Emotions were running high. The field of 30 contestants had narrowed to three — all vying to be named the “Tech Apprentice” in Bentley’s take on the TV show made famous by billionaire Donald Trump. The prize: a three-month internship with marketing firm Allen & Gerritsen.
The competition engaged a diverse mix of players: business and media students, the Center for Marketing Technology and Bentley TV, marketing faculty and corporate executives. Over the fall 2011 semester, on their own time, students took on challenges for high-profile companies that included Converse, the Boston Celtics, Boloco, Bluetrain Mobile, and Smarterer. Competitors marshaled their savvy in emerging technology, digital marketing and social media to impress a panel of faculty and corporate judges. In the end, the Tech Apprentice mantle went to Maria Sofia Samayoa ’12, a marketing major who graduated in December.
Why did you decide to enter the competition?
My mentor, Ian Cross, the head of Bentley’s Center for Marketing Technology, told me about it. I knew it would be a great experience with great networking possibilities.
After surviving a tense initial round, 16 competitors were divided into four teams. What was your challenge?
We had to create and present a two-page document that delivered brand personification and content strategy for Bluetrain Mobile, which focuses on developing mobile websites. In our group presentation, we talked about brand personification – how your brand has to act as a person, not just as a service or company. We emphasized that our brand had to have a voice and tone.
That round left six competitors standing. What happened then?
This time, we were asked to develop a mobile strategy for either the Celtics or Converse. I was assigned to Converse, which has been losing its market share among boys 8 to 12. I researched a lot about how mothers are using their smartphones and mobile media. To be effective with this age group, you have to target both the child and the mother. One is the influencer and the other, the decision-maker. My idea was a mobile app – an “Angry Birds” type of thing. Part of the game was that they could design their very own shoe. If the child was under 13, he had to submit a parent’s email address. If he won the game, he could buy the shoe he designed. The concept was to use the parent’s email address to induce the purchase. My idea was based on data I had extracted during research about mobile buying.
Tell us about the last round: a challenge for “inspired burritos” restaurant chain Boloco.
All three finalists had the same assignment, to create a location-based marketing strategy for Boloco, which is expanding into the Washington, D.C., area. Part of my strategy used Foursquare. I came up with three different models: a “newbie” special for first timers, who got free chips and salsa for using the app. For returning customers who checked in with Foursquare, double points on their Boloco frequent customer card were awarded. I also recommended continuing the “mayor’s special:” a free burrito for the mayor and two of his friends every Monday. The idea was that these incentives would lead customers to share location information with friends and come back to the store. Another part of my recommendation relied on Instagram, which uses pictures only. The idea was for Boloco to post behind-the-scenes pictures, to let customers know about new combinations and creations. It gave a “human” feel to the brand.
What surprised you about the competition?
I didn’t expect that it was going to be filmed [by Bentley TV]. Reality television is much more complicated than it seems.
What interested you the most?
I learned how to make much better use of technology. I created accounts with various social media sites, and I began to see their potential. Before the competition, I knew they existed — but now I’m excited about what will happen next and how brands can use these technologies to increase their market presence.
How did the internship at Allen & Gerritsen work out?
My work mostly focused on Pinterest, which is an online pinboard that lets you organize and share things you like with others. I reported on how clients can use this social network to drive traffic to their websites and blogs. It’s very cutting edge, and gaining a lot of momentum.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to go home to Guatemala, where the technology is not nearly as advanced as it is here, but there is so much opportunity. I want to learn as much as possible while I’m here, and then apply it back home.
Boardroom judging scenes on Trump’s Apprentice are notoriously harsh. How did the Bentley version compare?
The judges graded us based on guidelines spelled out for each challenge. At the close of our presentations, the scores were added up and those who scored the highest went on to the next round. So, thankfully, our version wasn’t as intense as the real TV show.