Despite being known as the “City in the Forest,” a 2001 study by American Forests revealed that the average tree cover in Atlanta declined 16 percent from 1974 to 1996. In 1985, Trees Atlanta was founded to combat this tree canopy decline, focusing its initial efforts on bringing shade back to downtown Atlanta. Today, at 47.9 percent, the city has the highest percentage of overall urban tree canopy (UTC) in the nation compared to other cities that have conducted UTC assessments. Trees Atlanta would like to keep it that way.
Under the shade of a tree, the temperature is six degrees cooler. In addition to providing shade, trees clean the air and reduce storm water runoff. They improve our quality of life and give us beauty, food, and habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
In order to preserve these benefits for the continued well-being of the city, Trees Atlanta aspires to mobilize Atlanta residents to be more verbal in advocating for planting and protecting trees–a perfect project for Robinson’s M.S. in marketing and MBA in marketing classes this fall. “Trees Atlanta provided us with a real issue they needed to resolve,” says Emily Shay, a December 2017 M.S. in marketing candidate. “We worked with the organization to identify the problems and recommend solutions, as well as steps for practical implementation. They responded with feedback from an executive point of view on our creativity and the likelihood our ideas would succeed.”
Nine groups between the two classes built a digital and marketing strategy, and they did not disappoint. Judy Yi, educational director for Trees Atlanta, says she walked away with dozens of new ideas on ways to engage citizens.
Students’ ideas ranged from website improvement to clearer target audiences, and from more powerful messaging to social media best practices. They showcased their work with videos, print pieces, analytics, target audience assessment, data analysis and more. The results were impressive for a group of students who completed a short 8-week social media class.
Yi comments, “The depth of the students’ technical analysis and qualitative insights was spot on. They are helping us to better communicate with our community, which means we are better able to educate and inspire people to take action.”
One student group focused on Trees Atlanta’s messaging, explaining to representatives that while the organization has a powerful purpose, it does not always deliver that value proposition in a compelling way. Students encouraged the Trees Atlanta team to tell their audiences, especially those who are not connected with the organization yet, why they should care, in addition to how to get involved.
Irvin Bishop, Jr., a December 2017 M.S. in marketing candidate, elaborated, “We urged Trees Atlanta to add an emotional appeal to its website. We discussed including a compelling video on the home page as well as distinct calls to action to prompt the desired results. Just by implementing these two items, Trees Atlanta should see tremendous pick-up to their advocacy activities.”
Several of the group’s ideas are feasible for Trees Atlanta to enforce, including a social media editorial calendar and better engagement with current social media followers. One student discussed leveraging Trees Atlanta’s key influencers and brand advocates around Atlanta, and another student suggested contacting local high school graduating classes to honor their school with a tree.
A sample of the Facebook Advertisements for Trees Atlanta designed by the student groups to raise awareness, inspire action and reach a wider audience.
Asked how the experience enhanced classroom learning, Bishop shared, “Reviewing the concepts of segmentation, SEO and SEM (which are the most effective marketing channels) was great in the classroom, but to see the real-life application of these concepts at a start-up really brought the learning to life.”
At the end of the presentations, Connie Veates, co-executive director and chief operating officer for Trees Atlanta, told the students, “I heard several big themes that we can and will implement. There are several areas you confirmed for us with data, and that was refreshing.”
Professor of Marketing Denish Shah commits to immersive learning in his classes because he believes such live projects contribute to invaluable learning for students. “Getting engaged with an organization and the challenges it is facing provides our students a valuable opportunity to meaningfully apply the theory and concepts learned in the classroom. Consequently, we are able to hone problem-solving skills and critical thinking in our students. Needless to say, solving real-world problems in the classroom helps give our students the needed confidence to take on real-world challenges,” Shah says.
“The opportunity to apply what we learned in class to the Trees Atlanta project was a tremendous learning experience,” Shay says. “The project allowed us to test our strengths and validate how much we’ve learned since starting the marketing program. It gave us confidence that we can solve problems that plague businesses today, and it also provided us with the ability to determine what direction we want to take with our careers.”