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Neeraj Bharadwaj

Bharadwaj designs all his classes with the goal of students learning the material, applying what they learn and having fun along the way.

Marketing - Faculty

When Neeraj Bharadwaj, associate professor of marketing in the Haslam College of Business, plans a class, he begins by asking three questions: Will my students be able to learn key concepts, theories, frameworks and analytical tools? Will they have an opportunity to apply their learning? Will they have fun along the way?

“If one element is missing, the other two can compensate. If two are missing, it’s time to go back to the drawing board,” Bharadwaj says. “I design all of my classes that way.”

Bharadwaj learned these goals from his mentor, the vice president of marketing at Miller Brewing Company, where Bharadwaj was in brand management. This semester, he put this theory into practice by bringing two of his research interests – sustainability and cause marketing – into the classroom.

“Whereas the business impact of firm activities on people and the planet was previously an afterthought, it is increasingly being viewed as a basis for competitive advantage,” Bharadwaj says. “I’d like to do my part to inform the dialogue.”

To provide his brand management students with insight into marketing sustainability, he connected with Keep Knoxville Beautiful. The local nonprofit organization aims to empower Knox County communities to improve their quality of life through beautification and environmental stewardship. The group achieves this through education, volunteerism and beautification and litter prevention campaigns such as the Greater Knoxville Cleanup.

Bharadwaj posed a two-part challenge for one of the brand management team projects: help build the Keep Knoxville Beautiful brand and generate awareness for the Greater Knoxville Cleanup campaign. He encouraged the student teams to think of themselves as an advertising agency and develop a design that delivered on the objectives the client was seeking.

“I wanted my students to be able to apply their learning to benefit the greater good,” Bharadwaj says.

As the students applied concepts learned in the class, they gained important insights. “They got to experience what it is like to work within a group on a real-world project,” Bharadwaj says. “They had to pull together as a team in order to generate creative content that was on-brand.”

The student teams each presented their branding plans to Keep Knoxville Beautiful Executive Director Alanna McKissack. Ultimately, Keep Knoxville Beautiful chose designs from two teams and successfully worked with the class to create a final design for the campaign. This design will be used to promote upcoming events this spring.

“My students got an opportunity to participate in a real-world design challenge,” Bharadwaj says. “They will be able to describe to prospective employers how they worked together as a team to deliver their pitch to a client, and how much fun they had along the way.”

Bharadwaj’s students also learned the importance of engaging in their community. At the beginning of the project, 30 percent of the class was aware of Keep Knoxville Beautiful. As the project progressed, students were encouraging others outside the class to participate in Keep Knoxville Beautiful initiatives and volunteer for the Greater Knoxville Cleanup events.

While this is the first time Bharadwaj has incorporated a project involving a local nonprofit, the positive outcomes for the students, Keep Knoxville Beautiful and the community guarantee it won’t be the last.

 “Because it was so successful, this type of real-world project with a sustainability theme will become a mainstay in my brand management course,” Bharadwaj says.

Bharadwaj is also planning an innovating for sustainability class in the fall and looking for more nonprofits to connect with his brand management class. “I am always looking for real-world projects that are a win for not only a local enterprise but also my students and the university,” Bharadwaj says.

As Bharadwaj learned from his mentor, “It’s all about learning, applying what you’re learning and having fun.”