Google grant offers the real deal

by Beacon Staff • April 8, 2009

Emerson students entering professor David Gerzof's social media and marketing class probably expected to be handling imaginary clients with money worth about as much as Monopoly bills. Instead, the marketing students have been given the opportunity to work with real clients and real money-$10,000 a month provided by Google.

The marketing class was divided into six groups, each of which was matched to a non-profit organization and given the $10,000 the organizations had received through the Google Grant to manage for the non-profit group. Each group of students works with their organization to write ads and decide which search keywords will cause the organization's ad to appear on Google, among other responsibilities.

"We're not emulating the real thing," said Max Luster, a senior marketing and communications major and a student in Gerzof's class. "We're going out and making things happen for these companies every day."

The grant money comes from a new program started by Google that matches college marketing courses with non-profit organizations that have received Google Grants, money given to the organizations that allows them to be featured in Google Adwords. Adwords pop up on the right side of a computer screen as advertisements when Google users search the Internet using keywords. Companies are displayed on Adwords to match the keywords typed in-for example, if a user searched for "fashion," an ad for Old Navy could be displayed on Adwords. If users click on the link provided in the right column, they're taken directly to the company's Web site.

For the Adwords program, the students in Gerzof's class brainstormed words that relate to their organization, then found the search volume (how often those keywords are used in searches) and the cost of bidding on them. Popular keywords can be bid on by multiple companies who all want to use the search results of the keyword to display their company's ad; if an organization wants to use one of the more sought-after search terms to show a promotion and is unable to pay, then they might be third or fourth on the list of ads that pop up.

Luster said he had worked with Google during an internship, but the area was new to most other students.

"It's been a learning process using the Adwords service," said the marketing communication major. "The vast majority of students were looking at keywords lists and Google format copywriting for the first time."

Google Grants are given to non-profit organizations who would be otherwise unable to afford the cost of promoting their companies through Adwords. The six non-profit clients matched with Gerzof's class by the Internet search giant were the Piers Park Sailing Center, the Level Field Foundation, Samaritans Inc., Farm Aid, VHL Family Alliance, and Partners for Youth with Disabilities.

Gerzof heard about the program, matching organizations with college classes, from a friend at Google. The idea of real-life experience in marketing for his students immediately appealed to him, and he scheduled a meeting with the Google team. The Google staff was receptive to the idea of Emerson joining the program.

Gerzof said so far, the program has been a huge success.

"This has been a fantastic opportunity for the students and the non-profits they are working with," he said. "I'm already in discussions with Google to continue the relationship with Emerson for next year."

Luster thinks the program should be continued in future classes.

"I expect that most students are thrilled to be able to put this experience on their resume," he said. "If Emerson is able to secure control over the grants for another semester, I would recommend it in a second."