Team 'Ale Mail' in Winnipeg

Why we compete

As we wrap up our Winter term at the Oregon MBA, I’m proud to reflect back on the efforts of our teams that took their ideas ‘on the road’ and across borders to socialize their ideas and gather valuable feedback from judges and peers. If no business plan survives first contact with customers, then you cannot overstate the value of getting out the building to share your idea with the world.

Many will say that the ‘business plan’ is dead and that business plan competitions are a lost cause. We at the Lundquist College of Business respectfully disagree. Writing a business plan and putting together an investor pitch is not a waste of valuable MBA time. Rather, those activities are a forcing function for students to integrate the business model they’ve designed, the customer development they’ve done, and the core MBA functions of finance and strategy together in a well-communicated package.

Team ‘CINCH’ in Bangkok

We send Oregon MBAs to these competitions to expand student perspectives and share in the joy of competition. When our teams compete, they get the type of hands-on learning that builds human capital for the future. No amount of classwork can prepare you for the challenges that come from unknown judges and competition from other well-developed ideas. Students learn from one another, sharing the experiences of the tough judges, travel, and experiences of a student entrepreneur. Whether it’s in Bangkok Thailand, Louisville, Winnipeg, or Portland, the outcome of these competitions is the same – experiences that shape ideas and outcomes for a students’ career.

Feature image: Team ‘Ale Mail’ in Winnipeg

 

Written by Nathan Lillegard

I run the programs and activities for the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. My experience includes enterprise software development and implementations and operational process improvement. I started a biotech company called Floragenex, got it off the ground, secured investors and customers, and left it in the capable hands of a great team.

The Path to a Powerful Cause Marketing Campaign

Times are a-changin’. No longer can a company skirt around their moral code. More and more, customers are demanding products and services that serve a greater moral purpose or stand for something good. This doesn’t mean companies can do one project or one campaign and claim they are a purpose-driven organization. Consumers are smarter than that. They can sniff out inauthentic approaches like a bloodhound. At the same time, companies shouldn’t be compelled to hide their efforts to keep their valiant efforts anonymous. On the contrary, now more than ever it is important to communicate what they’re doing to contribute to a better world. So how do you approach mission-based marketing in a unique, genuine way? I’m on a mission to find out. Below is are three considerations for companies struggling with this issue. Throughout this article, you’ll hear from an expert on the topic – Molly Malloy, Director of Brand Purpose Planning at Futerra. Futerra calls themselves a “Change Agency” and for good reason. They are “McKinsey meets McCann” – always on the cutting edge of combining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting and communications to deliver complete solutions for companies that are serious about making a change and amplifying their existing efforts.

“Don’t put lipstick on a pig” – this one seems obvious, right? However, companies are still taking a “greenwashing” approach to sustainability efforts on the reg. Many times, this isn’t an evil plot to fool consumers into buying into their fake mission. Executives may have the best of intentions, but aren’t putting the tools in place to really deliver on their promise. According to Molly, “consumers must feel a company’s desire is sincere to make a real change.” To ensure their clients are doing just that, Futerra and their clients put a lot of time into determining how they will implement initiatives that have real impact. This is built into their DNA. Their “logic” team is made up of sustainability and social impact experts that help clients implement the actual programs. The “magic” team (including Molly’s role) creates strategies to accurately communicate this idea internally and externally. The biggest takeaway? Don’t just say you’ll do it, actually do it. Commit to change and implement it. Then communicating it will come (relatively) easy.

Make it personal – One of the challenges I found in my research, and something Futerra confirmed their clients also face, is simply how to make more people care. “For a lot of brands, it isn’t enough to go after the hardcore environmentalists or social activists, we want to affect change by bringing these messages to the mainstream market. We’re constantly striving to scale these initiatives and campaigns. That’s how we make the biggest impact.” Molly explained. How do you do that? Make the issue personal and get creative. A lot of the problems our world faces are nameless and sometimes halfway around the world. How can you establish a connection? One example of how Futerra overcame this obstacle was through their work with the UN and their Wild for Life campaign. They realized that it was hard for people to care about wild life poaching since it was so far removed from a lot of people. They solved this problem by creating a quiz to find out what your “spirit animal” is, personifying and creating an emotional connection to the issue. They promoted it through partnerships with celebrities who disclosed their own spirit animals. Case and point – don’t assume people care already. Get them to care by establishing a connection with the issue using unique tactics and channels.

Do your research and establish meaningful partnerships – In 2012, Susan G. Komen Foundation and Baker Hughes Inc., an oil and fracking company, partnered up on a campaign to distribute pink drill bits to job sites around the country to increase awareness of breast cancer. I’m sure you can predict how this story ended. Since fracking is associated with cancer, both organizations suffered major backlash for this campaign.* To avoid making the wrong partnerships or promoting an initiative that may not align with your mission, do your research. “Not only do we look at data concerning consumer behavior, we reach out to experts that can inform how we approach our strategies.” Social, political, environmental, and social issues are highly charged. Admitting a gap in knowledge and seeking out credible information to fill that void is crucial. Consumers are always more informed than you think. Do everything you can to explore the range of topics associated with the initiative and seek out experts that may have opposing viewpoints. This will give valuable insight into the complex nature of these issues and how you approach solutions and communications strategies.

