This HEC student took advantage of a hands-on program to create a promotional plan for an all-women's footrace in Morocco
I started Core 2 after a beautifully wistful holiday. It was our first without Rich's dad, and Jan. 4, 2006, was Rich's first birthday without his dad. In addition, every year, between Christmas and Rich's birthday, they would go on a retreat, just the two of them, to talk about life and their goals for the next year. So it was a holiday marked in many ways by absence, and also by constant reminders of what was and remains truly important in life.
I returned to Paris from California a week later, as I needed to spend Rich's birthday week with him. When I got back, classes had begun, and I quickly determined that one class, in particular, would join the shortlist of my favorite courses in the MBA program.
As part of the core curriculum, Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) offers students the chance to choose, create, and launch a marketing project. Students get a great deal of latitude in deciding what industry, company, and product to market, and we got to choose our own teams. My marketing professor from Core 2, the legendary M. Kapferer, served as our adviser.
Back in the Race
As my project, I chose the amazing race that I'd participated in for the first time in 2005. I chose to create a marketing plan for Courir pour le Plaisir, the all-women's race in Morocco founded by Nawal el Moutawakel, the very first African Muslim woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics. I described it in my very first BusinessWeek.com entry as one of the most moving, exhilarating things I've ever had the privilege of participating in, and I was so pleased to be able to work with the race as a marketing project!
My idea was to create a strategy for marketing the race outside of Morocco. When I went in 2005, over 20,000 women ran in the race, and the vast majority of them (over 95%) were Moroccan. I thought that the race had so much potential to become a truly international event, during which Morocco could host women from all over the world who are passionate about sport, travel, and about connecting with other women. I knew that the joy I had discovered running the race alongside thousands of other women would be something that many more women would love to experience, and thought that it would be fantastic to create a strategy that could bring the race the visibility it deserves.
I was also really excited to learn more about how to combine social responsibility and marketing. It's clear that people around the world are becoming increasingly interested in what they can do as individuals to create a better world, and in how they can use their money and their free time to support causes that inspire them. Women, in particular, want to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves, that they're connected to people, companies, and brands that are passionate about doing well and doing good. This project would be a great way to learn more about how to engage with and market to women.
Four of my classmates joined me; Sophia, from Greece; Yelena, from Kazakhstan; Ismail, from Morocco; and Diana, who's French of Lebanese origin. The incredible diversity of the team is exactly what I loved about a school like HEC—the privilege of working with and learning from so many different people and perspectives! I learned so much from working with them, and count that experience as one of the best of my MBA journey.
I won't bore you to tears with the details, but the outcome of our project led to us presenting a strategy to Mounir Bennis (El Moutawakel's husband and a principal of the race) and his team, and to us implementing a couple of the major pieces of the strategy! The first was that Wieden+Kennedy, one of the most innovative and creative advertising agencies in the world (also Nike's [NKE] long-time agency, and my husband's employer), agreed to create a short documentary film of the race. Rich (my husband) was the producer, and he chose an up-and-coming Moroccan director, Yasmine Kassari.
Another piece of the strategy involved collecting consumer insights on how to reach women outside of Morocco. I put together a pilot group composed of women from a few of the target demographics (baby-boomers, women with African heritage, amateur athletes, professional women, etc.). With only a few weeks to assemble the group, and given the financial commitment involved, I was thrilled to get a group of eight brave women to join me in Morocco in May 2006! The group included my mother, Rich's mother, two aunts, one cousin, and three friends. Most of the women were in their late 50s and early 60s and had never competed in a race before.
Chants and Whoops
Apart from participating in the race (all of them finished!), the group also got the chance to join in some of the events that had been planned by Nike, which sponsored the race. They got to visit an elementary school that's being sponsored by Nike, they had the chance to watch an all-women soccer match and to participate in a conference on women, sport, and social change that was also sponsored by Nike in conjunction with the race.
They had the time of their lives (see below for proof), and I was able to learn so much more about socially responsible marketing and how to create a value proposition that speaks to hearts as well as minds! I collected lots of amazing insights into what makes the race special, and here's one of my favorite quotes (from my mom-in-law, Ms. Ena Harris):
"I never grasped the concept of 21,000 women until I heard them and looked back and saw them approaching fast.
All during the race, I kept looking back and forward and marveling at the number of women of all sizes and in all sorts of garments. They were all smiling and yelling and happy and singing and chanting and whooping and encouraging each other. Whenever I got tired or itchy, I looked ahead of me at the woman who had on full head scarf in black, black robe, black pants, and black street shoes (not running or walking shoes, but street shoes with a short heel). She kept moving (ahead of me). I couldn't dare stop or let her endure all that heat while I wimped out, when I had all the latest walking clothes and Nike running shoes.
I kept trying to pass her, then I thought, 'No, that might be disrespectful.' So she set my pace. I have to admit, it would have been hard to pass her anyway. She was moving fast. I felt such pride in myself when I finished, but even more pride in all my friends, some older and some in not as good shape as I am, who finished. I don't remember ever thinking 'I did it.' I breathed a sigh of relief when the last friend came across the line, and I then yelled with such overwhelming joy and tears, "We did it!"
Core 2 and the three-month elective period ended up being all about travel and new experiences. You may remember from the entry that I wrote about my father-in-law that Brazil was one of his passions in life. He had gone to Carnaval almost every year for the past 15 years, and for as long as I'd known him, he had encouraged us to join him. Poignantly, 2006 was going to be the first year we would take him up on his long-standing offer.
After his death, we decided that what he would love best is if we celebrated his life by going. And not just going, but doing something he had always meant to do: dancing in the parade, in the Sambodromo! So that's what we did! With the help of the incomparable Ron Miles and his wife, a dear friend of ours who speaks fluent Portuguese (and Spanish, and Italian, ben oui!), and who had spent a great deal of time with my dad in Brazil, we made his dream come true! In fabulously over-the-top outfits, involving strategically placed sequins and feathers! We marched, danced and sang with the school of São Clemente (Levanta a poeira, sou mais São Clemente…cantando gonzaguinha e gonzagão!).
The tail end of school found me and Rich in Nuremburg, for the World Cup! We were fortunate enough to see the US-Ghana match, where we fervently cheered for…Ghana, of course! Sitting in the stadium, with tens of thousands of people from all over the world, all united by a passion for sport, was an incredible, unforgettable experience. And it wasn't all fun and games—I learned a very valuable lesson about the pitfalls of underestimating market demand. We spent hours combing the stores, desperately searching for Ghana gear, in particular shirts not made for enormous, paunchy men.
In all of Nuremburg, we only found one women's t-shirt for any of the African teams, and we met and commiserated with loads of other people looking for the same thing. There were millions of shirts for Brazil or Portugal or Japan or the U.S., but nothing for Ghana or Togo or Angola or the Ivory Coast. And there we were with euros burning holes in our pockets, desperate to be spent. Enterprising minds take note, especially for World Cup 2010, in South Africa: African teams have millions of supporters! And we need cute shirts!
The World Cup was a wonderful way to ease into the summer. I only had two weeks of summer—only two weeks between being a student and…being employed!
But you'll have to wait until next time to read about that…