It all began with a phone call. Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann contacted Huntington University’s President Sherilyn Emberton about a marketing plan competition called “Promoting the Good Works of Indiana Agriculture.” The purpose of the contest was to engage college students in designing a strategy to cultivate interest and enthusiasm for agriculture among 18- to 35-year-olds.
“I initially told the lieutenant governor no because Huntington University doesn’t have an agricultural program,” Emberton said. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer, though.”
That was in November. On March 7, Ellspermann called the president again — this time to tell her that the Huntington team had made it into the finals for the competition.
Out of the 30 teams and 17 colleges and universities represented, HU was selected as a top-three team to present a campaign proposal to a panel of seven judges on March 24, along with the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. That afternoon, Ellspermann announced Huntington University as the winner of the competition and a $25,000 cash prize with its “Hoosier Grown” campaign.
“‘Hoosier Grown’ describes not only the products coming out of Indiana but also the people who produce them,” team leader Stephanie Morin explained.
From the arts to the liberal arts to business, the Huntington students pulled from a broad range of knowledge and skill sets to design a creative, compelling campaign.
The “Hoosier Grown” team included: Micah Christensen, a senior public relations major from Winamac, Ind.; TJ Clounie, a sophomore film production major from Huntington, Ind.; Dane Drew, a senior in the Professional Programs majoring in business administration and marketing from Columbia City, Ind.; Hannah Hochstetler, a senior graphic design major from Goshen, Ind.; Morin, a senior history and public relations major from Gorham, Maine; Matt Nelson, a senior animation major from Granger, Ind.; Ayla Yeiter, a sophomore biology pre-med major from Roanoke, Ind.; and Dr. Ann McPherren, faculty adviser.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how well our team worked together with people from different disciplines,” Morin said. “We had a lot of synergy.”
Drew and Yeiter served as the team’s agriculture experts and ran the campaign’s social media. Drew works on his family’s farm in Columbia City, Drew Farms, and serves as the Whitley County membership chairman on the Indiana Farm Bureau board. Yeiter is employed at the Joseph Decuis Farm in Roanoke, Ind., which provides products to the Joseph Decuis Restaurant.
Nelson and Clounie collaborated on a commercial to be shown in movie theaters, highlighting Indiana as the No. 2 producer of popcorn in the U.S. They also shot two interviews showcasing careers in agriculture.
Hochstetler designed two logos, one with the words “Hoosier Grown” and the other, an ear of corn icon. The corn logo was printed on stickers and placed on bags of Indiana-grown popcorn that were given to the judges.
Morin and Christensen acted as the lead strategists on the team, conducting market research and writing the plan the team submitted. The HU team laid out a blended-media approach, recommending traditional advertising, movie theater spots, digital marketing, social media, strategic partnerships and events.
The team’s extensive collateral materials set them apart from the competition — from film projects to a website to social media. In addition, they provided analytics to prove that the social media accounts were reaching the target audience.
“We initially took on the project as a résumé builder, but now we are personally connected to the campaign and look forward to seeing its impact on our peers,” Morin said.
“I am living proof that what we set out to do in this campaign can be done,” Christensen added. “It has changed my perspective on agriculture.”
The State of Indiana is in the process of assuming control of the social media accounts and the website as well as determining next steps to implement the campaign statewide.
“(HU) had the best students, the best outcomes, the best media campaign,” Ellspermann shared in her commencement address at Huntington on May 17. “It was truly the best, and (HU) deserved every bit of it. We can’t wait to get started using these ideas as we go forward.”
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