Authenticity, scalability and insatiable curiosity are essential to developing a successful CSR strategy and communication plan. However, every company and approach is unique. The most important question to ask yourself before pursuing these types of initiatives is “Why?”. Why are you doing it? If it’s to earn more revenue – re-evaluate. Consumers will pick up on the reason behind the campaign. Change may be scary, but companies shouldn’t shy away from the challenge. According to Molly – “Brands have to know, right now, what they stand for. If they don’t communicate their values, they are falling behind.”

 

*http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/pink-drill-bits-bring-complaints-komen-tie-fracking-n223166

 

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

Don’t Forget About Your Company’s Best Ally: Culture

Do you work for a startup company that is forming its business foundation? A mid-size company experiencing growing pains as they scale-up? Or a large company hoping to make a major organizational shift?  At all levels, you may be focusing on the numbers, the what and the how; but are you remembering to think about the why? At the core of your business lies the company’s mission, values, and culture. Every leader in the company surely knows the why — why did we open, why is what we do important, and the why behind each and every thing that we do.  Too frequently though, this simple why is not a part of a company’s process. This blog will break this down into three simple steps crucial to leading your company through challenges that you may be facing, with culture as your key ally in the process.

Step 1) Align: You – the leader – are facing a dilemma. Before you act, first look at the why. As a leader, you eat, sleep and breathe the mission, values, and strategy of your company, but have you thought about this dilemma in the context of the bigger issues? Too often we approach a micro-problem with a micro-solution, when really, this small problem is an indicator of an opportunity for a macro-solution. Take for example, in the context of a growing startup, an employee who is complaining about not knowing the guy who works across the desk from him. Your knee-jerk solution might involve introducing the two. Consider, however, that this may be an indicator of something more going on;  could it be a micro-example of the growing pains that your small business is experiencing as the culture of the company is changing?  Is this evolving work culture in alignment with your company’s strategy?  Before reacting to this scenario, you have the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of growth that your startup is facing and what cultural implications these may have.

Step 2) Ask: Our earlier example feeds nicely into step two. You need to take inventory of the rest of your employees. How is the growth feeling from their perspectives? What is their perception of the company’s culture?  In fact, from a social constructivist point-of-view, the company’s culture is defined – even created – by the mutual understanding of your company’s social values across employees. You really need to know the culture, inside and out, and employee engagement is fundamental to this understanding.  Don’t forget to find out the good along with the bad; it is all a part of the organizational culture and will be important in our last step.

Step 3) Adapt: The last step is to evaluate and decide how to evolve as a company. If your business is changing, maybe it’s necessary to accept the hard realization that the culture you started with might just need to change too. Or, on the contrary, if your original culture is still key to your company’s mission and values, then maybe you don’t need to change the culture but instead must figure out how to sustain it within your growing company. Whichever direction you go, realize that a company is never static, and neither is its culture. Cultural adaptability could be the missing puzzle piece for how your startup can grow, but to find that piece, you must start from step one.

Now that you understand these three steps, bring them to whatever dilemma your company is facing and view it with a fresh perspective. You have the opportunity to influence your company’s culture in a way that will reinforce your company’s mission, values and strategy. The result? A long-lasting company with a differentiated and ever-evolving organizational culture.

This blog was inspired by a class assignment developed for the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course lead by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach.

Written by Leah Wheeler

Leah is a 2018 MBA from the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon. Her interest in integrating sustainability into common business practices led her to choose the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, ranked #1 Green MBA. Originally from Washington, she graduated from Whitman College with a degree in Economics then worked in healthcare management for the majority of her career. After her MBA, she plans on combining her work experience in management with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her values.

Warsaw is Family: Reflecting on the 2017 National Sports Forum Case Cup

In early December, I was presented with the opportunity to be part of a team that would represent the University of Oregon and the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the NSF Case Cup Competition. Knowing the magnitude of the National Sports Forum, the challenging format of the competition, and the stiff competition we would face, I hesitantly accepted the offer to fly into the middle of a Minnesotan winter.

The NSF Case Cup is a Masters level case-style competition held each year at the National Sports Forum. The competition is an opportunity for Masters students to compete in a multidisciplinary sports business case study in which teams are given 24 hours to tackle a challenging, real-world sports business problem that simulates the challenges we will face as we begin our professional careers.

