Case study

As mentioned in the Syllabus, the use of case analysis in the ADV 330 coursework will be a new learning experience for you. I know it was for me when I was in graduate school at Northwestern. But I can honestly tell you that having had case study analysis assignments in several courses turned out to be some of the most practical and beneficial organizational, strategic thinking, problem solving and communication training that I could have had entering into the agency world. Clients and agency management alike are constantly providing you with opportunities and challenges to unpack, think through and provide recommended management solutions to address key business issues. The advertising agency business today, just as it was yesterday is a business of thinking and analysis, using various lenses and apertures, to solve problems.

Even in todays environment of short-form communication, effective and persuasive business analysis and writing are not concepts that have lost relevance, importance and significance. The ability to write effectively, efficiently and persuasively is very high on both client and agency required skill set criteria. The development of your analytical skills and business judgment through the case work in this course will be valuable and long lasting benefits that will come from working through the assigned cases. And while you are raising your critical thinking skills, you will also be elevating your proficiency in written communication. Again, this is an extremely valuable long-term career benefit.

Case learning has its roots in the Socratic method of teaching dating back to the 5th century BC, and the cases provide readers with information; facts and figures; ideas and values; complexity and challenge; ambiguity and question; prospects for multiple outcomes; and no set answer. The case analysis work you will do will allow you to challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box, test ideas, turn the map around, and approach every business situation with a if this were really my business, what would I do to solve this problem of address this issue? You will have the opportunity over the course of the semester to work through HBS cases that are grounded in real world advertising management situations.

And remember the words of Donald Jugenheimer and Larry Kelley, two noted authors of advertising management case studies: the recommendations you make will be worthless unless you can sell management on the validity of taking you course of action. But coupling you logical analysis with a passionate presentation is a winning combination in case studies, and in life. And remember, your focus and objective: strategically and tactically unpack the problem; think it through; write persuasively and sell your point of view.

There will be three (3) cases due over the course of the semester the case pool for the semester has been set up on D2L. The due dates for each case are delineated on the course calendar. The cases are due on or before the due date the last call for cases will be 8:00am / 0800 EST on the day the cases are due. Case submissions received within 24 hours after the aforementioned cut-off will be subject to a 10% overall penalty reduction, and this score will be factored in to your overall point total for grading purposes. Cases received more than 24 hours past the due date will receive a 0 and the 0 will be factored into your grade total for the semester. Deadlines in this business are firm, and best you learn now that adherence to set deadlines is all part of the your cost of entry. There will be no extra credit points for cases analyses.

Your case submissions are to be no longer than four (4) double-spaced, typewritten pages. And please use a sans-serif font (e.g. Helvetica, Tahoma, etc.) at a size no smaller than 10.5 points. You will note than Quality of Writing makes up close to one-third of your score for each case.

In addition to proper sentence construction, grammar, syntax, punctuation and spelling please make sure you proofread your case write-ups spell check ?proofreading. Please make sure you read your submission thoroughly for content, flow and errors prior to submission.

Case Analysis Outline
While you can approach case analysis in a wide variety of ways, for this class the cases will be written up using the following outline:

Purpose: Statement of the problem or key issue
Background/Situation Analysis
Discussion of Alternatives
Action Plan/Next Steps
Contingency Plan

This framework will help you organize your thoughts and framing your point of view. For purposes of ADV 330, this is how your casework submissions must be written up. Again, limit your analysis to four (4) double-spaced, typewritten pages.

While this approach may seem too formal for many recommendations, it will be very good training for you to conduct your analysis work using this outline. I had a basketball coach in college who would start each practice session with two statements: (1) we will play just like we practice and (2) lets get one percent better today than we were yesterday and oddly, these two statements seem apply to just about everything in the advertising industry and certainly to case study analysis in ADV 330. Its all in the spirit of good training.

Purpose: Statement of the problem or key issue
Once you have read the case and become familiar with the problem(s) or key issue(s), you can now define the purpose of your analysis. It is always good practice to presume that you are writing your analysis for a senior manager, either within your agency or the client organization, and that your overall angle of attack in addressing the situation will be a true reflection of your performance, your potential and help shape your career. To this end it is critical that you get to the heart of the issue or to define the problem. Some examples:

The purpose of this correspondence is to outline the recommended approach, budget and next steps for implementing a 49/59/69 value menu
pricing test in paired HB and LB index markets during Q3.

The purpose of this memo is to provide the results of the Q3 49/59/69 value menu pricing test in the paired HB and LB markets and outline the impact and implications of the results for the upcoming FY planning and budget.

Using Q2 competitive advertising spend data, the purpose of this memo is to provide an analysis and recommended funding levels required to match competitive SOV in heartland markets.

The key to the purpose is to clearly articulate why you are providing this analysis and what will be the outcome(s). Be succinct in your approach and use words that paint a very clear picture of the issue at hand.

Background/Situation Analysis
The background or situation analysis provides the context for the key issue(s) of the case. This is where you paint the picture of why there is a problem or an issue in the first place. Again, you need to succinctly and clearly state the facts, as well as address why we are where we are. The latter can be driven internally (people, product, process, legal, financial, etc.); by a client and/or competitor; etc. In writing the situation analysis it is imperative that you pay as much attention to the facts as presented in the case as to the facts that either seem to be missing or are somewhat conspicuous by their absence. Is there an underlying issue or concern that is at the heart of the issue that has not surfaced or being considered? This is a foundational element of your analysis, but remember, you are not writing Tolstoy here.

