If you're in the market for fresh ideas to spark sales and interest in your tire dealership, don't overlook your local college or university.
I learned that firsthand recently by participating in a small way with the 2004 Public Relations Campaigns class at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, near Akron.
This class was all business and afforded participants little time for that springtime malaise known as ``senioritis.'' Instead, the students had to stay focused on an assignment that was every bit as tough and time consuming as a master's thesis.
As a culmination to their PR coursework, Kent split its senior public relations students into four teams, each charged with creating a campaign for a real client. This year that client was Kelly Tires, a brand owned by Goodyear.
Goodyear executives in charge of Kelly challenged the teams to create PR campaigns that would boost Kelly tire sales at a local dealership, Flynn's Tire Group, increase awareness of female consumers in Flynn's markets (Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Ohio, and Kent) and enhance Kelly's relationship with its independent tire dealers and distributors.
The students didn't just put their ideas on paper and submit them to their professor. As part of their grade evaluation, they had to present their campaign and answer questions before 11 judges in a setting that resembled a corporate board room. The judges included six from the client-four from Goodyear and two from Kelly's advertising agency Marcus Thomas L.L.C. in Cleveland-and five outside judges, all public relations executives. Fellow students, parents, teachers and friends watched from seats surrounding the action.
If you think sitting before Donald Trump on ``The Apprentice'' TV show would be intimidating, think about having 11 professionals grill you in front of your classmates and peers-with your grade riding on the outcome.
But the students didn't stumble. They were poised and professional and their ideas creative.
As part of its presentation, Crimson Communications, one of the student PR agencies, decided to reincarnate Kelly's long-since retired spokeswomen, Miss Lotta Miles, with a new version, Ms. Kelly, who would become the face of Kelly in Kent. By holding a contest and selecting 10 Ms. Kellys, Crimson hoped to create a buzz in the community, increasing awareness of the brand and thereby boosting Kelly sales.
Crimson even introduced the first Ms. Kelly representative, who commented she was ``glad they changed the name from Miss Lotta Miles, because there's not a girl around who wants to be known as Miss Lotta Miles!''
Phoenix Group, another student agency, came up with a grassroots approach to building Kelly sales and awareness. Kelly lacks community involvement and isn't well recognized among consumers, the group found in its research. So Phoenix proposed having Kelly sponsor local environmental projects, such as refurbishing a park, and back such worthy causes as ``A Walk for Wishes'' and women's health organizations.
The group even suggested tying in with the university's parking services to offer students free tire rotations with every oil change purchased at the local Flynn's Tire outlet.
``By getting the name out there, it will boost Kelly sales,'' the group told the judges.
Elite Communications, the third student PR firm to present, proposed holding a regional conference for current and prospective Kelly dealers to strengthen relations with Goodyear. To boost sales, the group suggested launching a new dealer-incentive program dubbed ``Bleed Kelly Green.''
Like all of the student agencies, Elite identified women as targets for their campaigns. Why? Because women buy a majority of replacement tires yet have little knowledge about the brand, the teams discovered through focus groups and research.
Aligning Kelly and Flynn's Tire with causes important to women-such as breast cancer, children and safety-will increase their awareness of Kelly and help them view the brand as ``improving the quality of life,'' Elite explained.
The final group, Vision Communications, proposed linking Kelly with men's basketball at Kent State through events such as a half-court shot opportunity to win a car. To gain media exposure, Vision suggested holding business lunches with members of the tire trade press and developing a newsroom Web site containing press releases about Kelly.
Vision also proposed Kelly and Flynn's Tire establish five-minute air pressure clinics that would be given after every Kelly purchase to strengthen the relationship between the tire buyer and the dealer.
Pretty neat, savvy ideas coming from a bunch of college students who put their hearts into their presentations.
Mr. Zielasko is editor and publisher of Tire Business.