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There didn’t seem to be any empty seats in the Clark University classroom on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day for Episode 4.5 of Lawrence Norman’s class Marketing to You.
The classes are numbered like television shows; this is the fifth class of the fourth semester he’s offered the class.
The class is overbooked, said teaching assistant Simi Stark, a senior at Clark in Worcester. Students in the class represent 18 different majors. People who take the class range from freshmen to graduate students. The class, including a student in the front row wearing SpongeBob SquarePants slippers, is engaged throughout the three-hour weekly class.
Marketing to You brings ambitious students and accomplished executives together in an active classroom setting. Students learn from the experience of the executives while the executives stay connected with the youth market and can often find ambitious and talented candidates for internships and jobs. Students are driven to come up with ideas for products and campaigns to market those products, and then must present them before the class during each session.
On Valentine’s Day, the students were gathered to meet with Allison Giorgio, vice president of marketing for Puma Group, the German athletic footwear and lifestyle brand. One of the hallmarks of the class are its guest speakers, mostly executives at companies from startups to Fortune 500 behemoths.
Noah Katz, a freshman at Clark whose multi-media company The Umpire Channel since June has grown to 30,000 followers mainly on TikTok and Instagram, said reading about the class and its impressive guest speakers was partly responsible for him choosing Clark for his higher education.
“It’s not a typical course,” said freshman Neel Kumar, a rapper and producer who performs under the name Masala King. “Students learn how to approach people to ask for opportunities. How to sell yourself as a brand.”
Kumar hopes to inspire and teach South Asian-American youth about the music industry.
In the Valentine’s Day class, the proceedings began with an acknowledgement of the Feb. 13 shooting at Michigan State University. Norman worked in Israel during a turbulent time in the country and shared his familiarity with similar tragedies. That was the one somber moment of the high-energy class, fueled by music and highly designed multimedia slides.
Norman keeps the class current by preparing content 48 hours before the class. In this class, he discussed Super Bowl commercials aired two days before.
The class is rigorously structured, broken up into sections, which helps students to stay engaged during a class Norman points out is longer than an “Avatar” movie.
At the center of the class is the guest speaker. Norman, a former adidas executive, wearing fresh-looking Puma sneakers, conducted an interview with Giorgio, the Puma executive, and then opened up the floor to questions from the students.
Giorgio not only answered questions from the students, but turned their questions back to them and engaged with their answers.
“What an opportunity to hear from them,” said Giorgio during a break in the class.
Puma has a robust internship program, she said.
“It’s real jobs, and real work,” said Giorgio. “We love hiring interns and co-ops. We test them, and they test us.”
Norman’s class has had a number of instances where guest speakers picked interns directly from the class. Brendan Tuohey, co-founder and president of Washington D.C.-based nonprofit PeacePlayers International, was a guest speaker in a previous semester. He watched the student presentations and was impressed with the talent. After an interview process, he selected a student intern.
It happened again during this current semester when the founders of Slate Milk, a beverage startup in Boston, visited the class. They are in the final interview process with three students and will select one for an internship.
During the last part of each class, after the guest speaker portion, students are split into teams and are assigned a project where they have to create a product and a marketing scheme for that product. They have just over 30 minutes to establish team dynamics, develop a strategy and a pitch, and create slides, and then they deliver a three-minute pitch.
On this Valentine’s Day, the assignment was to come up with a musical romantic comedy for Broadway. Some students put together a short video, as part of their pitch.
“What I ask them to do is harder than anything they’ll have to do on the job,” said Norman.
The number one thing students take from the class is confidence, Norman said.
“Being forced to constantly pitch makes me more comfortable in my own skin,” sophmore Clarissa Ko said. Ko, along with two Worcester Polytechnic Institute students, has started a company called 360energy, which helps people living in rural Indonesia generate electricity using small-scale hydropower.
It’s daunting for students to pitch to professionals, she said, but the class prepares them by pushing them out of their comfort zone.
Norman encourages his students to be motivated and persistent. Katz said one of the most important lessons Norman teaches is to not take no for an answer, within professional boundaries.
The professor teaches from his own experience. After Norman earned his MBA at Clark in 1995, he went to Israel to play professional basketball. With practices at night, he set out to find an internship.
“I printed out 100 resumes. I had a suit on. It was 100-plus degrees. I went door to door. Any building I could find that had a corporate logo,” he said.
The search led him to adidas, where he landed an internship. During this time he was on the go from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. He took three buses every morning to the internship, then three more to basketball practice, and three buses home. It was a time when buses were being attacked in Israel after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Norman has been an executive with adidas and Reebok, a CEO at German child-safety company CYBEX, and an advisor to startups. At Clark, he sees it as his role to use his expertise to inspire the next generation of business leaders.
“I remember when I went to Clark, my first internship, which was writing comedy at [Fitchburg radio station] WXLO, it was a memorable experience. I had a great mentor there who inspired me,” he said.
Once he had that experience on his resume, it led him to the next thing and the next and eventually led him to adidas.
“I know how important that first internship can be. I know it affects people’s lives. I love that,” said Norman.
The other thing that drives Norman is his desire to create.
“I love to write. I love to present. I love to challenge myself and try to get speakers that I never thought I could have gotten,” said Norman. “If I’m in a position, it doesn’t matter if it’s a CEO role or adjunct professor, if I’m not able to create, my gas runs out.”
Norman spoke about Katz pitching his social media company and said something that seems to apply to his own classes.
“It’s educating and inspiring. Not one or the other,” he said. “You just educate; it's boring. You just inspire; it’s fluff. So if you're going to educate, inspire.”