Mason Students Revamp Marketing Campaign of The Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk

In Professor Dawn Edmiston’s Advertising, Marketing, and Communications course, teams of students create innovative marketing communication campaigns for either real or simulated businesses.

Andrea Sardone, current Director of Marketing for Colonial Williamsburg and the former Chief Marketing Officer for the Mason School of Business, approached Edmiston requesting help with a marketing campaign: the Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk was facing a lot of competition from other ghost tour companies, and needed to differentiate themselves from the market. In addition, there was only a small amount of promotion efforts, and no social media presence.

“With October and Halloween just around the corner, [The Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk] need[ed] a team of students who [could] act quickly and provide a William & Mary student perspective on this experience,” said Edmiston.

Students Ian Kirkwood, Montana Cone, Sarah Garrett, and Michael Conte decided to take on the challenge. The four barely knew each other before the commencement of the project, but quickly formed a bond over their interest in the campaign.

“They all had a singular focus toward the Ghost Tours,” said Edmiston.

The students brought four different perspectives to the campaign: Garrett is particularly good with videography and project management; Kirkwood is gifted with language and words. Conte always knew the right questions to ask and the right direction in which to steer the team, while Cone is strong in art and design.

Cone, a marketing major and art minor, was particularly interested in gaining real-life marketing experience through this capstone project.

“I was looking for something that I’d like to put on my resume,” said Cone. “I knew a lot about Williamsburg, because I actually lived here for two years before I came [to William & Mary]…so [the Ghost Tours] sounded like a great thing to do. And so I volunteered for [the Ghost Tours].”

Garrett, a marketing major, was immediately interested in the Ghost Tours project, agreeing that it was exciting to work on a real—rather than simulated—situation.

“I love any opportunity to work with a real project,” said Garrett. “It adds a certain level of legitimacy to it. It’s really cool to see your work directly translated to action and results.”

Kirkwood, Cone, Garrett, and Conte used social media to increase awareness of the the Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk. In addition, the group created promotional videos, written advertisements, and flyers to further increase the profile of the company. They placed a blue sign in the middle of Merchants Square to reel in more customers.

Edmiston ended up modifying and accelerating parts of the project (such as the competitive analysis and development of the creative recommendations) so that the team would be able to meet and exceed the client objectives in addition to satisfying the learning objectives. The students had less than four weeks to plan, present, modify, and execute their marketing campaign, but were able to do so with resounding success: profits increased significantly as a result of the group’s efforts; in addition, participation numbers have dramatically increased.

“It is amazing how quickly they acted,” said Edmiston. “This was a very time-sensitive project… they literally, within four weeks, had to create this campaign, these initiatives, these recommendations.”

“We were looking for a fresh set of ideas and wanted to pump new energy into our evening programming,” said Sardone. “Professor Edmiston’s team delivered! Compared with the previous year, we are up 20% in sales and 12% in revenue. Nearly 90% of the lift came from implementing actionable insights from the team. We are thrilled with the results and looking forward to continued work.”

Other student teams in Edmiston’s class developed innovative marketing communication campaigns for such businesses as Emily’s Donuts and Café and William & Mary’s School of Education.