This year, Luke Nofsinger, Danielle Barbian, Kelly O’Shaughnessy and myself were tasked with strategically utilizing Major League Soccer’s recent partnership with SeatGeek to boost revenue at Sporting Kansas City, one of the most successful clubs in the MLS. With just 24 hours to understand the case, complete research, brainstorm solutions and produce a 20-minute presentation, the competition was a fast-paced blur that consisted of only three hours of sleep and far too much coffee and junk food. As challenging and exhausting as the competition was, it was all made worth it when we were fortunate enough to be awarded first place, bringing the trophy back to Eugene for the second time.

The victory was definitely a proud moment for our team. We were not only excited to be recognized for our efforts but also proud to have been able to showcase the strength of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center and the Oregon MBA on a national stage. Heading to Minneapolis, we felt that the academic and experiential learning opportunities provided to us over the last 1.5 years positioned us to be successful at the Case Cup. The extensive exposure to industry and the seemingly endless amount of group work and presentations that we have tackled through our coursework meant we were unfazed by the format of the competition and were able to approach the problem collaboratively and strategically. I can confidently say that our success at the National Sports Forum came from not only the combined talents and experiences of our team, but also from the experiences within the Oregon MBA that have helped us grow and develop into the young professionals we are today.

Perhaps the biggest thing that stuck with me upon leaving Minnesota though had little to do with the Case Cup itself. The support and camaraderie that existed within the alumni of the Warsaw program made a big impact on me. We were lucky enough to be joined by a handful of Warsaw alum at the conference and from the moment we arrived the team felt part of a larger family. This Warsaw community exists across the country and to me has been one of the biggest factors in my enjoyment and success in this program.

The NSF Case Cup Competition was definitely a valuable learning experience for me and my teammates but I think the real value of my time in Minneapolis were the connections I made with industry professionals, alumni and other students. It is one of many experiences that have been afforded me through the Oregon MBA that continue to reaffirm my decision to cross the Pacific Ocean and join the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. With just over three months until I graduate from this program and all the uncertainty that comes with the job search process, it’s comforting to know that wherever I end up, I will always be a part of the Warsaw Center and Oregon MBA families.

 

Written by Nick Hudson

Nick is a 2nd year MBA student in the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sport Marketing Center. Born in Australia, Nick has worked in events and sponsorship with Tennis Australia, Wasserman and the Prefontaine Classic and previously in a management consulting capacity with Deloitte. Upon graduation in June 2017, Nick hopes to return to the world of sports sponsorship and marketing with an agency or sports property.

Making a Case for Change

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to the failed attempts at implementing an initiative you feel passionate about. You are certain it’s going to bring positive change in a variety of ways, but can’t seem to get others on board. You’ve all but given up on your noble crusade. Fear not brave change-agents. Below are tactics that can help you get buy in with upper management and move you toward responsibilities that don’t make you want to run for the door at 5 pm on the dot.

Do your research.

The biggest mistake you can make is stating a claim without backing it up.  According to Sean Ryan in Harvard Business Review, people have something called a “negativity bias,” which means we’re more risk averse than risk taking. “The average person requires a gain twice the value of the potential loss,” so hedge your bets by being over-prepared. Show, don’t tell, why you think your initiative is important to the future of the company.

Know Who You’re Talking To

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People famously wrote “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Rather than thinking about it from your perspective, put yourself in their shoes and frame the issue to address their motivations and concerns.  Is this person only trying to hit the bottom line? If so, is there a way to frame this as a revenue generating opportunity? Are they worried about competitive forces? If so, can you use your initiative as a way to differentiate and get ahead of those competitors?

You’ll Need Back Up

Teamwork makes the dream work, people. As cliché as it sounds, this holds true when you’re trying to sell something to upper management. On top of showing your boss you have support, gathering expertise from multiple areas strengthens your ideas. Don’t just ask your work husband for help, recruit those with influence that are most likely to get on board with your idea. Map out your network and organize it into four categories as shown below and determine your game plan to get the key potential supporters on board.

Two birds meet one stone

The other night, I decided to go out rather than go to the gym. We ended up dancing for a few hours and I woke up sore – no workout necessary! You know how good it feels to accomplish more than one goal with one action. So does your boss. Chances are, if you think your idea is worthy of your boss’s attention, it satisfies a greater need that they are already trying to address. This is called “bundling”. According to Ashford and Dutton, by bundling, “a seller taps into resources and communication currency the other issue may have.” In other words, your company wouldn’t have to start from square one. If there are already efforts in place that you can apply to your initiative, use those to your advantage.

Have a great idea? Believe you could inspire change in your organization? Stop. Take a deep breath. You can do it, but you need a plan. Sit down and evaluate who you need to convince and how you can back yourself up both with facts and with people. Think about your organization’s existing initiatives and how you can pair yours with your boss’s priorities. The more prepared you are and the more passion you bring to this endeavor, the more successful you’ll be. You got this.

This blog was inspired by a class assignment developed for the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course lead by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach.

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.