fresh ideas.

Switchboard faces a marketing dilemma.

For more than 40 years, Switchboard has provided hotline and peer counseling services to the Miami area. Recently, the organization realized it needed an image makeover. Martin Cerda (BBA ’86), co-chair of the Alumni Circle’s Action and Service Learning Committee and a member of the Switchboard board of directors, suggested that the college’s AMA chapter might be able to help with a rebranding effort.

The project supports the “Hit the Ground Running” campaign—a mandate from FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg and supported by Joyce J. Elam, executive dean of the business school, to create a more engaged university on all fronts.

As a first step, the AMA students applied for and won a grant offered by the Alumni Circle to support community service-learning projects.

“We wrote and presented a marketing proposal designed to aid Switchboard in restructuring its financial and brand development,” said Giancarlo Russo, AMA collegiate chapter president. “We identified three main areas of concern: visibility, fundraising and communication. We then proposed a multi-prong marketing campaign that includes advertising, technology and social networking components to help spread the word through the community about Switchboard’s services.”

From left to right, Tim Dugan Birrittella, faculty advisor, FIU AMA chapter; Giancarlo Russo; Catherine Penrod; Ed Straub, board member, Switchboard of Miami; and Walfried Lassar, chair, Marketing Department

By all accounts, Switchboard CEO Catherine Penrod and the board of directors were impressed by the proposal and are working with the students to lock down a viable marketing plan.

What’s good for the students is good for the community.

Cerda notes that the caliber of the college’s marketing students and their level of professionalism continually impress him.

“A project like this gives them a chance to develop real-world marketing skills that will aid them in their career paths,” he said. “At the same time, they are offering Switchboard much needed support while making a valuable contribution to the greater Miami community.”

It’s a perfect example of academic service learning in action.

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