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University of Dayton summer fellowship students develop solutions to help Cox First Media address changing workplace, sales models

By Dave Larsen

Ten University of Dayton students spent summer 2021 helping a Southwest Ohio media company prepare for its post-pandemic future by devising innovative ways to reimagine its workplace, sales tactics and multimedia storytelling techniques.

The students were part of the Cox First Media Summer Fellowship program, a partnership between the University and Cox First Media, the parent company of three regional newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News, and a digital marketing agency. Students selected for the paid, full-time summer research opportunity worked remotely with Cox staff and University advisors to develop solutions that address the company’s needs amid the changing media landscape.

Five students each from the Department of Communication and the School of Business Administration were tasked with envisioning a hybrid workplace for remote and in-person employees; creating new processes and expectations for video and multimedia storytelling; and developing the next generation of advertising salespeople, as well as new kiosk and crew sales techniques.

Jana Collier, publisher of the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal News, said the goal was to have a cohort of students with diverse skill sets to approach these projects holistically.

“It’s been an interesting and enlightening process to work with students and faculty and get their perspective on our business,” Collier said. “The UD team exceeded our expectations, and the student interactions have opened our eyes to new approaches.”

Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, Cox First Media’s corporate parent, works with colleges and universities across the nation, but this fellowship program is unique to Dayton. It grew out of a conversation between Collier and University President Eric F. Spina about the company partnering with local institutions after it was spun off from Cox Media Group Ohio and WHIO-TV in March 2020.

The students each worked on two projects from mid-May to early August under the direction of Cox First Media’s project leads and Flyer Media director Pat Enright, assistant professor of communication Chad Painter and associate professor of management and marketing Riley Dugan.

“It’s been a great opportunity for the students involved because they’ve had a lot of new experiences and they were able to do things they might not have ever done before, like conducting interviews, creating surveys and tabulating survey results,” Enright said. “They’re learning a lot about the culture at Cox First Media and business practices that I think will help them in their future, regardless of what they want to do after graduation.”

Flyer News sports editor Peter Burtnett, a senior communication major from Cleveland with a journalism concentration, plans to pursue a sports media career. Working on the multimedia project taught him how to make use of different media formats to drive reader engagement. The workplace of the future project provided valuable insight into working in a professional newsroom.

“The summer fellowship provided me with knowledge that can’t be gained in the classroom and helped me learn to work in a professional environment,” Burtnett said.

Sam Gurekovich, a senior communication major from Mason, Ohio, with a concentration in communication management, also worked on the multimedia and workplace of the future projects. His fellowship experience taught him how to create a survey intended for large groups of people, plan out his work to meet deadlines, and collaborate effectively with a team while working remotely.

“I learned how to see a problem within a company, collect data through surveys and interviews, and provide solutions based on research,” Gurekovich said.

Kelly Gallagher, a senior communication major from Chicago with a public relations concentration, worked on the next-generation media sales and the door-to-door/kiosk sales projects. She interviewed current staff and researched best practices for improving the sales process, and recruiting and retaining top-performing employees.

“Our work is helping Cox First Media discover new ways for improvement in various departments throughout the company,” Gallagher said. “Our hope is that through our research and collaboration, Cox First Media will learn new ways to increase engagement and sales.”

The students presented their work to Cox First Media leaders in early August. Collier said their findings were beneficial to the company. “We were so impressed with the students’ ideas and recommendations and are in the process of implementing some of their suggestions,” she said. “This was a great experience, and we’re eager to continue working with UD in the future.”

For more information, visit the Department of Communication website.

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