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TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles:  The bond of music | Oil's well

In the nick of time

When an already-successful watch company hires you to give advice, you had better give them more than the time of day. Fourteen Neeley School seniors did just that.

By Nancy Bartosek

SENTENCES fractured by nerves skitter quietly across a Dallas-area boardroom. For these seniors, dressed for power and a tad weak in the knees, a semester-long project is now down to this: awaiting top-brass executives of Fossil, the new-age company known for its way-cool watches and retro-style advertising. Believe it or not, these company honchos want to hear what these wet-behind-the-business-plan students have to say.

Of course, this Neeley School brain trust isn't your father's Timex. Dubbed the New Millennium Marketing Group, this group was specially selected for Instructor Becky Beasley's Marketing Application Project, then hired out last fall to help Fossil reset its watch and apparel marketing efforts through formal research, complete with final report and recommendations.

More than ready now, this group had precious little time to waste when it first began:

-- Sept. 18: Shorts, t-shirts and one random suit sit in a casual circle in a corner room of Dan Rogers Hall. The group looks like its wardrobe -- diverse yet mismatched. But there is energy in the room, brain power Beasley is struggling to direct. Slowly, leaders begin to emerge. Chris Test is obviously a no-nonsense type. Boyish-looking Oliver Hooser stands out as designated class joker. Brenda McLean, a mother of two, listens intently but says little. Conversation is disjointed but somehow the group decides to conduct focus groups, make a TV ad for the Neeley Network and hold a big Fossil event in November. The student-led campaign will bear the theme: It's about time. Or is it?

-- Oct. 1: Lara Fort, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in her suit, relies heavily on a script as she steers 12 students through a focus group, her first. But she's naturally gregarious and forges ahead. From behind a two-way mirror, Beasley watches the process quietly, her face stone.

-- Oct. 23: Beasley, finally voicing fears she's carried for several weeks, says with relief, "This class just wasn't pulling together, but one of the students just called me and said, ŒLet me do it.' "

-- Nov 4: Brandon Logsdon, the self-appointed leader, begins going over the extensive list of must-do's for the group's big campus tent event, an all-you-can-eat-and-all-you-want-to-know-about-Fossil shindig: Pick up water and sandwiches, nab ice from the dorms. "Albertson's said they will donate 1,000 plates, but if they can't up that number, go elsewhere," is thrown across the room. Someone leans over a neighbor's notes and asks, "Do we need to add trash cans to that list?" McLean keeps it all straight. Beasley walks in. No one notices.

-- Nov. 17: The big day. It's miserably cold and raining. All their promotional signs were trashed the night before by campus people cleaning up election placards. One of the group's members crawled into a dumpster to retrieve them. The bandstand has to be moved into the tent. And it's only 10 a.m. Under the big top near the library mall, students scurry about readying food, products and giveaways. "Fossilman" (a.k.a. Hooser) flits through the crowd, handing out pencils and drawing laughs. By day's end, about 800 people have wandered through. The students are exhausted. But happy.

-- Dec. 1: The Millennium marketing team tells 13 executives that Fossil should market its non-watch accessory lines more aggressively, and to add, possibly, a full-scale advertising department rather than rely on the art department.

The students are asked: "If we were to spend $5 million on promotion, what would you suggest?" Open more storefronts, make department store displays for non-watch items slicker and more comprehensive, increase consumer advertising, maintain consistency throughout advertising campaign -- recommendations backed by data. The executives, impressed and interested, linger for detail.

Time, and the semester, is up. The group returns to its mostly twentysomething status and fusses over a batch of Fossil watches encased in collectable tins -- gifts from the executives. They head out together for lunch, loosening collars.

Beasley just smiles.