background on class project for MKTG-675 Digital Marketing at VCU

24 November 2020

Goal: To give students experiential learning by building out a tourism-focused website, offering digital products, connecting with social media, and running paid SEM & display ad campaigns. Leverage the “RVA” acronym for the Richmond, Virginia metro area. 

Background: MKTG-675 Digital Marketing is an elective for evening MBA students at Virginia Commonwealth University. Typically we have 12-16 students with a variety of backgrounds and work experience.  This elective is usually offered in the fall to accommodate student schedules. My company, LLC provided help (technology and money for ads)  to the project due to the pandemic’s impact on procurement here at VCU. I did this same project about five years ago. VCU uses Canvas as the Learning Management System. During the fall 2020 semester, VCU offered this course in a HyFlex format (students may attend in-person or join remotely).


I asked a local artist to draw some coloring pages of local landmarks and statues. She also prepared a new logo. (The students ended up making there own logo.)


My company owned the URL I used my company’s existing AWS account to build a WordPress website shell and configure the free SSL. I set up a Gmail account for email, the Facebook page, Google Analytics, GTM, all social media, and Google Ads. We also set up MailChimp account for the collected customer emails. The students then set up a variety of WordPress plugins for analytics, data backups, security, etc. 

  • AWS Route 53 for domain URL and DNS
  • AWS LightSail for WordPress
  • Variuos WordPress plugins
  • Google email, GTM, Analytics, and Ads
  • Facebook Ads manager
  • Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

My Plan:

My basic approach was to work as a digital business by splitting the class into functional teams for key digital roles. The students were assigned to these themes: Strategy, Infrastructure, Discovery, Content, Publicity & Social Media, SEM & Display Advertising, and Analytics. 

The work is conceptually phased like this:

Semester start: Strategy team defines the plan. Infrastructure starts prepping the website. Discovery starts on referral sites. Content preps navigation and verbiage.

Early in the semester: Strategy describes the plan and collaborates with other teams. Infrastructure launches the site. Content builds out the pages and posts. Publicity & Social Media prep an editorial calendar and selects the platforms. Analytics starts to ID goals. Advertising preps ads. 

Mid-semester(early October):-Strategy leads team collaboration and starts a feature Road Map. Infrastructure shifts to maintenance tasks and technical reviews of the Road Map. Content completes all pages. Discovery continues to build out profiles for referral traffic. Advertising starts their campaigns. Analytics begins to report data. Publicity & Social Media are posting. 

Late semester(mid-November): Advertising wraps up and presents data. Analytics describes data versus goals. Publicity & Social media share their analytics. Discovery, Strategy, and Infrastructure wind down. All teams make a presentation.

The students workload was balanced throughout the semester by their team’s activity in the three phases described above. 


  • Managing logins and security for many students.
  • Team workloads are being done by a few people. The “Free Rider” team problem is difficult to improve. I am considering a graded peer review. 
  • Getting Facebook ads approved. 


  • I think the lessons learned by students included these: understanding the link between content and analytics, how social media and directory referrals drive traffic, using ads to boost website traffic, and see how strategy can build into a real business.
  • If you are a marketing teacher, I am happy to send the student presentations and all class materials. Just email me at my VCU email below.


Butch M. Sarma VCU email: 

Marketing teachers, consider this 4P case on Industrial Hemp:

screen grab of the commerce functionality

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