When Dustin Diefenderfer, Jesse Woodson and Bobby Bachman finished presenting their Montana State University College of Business Management 475 project, there was a "stunned silence," said Nicholas Bourdeau, Treasurer of Montana Mediation Association (MtMA).

Last fall, the trio was selected to develop an integrated marketing communications plan for MtMA. By analyzing the association's overall positioning, the team defined marketing objectives and strategies in which to manage them.

Their analysis focused on market characteristics, competition and product comparison, the social environment and what they saw to be key success factors. In doing so, they outlined such objectives as a product profile, a positioning map, MtMA's target market, as well as the benefits they saw could be gained from creating an effective website.

Then came the real work: devising marketing strategies that MtMA could implement to meet each objective. Starting with what they referred to as "defining the apple," the team addressed who MtMA's target client should be, noting that they "cannot be all things to all people." They also suggested MtMA focus on the value of mediation.

With a clearly defined product and target client, the team then went to great lengths to develop various marketing and advertising strategies, create a budget as well as a timeline for implementation. Finally, they made a proposal for carrying out their plan, which involved outsourcing pieces of the project to other departments on MSU campus including media arts, computer science and students in the art department.

After completing a 29-page final presentation, the trio made a formal presentation in front of their classmates, instructors and MtMA executives.

MtMA found the project to be very useful in their future development. Jim Nybo, president and CEO said, "Having worked as a consultant and worked with many consultants, I can tell you that the meeting we had with the students was well organized, well presented, and very much on point in terms of our needs and the path to pursue for our association."

Management 475 was designed to give groups of students like this team an opportunity to participate in a major assignment such as a substantive community service project, research paper, small business experience case, business plan, or strategic analysis. The course offers students a practical experience with each project and teaches them about team management. Their performance is measured by their delivered product.

"Businesses all over the state, generally start-ups or relatively small enterprises, receive valuable problem-solving assistance at no cost," said Robert Means, adjunct professor of business management. "The students get the opportunity to make use of the tools and theories they have been absorbing in a real-world, practical, problem solving mode."

Diefenderfer hopes the experience will aid him as he seeks career possibilities after graduation. "The relationship built with our clients throughout the process of completing our integrated communications plan will be very beneficial to my professional and personal development," he said.