A GM internship gives students real marketing experience


Above: York’s General Motors marketing interns with marketing instructor Kate Ellis, centre, wearing a grey top

On Oct. 29, a class of marketing students will park a gleaming new Pontiac Vibe car next to the fountain in front of Vari Hall and try to tempt you to “Get into the Vibe.” They will be marked on how well they promote the vehicle on campus.

From the first day of class this semester, the 43 students in the fourth-year marketing course (Consumer Behaviour MKTG 4550) have been working together to design and execute a marketing campaign to promote GM’s Pontiac Vibe.

It’s all part of a unique internship offered for the first time by General Motors of Canada Limited. Students receive $2,500 and guidelines, templates and advice to create their own marketing agency and promote a single GM product. GM is sponsoring the program in collaboration with EdVenture Partners, which administers it. The program is offered at 350 American schools, but this is the first year it’s been offered in Canada – at York, University of Toronto and Ryerson University.

“It’s a great opportunity to get real work experience,” said Susan Thomas, who is in the public relations “department” of the class’ marketing agency. “I personally am developing and enhancing a wide variety of skills.”

Each student had to apply for a “job” in one of seven departments – strategy, research, finance, public relations, advertising, campaign implementation and published reports. Based on their applications, Kate Ellis, part-time marketing instructor at Schulich, assigned them to departments and also named two project coordinators.

Right: The Pontiac Vibe

In six weeks, the interns have designed Vibe Fest, a one-day, on-campus promotion Oct. 29 of the Pontiac Vibe. There will be graffiti contests, prizes, free gifts, a hip hop performance and a demonstration by the York cheerleading team. The group is publicizing the event with posters, on radio, in newspapers and, naturally, in YFile — all part of Thomas’s job.

For the first four weeks, students research the target market, formulate strategies and devise a campaign to promote the new five-door car. They present their plan to GM executives for feedback and approval, then implement the campaign.

This learning-by-doing program encourages students to be part of a real-life project, said Thomas. Nowadays most students find themselves caught in a vicious circle of “no experience, no job opportunity, and no job, no experience.” The General Motors Marketing Internship helps resolve this dilemma, she said.

GM is confident enough to let students run their marketing campaign, but it is also tapping into their creativity, said Thomas. The internship gives students valuable real-world experience and gives GM marketing benefits for its new products. Students at U of T and Ryerson are promoting different vehicles.

The Vibe Fest is not the end of the internship. In November the class will make an agency-style presentation about its marketing campaign to company executives at corporate headquarters in Oshawa.