JMU Marketing Professor Talks about the Google Online Marketing Challenge

By Cady Condyles | Oct 24, 2011
More Articles by Cady

3 Questions with Dr. Theresa Clarke

Dr. Clarke is a professor of Marketing at James Madison University. A team of her marketing students was recently named winners of the Americas Region in the 2011 Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC), including Search Mojo’s Lindsay Keller.

I wanted to find out more about Dr. Clarke’s experience with GOMC and the publicity her students and James Madison University (JMU) has received by participating.  Dr. Clarke provided great information about the Challenge, how her students benefited and how other universities can get started.

1.   Why should educators participate in the Challenge?

The Challenge is a very authentic learning experience. Students work with actual clients and budgets using an online marketing product (AdWords) with real-time analytical feedback. There are some constraints that do not make it 100% authentic, but given the parameters associated with teaching a semester/quarter long course with a limited number of contact hours, this experiential project works extremely well.

Because paid search is a relatively new type of online marketing, it affords professors an opportunity to stay current on the latest marketing technologies.

The Challenge provides opportunities to coach and mentor students as well as build relationships with clients and agencies.

To me, the most rewarding aspect of the Challenge is seeing how much the students develop professionally. At the start of the semester, most students are clearly timid and nervous about the Challenge. By the end of the semester, confidence in their abilities has skyrocketed. I don’t think the students are aware that such a change occurred, but I surely notice it.

2.   How has the Challenge helped promote your university and students?

I observed how the Challenge helps prepare undergraduate students for the marketplace. I frequently receive communications from students about their experiences when searching for jobs. Consistently I hear that prospective employers take notice of the Challenge and are impressed by the skills that students gain from it. I’ve even had students share how their job interview turned into a mini-consulting meeting where they give advice on how paid search can help their business.

Students often comment on how this was the most rewarding experience at JMU. The class helped them learn a very marketable skill for a fast growing industry.

This year isn’t the first time that the JMU teams have won. The JMU team won the Americas Regional title in 2009 as well. This is great buzz for both the students and the school.

3.   What tips would you give to professors or universities interested in participating in the competition?

First, figure out how to incorporate the Challenge into your class. In 2009, I co-authored a paper entitled “Insights on the Google Online Marketing Challenge and Its Successful Classroom Implementation”. This paper provides descriptive details on how the Challenge works and how professors can confidently and effectively implement the Challenge as either a stand-alone course, an element of a larger course, or as an out-of-class component. I have tried all three methods and they are all successful. For instructors who are brand new to the Challenge and want to know how to get started, I highly recommend reading this paper available online at

Second, there are a plethora of other outstanding resources for students and professors on the Challenge website. Most professors and students don’t know anything about using AdWords prior to the competition, but the resources are amazing. While it is not required, I would recommend that professors become certified in AdWords through Google’s Certification Program.

Third, take advantage of outside expertise such as Search Mojo. Through our alumni network, we have found a number of wonderful guest speakers to bring into the class to talk about how agencies do this kind of work on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, have fun and enjoy the experience.

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