Insurance Contest Puts a Premium on Marketing Strategy

Undergrads Come Away from State Farm Competition With Scholarships and Experience

Jul. 14, 2011

Dana Townsend, Brianna Minnish, Crystal Cruz, Yessenia Rodriguez, Michelle Tamez

From left: Dana Townsend, Brianna Minnish, Crystal Cruz, Yessenia Rodriguez and Michelle Tamez.

School of Management Undergraduate Marketing Program Director Julie Haworth cautioned her sales-course students not to wear grunge to their final exam this spring.

Not a dress-code stickler, Ms. Haworth just wanted everyone photo-ready for the exam-day announcement of who had done the best job on her competitive final assignment, a project with $2,000 in scholarship money from State Farm Insurance awaiting the winning team.

Julie Haworth

Julie Haworth

Based on State Farm efforts to engage new clients ages 16 to 24, the project challenged students in Personal Selling and Sales Management to think of themselves as new insurance-agency owners strategizing to win business among their age-group peers.

In preparation, State Farm representatives came to class twice, to discuss their industry, the tools agents have at their disposal and their business perspectives.

By the time the Red Ladies — a five-member all-female group — emerged victorious, good feelings had morphed into mutual admiration.

“Thank you very much for helping us,” student Saad Abughazaleh said on behalf of the 62-member class. “This was a unique experience.”

Project Led to Job Offer for Student

State Farm agent Mike Hinegardner said he could tell Crystal Cruz “was one of the engaged students” by the questions she asked him when he visited class to talk about the insurance industry.

Hinegardner had no illusions. “There are not too many people who go through school thinking they want to be an insurance agent,” he said.

But Cruz, daughter of entrepreneurial parents who have owned several businesses, says, “I’ve always had an interest in insurance,” and in fact, through the UT Dallas Career Center, she had done a paid internship at a local independent agent’s office.

A subsequent meeting led a full-time sales job offer.

“There was some sort of connect,” Hinegardner said. “Her honesty, her integrity — that came out within a minute.”

Beyond that, he said, because of her internship and her School of Management training, “I think she appreciates the whole development side of the business.”

Cruz, a May business administration undergraduate, said she told the couple she is returning to UT Dallas part time in the fall to pursue an MBA and “was just blown away” when they wanted to hire her anyway.

Next year, “we think we’ll be doing this again,” State Farm recruiter Brad Alexander replied.

Besides scholarship money, the exercise led to a full-time State Farm job for one winning-team member and employment possibilities for other class members.

In five-to-seven-minute presentations, the students pitched abundant suggestions. Connect via technology, they said — Facebook, Skype, Twitter, You Tube, anything 4G and beyond. Entice with free food, free tickets, gift cards, giveaways and cash rewards. Put in face time on campuses, over lunch, at community events. Not-so-usual recommendations: Send handwritten letters to new customers; provide concierge-level claims service; offer customers a “rate-my-agent” online survey option.

The Red Ladies tipped the insurance-company judges in their favor by doing market research, surveying about 50 people in the target age group to learn “what are you looking for" in insurance, including “what benefits?”

Respondents said “they want reliable, trustworthy and understandable information,” Red Lady and newly hired State Farm employee Crystal Cruz reported.

The Red Ladies' proposal included a gift-boxed T-shirt for new policyholders, free food at the agency, online policy management and a points-based incentive program with discount and gift-card rewards.

Ms. Haworth devised the contest to offer “a real sales project to get [students] comfortable with sales and to get them comfortable with real companies that could be pipelines for jobs.”


Media Contact: Kris Imherr, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-4793, imherr@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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August 27, 2014