The first year I was a judge for the Massachusetts state DECA competition, I was assigned to the HTDM or Hospitality Services Team Decision Making Event. At the time, I had two years of Sales experience out of college and had recently started working as a Marketing Manager for educational materials. I was worried that there had been a mistake. I had never worked in the hospitality industry, although I do have friends who live and work at Disney World and one summer my brother ran the front desk of a local hotel. As teacher volunteers herded us to our tables to read the judging instructions, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just the students who had to read a case study for the first time and quickly prepare for a presentation. I also had a role to play. The packet said I was to be the VP of a Global Hotel Chain and the students were Marketing Managers pitching a campaign for our new brand of boutique hotels.
Call me Ms. Marriott.
The other judges read their instructions quickly and began whispering. There was a professor emeritus of Hotel Management, a Graduate student working on his MBA for Hotel Management, and another marketing professional who’d had decades of experience working with restaurants. Needless to say, I took my time reading the instructions.
But whatever trepidation I felt didn’t compare to the students who walked over to my table in twos every fifteen minutes. In under 30 minutes these fifteen-seventeen year-olds had to very quickly read the same case study that took me 20 minutes, come up with a marketing plan, a pitch, and in many cases, visual prototypes of mobile apps, of websites, billboards, and social media campaigns to build on their argument, and decide how to present to a VP OF A GLOBAL HOTEL CHAIN.
It was amazing the amount of decisions these students had to make in such a short time, all the while remembering to put soft skills into practice as they walked toward me, shook my hand, addressed me by name, and asked if they could sit to begin their presentations.
I was floored. And so were my peer judges.
It was clear that not all students understood what kind of customer a boutique hotel might market to or what kinds of campaigns or promotions would be feasible for a national program. However, every student I saw that day was driven, organized, and I could tell, fighting the fear of public speaking, confidently pitching their ideas, and answering impromptu questions from a superior.
These were all experiences I had earned during two years of working for a large company and they did it all in fifteen minutes. I’ve volunteered my time to judge at the state competition every year since, and it’s not just because I’m impressed by the students or that I get to network with some really wonderful leaders in local business. I judge student competitions because it makes me a better marketer.
Playing the role of the client, the HR representative, the Sales Manager or the Marketing VP forces me to change my to think about how marketing professionals work with other roles within a company. It reminds me of the goals of other facets of the business beyond my marketing and product teams. Judging competitions also inspires me to think of new ways to connect with customers. To practice pitching ideas in meetings rather than just taking directives. To think about how the e-campaign can connect to social media marketing, to the advisory boards, to the promotions, and sales training. Watching students problem-solve their way through case studies reminds me that I’m still learning too. And watching their bravery (there’s a lot of shaky hands and nervous laughter) reminds me how much I’ve grown and how secure I am to be able to take a leading role in many business conversations.
I encourage all business professionals to find student competitions in your county or city and volunteer a day to be a judge. Remind yourself how far you’ve come. Be open to new innovations and listen to a young perspective on business strategy. I promise, you’ll want to do it again next year.
Looking for more information on DECA competitions and practice assignments to prepare students for success? Request a sample of the forthcoming fifth edition of Burrow’s MARKETING, which is aligned to DECA Performance Indicators and includes DECA competition information with the Winning Edge feature, offering DECA Event-Prep Projects in every chapter.