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                                                               MBA students get real-world
                                                               skills helping orchestra,
                                                               charitable group

                                                               By Ralph Ellis

                                                                     omething seemed off-key at the Cobb Symphony
                                                                     Orchestra, but it wasn’t the music. Audiences were
                                                                     getting older. Donations lagged. Many people did not
                                                               seem to know about the orchestra and its programs.
                                                                    About a dozen MBA candidates from Kennesaw State
                                                               University’s Coles College of Business stepped in last year,
                                                               working as if the orchestra had hired them to find a fix. After
                                                               months of research, the students provided suggestions for
                                                               modernizing the symphony’s image, improving donations and
                                                               broadening the audience.
                                                                    “One suggestion was to specifically engage a younger
                                                               audience through a digital platform,” said student Tiffany
                                                               Tooley. To do that, the orchestra needed to develop a user-
                                                               friendly website that encouraged ticket purchases through
                                                               performance clips and seating charts.
                                                                    Symphony Board of Trustees Chairman Todd Youngblood
                                                               said he knew there was a problem, but he couldn’t put it
                                                               into words. “That’s what you want from an outside business
                                                               consultant,” he said. “That’s exactly what they did.”
                                                                    KSU and its business college are always looking for
                                                               new, practical ways to connect with the community, said Tim
                                                               Blumentritt, director of strategic engagement at Coles. That’s
                                                               why he helped pair MBA students with two very different
                                                               groups: the orchestra and MUST Ministries, a faith-based
                                                               charitable organization based in Marietta. Other business
     Coles College of Business MBA student Judy Sidlovic       students, mostly undergraduates, have helped the Atlanta Beat
     works at MUST Ministries.                                 women’s soccer team and Pinetree Country Club.

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          “We’re providing resources that drive success in what
     I would label vital civic institutions,” Blumentritt said. “Cobb
     County would not be the same without the symphony or MUST
     Ministries. Kennesaw State is demonstrating its willingness to
     give back.”
          The organizations get free advice from enthusiastic,
     business-savvy students who know the latest trends. The
     students get credit hours and work experience.
          “I put more time in this than I did for normal graduate
     classes,” said Calder Harris, a student who worked with the
     symphony. “I feel like I got 10 times as much out of it.”
          Student Judy Sidlovsky even got a full-time job when
     MUST hired her as finance director.
          “I had always wanted to serve in some way, but I thought
     it would be on a volunteer basis,” Sidlovsky said. “But working                  The Cobb Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Michael Alexander,
     here now, this is how I serve. That’s my contribution.”                          utilizes Coles MBA interns. (Photo credit: Adam Stensland)
          MUST had a strategic plan looking two or three years
     out but needed a long-range plan to shape growth in the next                           Tooley, the MBA student, said one of the problems was
     decade, said Paul Lopez, a MUST board member and lecturer                        that four different mission statements were floating around.
     at the business school.                                                          That sent confusing messages to audiences.
          John Moeller Jr., CEO of MUST, said the students                                  “It did feel from a marketing perspective that there were a
     were perfect for the first step: researching large amounts of                    lot of hands in the pot and not a lot of consistency in messaging
     information in the public domain, such as census figures, on                     and how they presented themselves online,” she said.
     people served by MUST.                                                                 Other recommendations included discounting season
          “We needed folks who could look through lots of data and                    tickets, retaining donors through loyalty programs, developing
     who had not only the time but the business acumen to make                        a more robust social media strategy, giving free concerts and
     an analysis,” he said. “Not everybody could do that.”                            partnering with churches. The orchestra also was encouraged
          Next, the students worked closely with                                                                  to work with outside artists for

                                                           “I had always
     the board, attending meetings and a retreat,                                                                 “crossover” performances, such as the
     to help MUST come up with a plan for the                                                                     collaboration between the Atlanta Ballet
     future. One of the broad recommendations,                                                                    and Big Boi of the group Outkast.
                                                                                                                       No MBA students are working

                                                           wanted to serve
     Lopez said, is that MUST will develop
     partnerships and identify needs before building                                                              with MUST now, though leaders

     infrastructure.                                                                                              foresee that happening again. A

                                                           in some way
          “Buildings will be a final step,” Lopez said,                                                           new group signed on with the Cobb
     “not an initial step.”                                                                                       Symphony and will prioritize and
          Lopez said a consulting firm would have                                                                 implement the recommendations of
                                                          MBA intern Judy Sidlovsky
     charged MUST $100,000 for the work the MBA                                                                   the previous students. Ty Wood, one
     students performed. Moeller estimated the value of the work in                   of the new students, said he thinks the symphony should start
     the high five figures.                                                           by integrating social media into the orchestra website and
          Like MUST, the orchestra had a built-in KSU connection.                     launching a formal intern program.
     Michael Alexander, the university orchestra director, is music                         The collaboration worked for everybody, said orchestra
     director for the Cobb Symphony.                                                  general manager Susan Stensland.
          The students started with data collection about audiences                         “I think it’s one of those win-win situations for everyone,”
     and donors, and then broke into groups to work on marketing                      she said. “They get real world experience and we get
     and finances.                                                                    wonderful insights.”


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