CAMPAIGNS: PR gets put to the test as ICI looks to push CMBA exam

PR Team: Quixote Group (Greensboro, NC) and International Certification Institute (Mocksville, NC) Campaign: Certified MBA Time Frame: April 2002-ongoing Budget: About $100,000

PR Team: Quixote Group (Greensboro, NC) and International Certification Institute (Mocksville, NC) Campaign: Certified MBA Time Frame: April 2002-ongoing Budget: About $100,000

Business schools have always had one big advantage over law schools and medical schools. Simply put, business-school graduates are not obligated to take a board or bar exam upon graduation. After matriculation, MBAs can enter the workforce without harrowing standardized tests hanging over them like the sword of Damocles. But that will all change if the International Certification Institute (ICI), the company behind the Certified MBA (CMBA) exam, gets its way. The idea is that MBAs should have their own external exam hurdle to jump before reaching the workforce. The company offered its beta exam this winter, and hopes that it will signal the beginning of an academic ritual that will someday take its place next to medical boards and bar exams. Strategy ICI began by tapping PR and marketing firm Quixote Group to help market the CMBA to several key constituencies. "First and foremost, we wanted to create a sense of credibility for the idea," says Rob Bunnell, SAE at Quixote Group. "We also knew we wanted to reach several target audiences, including students, recruiters, and businesses in general." ICI's most immediate need was to create awareness of the exam. This would be critical to meeting the company's goal of signing up 400 students for the beta test, which was scheduled for December 2001. "We wanted to position the test as the first objective tool to validate a student's business education," says Bunnell. "We wanted to help students enhance their ability to market their MBAs." Tactics Quixote helped ICI develop its brand identity, developing a logo and some advertising for student-oriented publications. The firm also took the step of developing three separate media kits. "We had a press kit that was geared to the general business media that talked about why such a test makes sense now for businesses," says Bunnell. "We also developed a kit that was geared toward recruiters, and one that was messaged toward students. We always wanted to make sure we were tailoring our messages to each group." Quixote made a strong effort to target MBA students from the entire spectrum of business-school programs, and also took its media efforts into the communities surrounding the types of universities ICI wanted represented in the first test. In August, the company embarked on a media tour in New York, where Quixote previewed the exam with several media outlets, including Forbes, BusinessWeek, Fortune Small Business, and Smart Money. Results In late August, USA Today ran a story on the front of its business section about the CMBA exam. "I could not have been more pleased," says Mike Mebane, cofounder of ICI. "The first article that ever appeared about CMBA was on the front page of USA Today's business section. It was the best exposure you could hope for." "It was crucial that this test not be seen as something that only students from 'Drive-Through U' would want," says Bunnell. "We sought to get across that this is something that every MBA student from every program would find value in." CMBA surpassed its goal of recruiting 400 applicants, and over 25% of those said they signed up because of a news story they saw about it. The initial test also had students from over 200 schools and from six different countries. Sixty percent of the top 50 MBA programs were represented at the first test. Future Bunnell says the next step will be to market the test using the results from the first exam. "Our whole next phase is gathering the data from the first exam, and using it to further demonstrate the credibility of this test," says Bunnell. "It should help show just how discriminating the test is, so we can head out with the next round of media relations in the spring, with a particular aim on businesses and recruiters, as more students head out to the workplace having taken the test."

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