By BECKI CREWE
Brock University’s annual Terry O’Malley Lecture took flight with WestJet.
The 14th Annual Terry O’Malley Lecture in Marketing and Advertising on Wednesday night awarded prize money to the top three Bachelor of Business Administration finalists in the Grant Dobson Case Competition. The lecture also welcomed guest speaker Brock alumnus Greg Plata.
Plata, who is team lead for sponsorship and experiential marketing at WestJet, graduated in 2008 from the Sports Management program. His address was about his experiences after graduation and his journey that landed him a job at WestJet.
In explaining his motivation for the annual lecture, O’Malley said, “Brock, being a lovely university, I wanted to do something that was relevant to my career and that would be beneficial and interesting for the students.”
“Primarily, they’re [students] able to talk directly to business leaders who are in the business that they want to be in. Judges, with successful backgrounds, are willing to share their knowledge and it’s very informative and very real for the students.”
“They suddenly realize that the person you like so much that’s sitting next to you, in two or three months, is going to be your competition for a job.”
Plata said it’s “been a while” since he’s been back to Brock after his move west. “A lot of memories came flooding back after getting to spend a full day on campus.”
The competition showcased many group presentations proposing new and fun ideas about WestJet to a team of judges, including the airline’s employees.
The competition, begun in 2005, is named after Dobson, who served as the executive director of the Office of External Relations at Brock University. O’Malley set the competition as a platform within the lecture to give students opportunities to learn and apply strategies and roles of marketing, advertising and mass media.
O’Malley said Dobson helped him implement it, noting that three years later, Dobson died.
“In honour of him, the marketing competition is called the Dobson Case Competition.”
Plata, when asked about the first-place team, said, “The students in general all had terrific presentation skills. The winning team took a chance, went outside the box and really left an impression on all the judges.”
“It was very close across the board. They did not make it easy on the panel to choose a winner.”
Shannon O’Rourke, student on the first place team, said, “Being selected as the first place team in the competition was one of the most proud and accomplished moments my teammates and I have ever felt.”
“For the past month, we had been working nonstop on polishing our ideas before presenting them to the judges. Hearing our names called for first place proved that all of our hard work and late nights paid off.”
O’Rourke’s team created a marketing campaign entitled “Taking Care of Business.” The aim of their campaign was to attract the new generation of business travellers to fly with WestJet. The team created a business app for the airline to appeal to business travellers. The app is equipped with features such as expense report tabs, booking hotels and car rentals.
“In order to introduce this app we decided to use Bachman Turner Overdrive’s song Taking Care of Business with modified lyrics about the app,” said O’Rourke.
O’Malley, who sponsored the night’s events and financing, said students placing first won $2,000, second won $1,200 and third, $800.
Josh Hall, a business student, said, “The goal of this competition is you learn all this theory in the classroom, so it’s a chance to actually apply it to a real-world problem from a real company and have those executives come in and evaluate.”
Hall said he believes events like this help break the stigma, “If you can walk and talk, you can go to Brock.”
“Events like this let people know that we’re smart. When we graduate, we do things in the workforce that contribute to the business of Canada.”
“You don’t get much closer to a real-life experience than that.”
Hall was one of the many students who presented their business project to the judging team.
“Our idea was based upon WestJet’s values. Their corporate values are fun, friendly and caring. It was also based upon a fundamental truth: the idea that if you fly with WestJet and you experience that corporate culture, you’ll never fly with anyone else.”
Zurain Malik, a business student and group member with Hall, said, “What we aim to do is bring the WestJet culture and WestJet experience to people who have never flown WestJet before. Anyone can smudge numbers, what we need is that emotional connection to the brand and the emotional connection to the service.”
Malik’s and Hall’s team of four members placed second in the competition.
O’Malley said what sets this year’s lecture apart from the previous 13 is that Plata is the first Brock graduate to make an address at the lecture.
Plata said, “I was honoured and thrilled to be considered as the guest lecturer. Looking at the list and seeing those who had preceded me was humbling.”
“From my perspective, getting the opportunity to give back meant a lot, and I hope I was able to shed some light or provide some advice to students as they prepare to take the next step.”
O’Rourke said, “I feel as though my teammates and I were more motivated to devote our time and effort into this competition because we chose to do it on our own.
“I would reccommend entering this competition to any student at Brock University.”
O’Malley said he found Wednesday night’s speech by Plata “inspirational and aspirational.”
“Greg is six years out of Brock. I was hoping students sitting there would say, ‘That could be me.’”