Sheryl Kantrowitz, professor of the advertising capstone course Advertising Campaigns, talked about her students' Philly.com marketing pitches with glee.

"All of our five tracks came together," she said, with a jump in her voice, "And it went really well!"

Last summer, Kantrowitz met with Philadelphia Media Network's  Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Michael Zimbalist in search of an advertising problem for students to solve. Philly.com, which is operated by Philadelphia Media Network, wants to market to college-aged people and millennials. 

Problem found.

During the fall semester, the five advertising tracks - media planning, account management, research and strategy, copywriting, and art direction - competed against each other to come up with an advertising campaign that Philly.com could use to meet their paid readership goals. Philly.com has a limit of 10 free articles before the paywall hits, so encouraging people to pay for access is the goal.

Kantrowitz said that the class was structured as a workshop to prepare students for 20-minute presentations they would eventually give before Inquirer employees. The five student groups used focus groups and surveys to collect data that would assist their presentations.

In the professional world, Kantrowitz said agencies would never see competing pitches, but for the purposes of the course, each group saw every pitch and each subsequent question-and-answer session. 

"It was great to see the honesty of what the millennial audience needs from news outlets," said The Inquirer's graphic designer Jené Adams.

The group pitches varied in their focus and included: "Philly Loud, Philly Proud," showcasing Philadelphia residents' pride for their city; "Stay Woke,"highlighting modern song lyrics; "Know Your City," spotlighting the Philadelphia food and art scenes; "My Philly Moment," Encouraging readers to submit photos of their city; and a Saxbys partnership where Philly.com would partner with the college-focused coffee shop to provide discounts and unique ways of viewing articles.

While all five groups had strong pitches, judges named the "Philly Loud, Philly Proud" campaign the winner.

"The winning agency's pitch recognized the uniqueness of the language of Philadelphia, helping build an emotional connection," said Jen Strauss, associate director of design for The Inquirer.

"The Inquirer's head strategist came up to me after the presentations and said, 'Wow, there is so much we have to talk about now in my group because we have ideas from all of these teams,'" Kantrowitz said.

Among those ideas that were discussed was a student ambassador program, where students would advertise to their classmates, and a partnership with colleges to give students subscriptions for free, similar to Temple University's Adobe Creative Cloud partnership. The latter could create dependency on Philly.com past graduation, leading to a slow-burn profit over many years.

Kantrowitz will be teaching the class again next fall, and she is already on the search for a client to work with.

"We look for companies that we think would be an appropriate situation that students can help them," she said. "They get a lot of ideas, research, and data," she said.