At the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media, students learn by doing. The school’s hands-on approach to learning means students are often paired with companies during a semester to help with branding, promotions, marketing and public relations.
When a group of UM students enrolled in the IMC 455 capstone class were given the opportunity to work with Ethiopian Airlines to better promote the company in the United States, they had no idea the class would also include a trip to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Led by Assistant Dean Scott Fiene and Assistant Professor Zenebe Beyene, Ph.D., the class focused on promoting Ethiopian Airlines to U.S. travelers. The airline with U.S. operations based in Washington, D.C. currently flies direct to Ethiopia from five U.S. cities
Beyene, who is originally from Ethiopia, forged the relationship with the company that is also offering the school’s IMC online master’s degree to its employees. The class was comprised of 15 students, and 10 traveled to Ethiopia.
“We started out like we do all campaigns classes,” said Fiene. “We started with a client analysis, learning all we could about them and about their competitors, and looking at the competitive landscape and strengths and weaknesses. Then we came up with a brand theme that we thought would resonate.”
The theme was “The World’s Original Hub” because Ethiopia is the cradle of civilization and everything in human history is connected.
“Then we split it into three market segments,” Fiene said. “We did business travelers. Then we did two segments of leisure travelers. One segment was guided travelers, people who are traveling to Ethiopia, but they need hand-holding. We talked to a lot of people who were traveling to the country, but they needed travel agents to work with them. The other leisure segment was adventure travelers. There is a growing segment of people who just want to strike off and go see volcanoes, and they don’t need a lot of help.”
The group also offered overall brand recommendations for the company’s website, social media, and other ideas, such as parking a plane at U.S. airshows to promote the company.
“Whenever you do the campaigns classes, the more you know the client, the better,” Fiene said. “You always go to the client. We thought it would be interesting to see if we could do that.”
The educators struck a deal with the airlines. They gave the students free airfare except for sales taxes on the flight. Students also had to pay for a connecting flight from Memphis to Newark airport. They took the trip at the end of February 2019.
“We had a very economical trip, and we were only there for three nights,” Fiene said. On the first day, they met airline executives and toured the facility. On the second day, they toured the capital city. The third day involved another short tour, then they left to return home to Oxford.
This was Fiene’s second time to visit Ethiopia. He made his first trip there last June with colleagues.
“It’s really eye-opening for students to see their misconceptions about Africa and Ethiopia when they see what a modern and beautiful city (the capital) really is,” he said. “We were delighted to be involved with the company. We were promoting a product that we passionately believe in.”
While there were many personal takeaways from the experience, students can include their work in their professional resume portfolio.
“They’ve done IMC for an international airline, which is really cool,” Fiene said. “So there is the ability to use that and the learning that goes into it. This is a class in which everything you learn in the IMC program, you put it together. So students are using writing, design, social media, PR and advertising skills.”