UH Bauer’s Google Online Marketing Challenge team responds with pride, disbelief
When the 2011 Google Online Marketing Challenge team from the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business learned they placed third in the non-profit category, they were thrilled. The four MBA students had labored on the global competition for three months, using their $200 AdWord budget to promote concerts for the Houston Symphony.
Indeed, there was nothing shabby about their showing and much to savor: The orchestra would get a $5,000 cash donation. The Bauer team would feel the satisfaction of helping a non-profit client sell concert tickets and bolster its online visibility.
They were notified of their non-profit category achievement on Aug. 5. Three days later, the students got another email from Google. This time, the four classmates from Prof. Stephen Koch’s spring-semester special-topics class learned that they were the overall global champions of the Google Challenge. They had bested 4,429 collegiate teams from 68 countries to become the first-ever North American team (and the only all-female group) to take No. 1 in the competition’s history.
Their response: They didn’t believe a word of it. “We really thought we were being punked,” says Erin Blatzer, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s director of online media and the team’s unofficial leader.
“We didn’t know if it was really for real,” chimes in team member Jeffrei Clifton. “Until they were asking for quotes and stuff, we really thought it was a joke. It just blew our minds to think that we did so well.”
Since getting the news, the Bauer students have been basking in kudos and congratulations.
On Thursday, Aug. 18, around the time Google was posting the news online, the women were honored by Interim Dean Latha Ramchand at the Bauer Alumni Annual Meeting. In the coming weeks, they’ll be treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Googleplex, the online giant’s company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Besides Blatzer and Clifton, the winners are Carolina Thomas and Lauren Davis; Blatzer is scheduled to receive her MBA in December, while the other three Coogs graduated in May.)
“This is something really, really special for them for so many different reasons,” says Koch, a Bauer executive professor and director of the college’s Business Consulting Lab. “I am going to celebrate over and over and over again.”
How the classmates came to partner with the Houston Symphony is a serendipitous tale of its own. The women knew they wanted to work with a non-profit, but they were having trouble finding the right client. They were all in a panic, until Blatzer remembered she had a friend who works in digital media and young-audience development at the symphony.
That would be Melissa Seuffert (BA ’09), who had interned for Blatzer at the natural-science museum. Blatzer sent Seuffert a text. “She got back to me within five minutes,” Blatzer recalls, “and we had agreed to work with them by the next day. It was really kind of exciting how it all came together at the last minute.”
“They really took it and ran with it,” Seuffert says. “We’re so proud to have been a part of the whole process. I’m just ecstatic for the team.” The Google Challenge victory gives the symphony worldwide exposure, and the three-week ad campaign yielded a treasure-trove of research data that the non-profit organization can use in the future.
“We are equally — or more — excited than the girls on the team!” enthused Glenn Taylor, the symphony’s senior marketing director. “This project gave our marketing team the opportunity to learn critical information about leveraging Google AdWords within our marketing mix. And because of the win, the symphony will now receive a monetary donation from Google. Just incredible!”
It was the second time Koch used the Google Challenge as a semester-long exercise. Last year’s class submitted an online marketing analysis for Houston’s Crave Cupcakes, finishing in the top 100. This time, Koch says, “I knew we would be in the playoffs, but I didn’t know we would win.”
Now that it’s official, let the woo-hoos and the Coog-grats begin. “Our objective is to make sure they understand that they are the best in the world,” Koch says, “and they need to feel good about that.”
By Wendell Brock