Discussion of Alternatives
Once you have written the background/situation analysis, your next step is to dive in and begin outlining alternative courses of action to resolve the problem at hand. Some of the alternatives will become obvious and form naturally from the case itself. Others may emerge from your own background and experience, or from additional research and digging you have done on the topic. This is the section where you need to unpack the business and/or management problem, begin putting yourself in the shoes of the manager and look at the case from his or her perspective, and what would you be looking to put forward as recommended solutions. The discussion of alternatives is at the heart of every case.

Regardless of the origins the alternatives, it is very important not to generate an overabundance or overwhelming number of alternatives for consideration. Most managers do not have time to wade through and review a litany of alternative courses of action to make a decision. Narrow your (and their) focus to courses of action that truly make commercial, organizational sense, AND provide a satisfactory, sustainable solution to the problem at hand.

Ideally, you should line out three or four alternatives for consideration. And one of the alternatives may very well be stay the course. Often times there is always a tendency to want make a change in reaction to a problem, when in reality the best alternative may very well be continuing doing what you have been doing. Do not shy away from maintaining the status quo if you believe this best path to take. But again, your thorough review of the case is required to ensure you are in safe harbor should you pursue this avenue.

By delineating for three or four alternatives in clear and concise declarative sentences, you make it extremely clear for management to understand the courses of action you have researched/developed and are available to them for consideration. Depending on the complexity and variables associated with the alternatives, it may be worthwhile to develop an outline of the pros and cons so that management can easily see the risks and rewards associated for each alternative, and the potential impact/implication each has on the business as a result. You will need to consider whether or not this level of detail is required literally on a case-by-case basis.

Once you have analyzed and put forth alternative solution scenarios, you are now ready to make your recommendation. It is now time for you to step up, stand up and to put it on the line. This is the point in the process where you make a strong, persuasive and well-articulated argument supporting your recommended course of action derived from the list of alternatives you have developed. This is not the time to be wishy-washy. If you do not deliver a strong and impassioned argument, you will not sell management on your recommendation. Now this does not mean you can concoct any impassioned argument and win you need to support you recommendation with facts, observations and anticipated outcomes.

Your recommendation should be a straightforward statement followed by bullet-pointed rationale points. Social psychologists tell us we learn in 3s, so it is a good idea to have three-to-four strong, seemingly bulletproof rationale support points for your recommendation. Spend time crafting and wordsmithing your recommendation and rationale, as this is where management will want to see why this alternative is the best course of action.

This statement always seems to come up at some point over the course of a case study regimen: I feel dont have enough information to make a decision and I recommend that any decision be held off until more is available. WRONG. Just as this inaction is unacceptable in the business world, this inaction will be unacceptable in ADV 330. Most business and management decisions are time sensitive, and one will never have all or enough information. You must make a decision to the best of your ability within the timeframe you are given and the information you have at hand. And the worst possible decision you can make as a manager is no decision.

If you have 80% of the information available to you and you cannot
make a decision, there is something wrong with you
Major Jason Santamaria, USMC
Command Leadership Training, USMC OCS
Quantico, VA

Action Plan/Next Steps
Once you have made a decision, now you have to activate the support plan. This is the next step in your case study write-up. The key items for management will be a clear outline of the timeframe and the funding involved in implementing the recommendation as stated. These are crucial items for management alignment and approval.

For example, going back to the match competitive SOV in the heartland markets. scenario from the Purpose section, the Action Plan/Next Steps section might look something like this:

To implement the match competitive SOV levels in heartland markets requires the following next steps:
1. For the heartland markets, authorize incremental spot TV spending of $9.25 million and increase T&R spend from $65K to $81.7K for the balance of the year by 6/1;
2. Develop and approve media plan that details the incremental spend by 6/15;
3. Develop and approve updated creative rotation in heartland markets for balance of the year by 6/15;
4. Update and finalize T&R budget for balance of year by 6/15;
5. Upon approval of SOV match plans, activate & air by 6/30;
6. Measure impact of SOV match plan in heartland markets during Q1.

In addition, given that we are doing business in the age of accountability you will most likely need to put in some performance metrics and/or milestones against which you can gage the progress, traction and success you are making. Be realistic be honestbe confident. And remember, nothing in this business happens all that quickly, so set realistic expectations for implementation and measurement.

Contingency Plan
While you recommendation has been well thought out, based on the facts at hand, and vetted at various management levels within the organization, there are unforeseen twists and turns in the economy, competitive landscape and the consumer. And while you cannot predict the future, you do need to have a Plan B — what you would do if. Your contingency plan need not be long. Just simple statement along the lines of: if this happens (or does not happen), we will do this. Again, you need to give management some reasonable assurance that you have the backdoor covered.

In Closing
The case analysis process is designed to give you the opportunity to take a crack at solving real world problems. And as you move forward into the world of advertising you will find that your day-to-day activities will really be nothing more than a series of mini case studies. However, the case studies in the real world will not arrive all neat and tidy in a pdf format. Enjoy.