SHU Students Place Third in National Business Competition
Senior Allison Riddle, junior Kaylee Pivirotto, and freshman Jessica Palko had a real-world opportunity to test their business skills when they gave a marketing presentation to representatives from Donatos Pizza about how to reach Gen Z in Costa Mesa, Calif.
The team of three communication majors tied for third place when they represented Seton Hill at the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) Student Case Study Competition.
The students were recruited for the competition by Jen Jones, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Department Coordinator of Marketing and Communications, who served as the team’s advisor. They spent a month researching their case, which was attracting younger customers to the existing Donatos Pizza brand that has skewed to older generations. The team came up with their first round of data by doing a literature review, citing more than 30 sources in their presentation. They then created a survey with a statistically significant number of Gen Z participants to further back up their strategy.
“I was really proud that their idea was based in research and not just being a part of Gen Z,” Jones said.
Weekly meetings where the Seton Hill team was able to interact with the other teams, competition hosts, and Donatos Pizza representatives were also part of the competition experience.
The students’ strategy to evolve the brand’s identity to better reach Gen Z revolved around diversity and inclusion. Ideas for the campaign included: expanding corporate donations tied to specific causes around diversity, equity and inclusion; creating content and accompanying promotions around different holidays and celebrations throughout the year; and building community on social media by accommodating and showcasing different cultural perspectives.
One example in their presentation came from one of the weekly meetings. After talking with the two women who were representing Donatos in the competition, the students developed the idea of highlighting women in the brand and their favorite products during Women’s History Month.
“Overall, the experience was both insightful and fun,” Pivirotto said. “The process of research on my end helped enhance my writing and research skills.”
Once their preparations were complete, the team traveled to California to present their strategy to the Donatos representatives and members of local business communities in a Shark Tank-style competition.
The students from Seton Hill comprised the only all- female team in the competition. Though some of the teams had been participating in the competition for years before they earned a top spot, they were excited to place in the top three in their first year.
“As someone in their first year of college it was a great experience being able to network with others that work in the same field that I want to work in,” Palko said. “Being at the competition and being able to present in front of the judges, some of whom came from Donatos, was very nerve racking, but it was worth all of the countless hours of work that my teammates and I put in.”
While the experience of the competition was a first for all the team members, it wasn’t the only first for the students.
For Pivirotto, traveling to California meant her first time flying and her first time leaving the Eastern time zone.
“As a Spanish major and someone heavily involved in humanities, the cultural experience of being in California was amazing,” she said.
Though it was a lot of work, and completed quickly, the students came away with a strong sense of accomplishment.
“We gave it everything we could, and we are so happy to be able to bring home a win to Seton Hill and create a path for major change in Donatos,” Riddle said. “It was the best way to finish out my career at Seton Hill!”
Jones was impressed with the students’ dedication to the competition on top of their studies, leadership activities, and jobs. She has since noticed elements of the students’ strategy appearing on Donatos’ social platforms.
“I told them, ‘You are making a difference. You are transforming the world,’” Jones said.