Y Digital ranks 1st nationally, 18th worldwide in academic marketing win

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(From left to right) StudentsKara Reed,Laura Carpenter, Ashlyn Thompson, Jessica Curtis,Ellie Glade, Kara Reed,Allison Zundel, Audrey Blakely and Kate Romney, with team memberAndrew Call not pictured, pose alongside former mentor Adam Durfee (center) presenting their award.Y Digital placed 1st in the U.S. and 18th worldwide in the Global Online Marketing Academic Challenge. Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Thompson)

Y Digital, a former lab for selected communications students at BYU, placed first in the U.S. and 18th worldwide in the Global Online Marketing Academic Challenge. This is the first time BYU entered the competition and is the highest any team from the United States has placed in the competition’s history.

The competition only allows certified professors to submit one team from their school for consideration. This vetting process means only the best graduate and undergraduate students worldwide can compete. The results both surprised and validated the team.

“I’m just like so proud of our whole team together. No U.S. team has ever placed this high so it’s just like, kind of like makes me speechless almost like, oh my gosh how did we do that? Like I know how we did, but it’s so cool,” said Audrey Blakely, a digital meeting consultant on the team.

BYU came first in the United States and was a global finalist in the Global Online Marketing Academic Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Thompson.)

The win also solidified a goal that former Y Digital manager Adam Durfee had for BYU’s public relations program.

“For us it’s the culmination of a lot of years of work. I ran Y Digital for four years with the idea of, ‘Can we get students in this pipeline learning, training and becoming good enough that not only are we recognized for being great in the state of Utah, or great in the local markets or even great in the United States, but can we create a world class program that produces world class students?'” Durfee said. 

Students worked with a real client to create a digital marketing campaign. Y Digital worked with Dowdle Folk Art to improve the company’s Google Ads to promote its puzzles. Within a month, they created Google Ads that costed less and increased revenue. The students also created a slide deck to present to international judges for the competition.

A team of 10 students worked on the campaign with Durfee as their faculty mentor and student Jessica Curtis as the account executive. Over the course of spring semester, the students researched the ads before their launch, improved the campaign continually as it ran and revised their final presentation to the judges over and over again to get it just right.

“We would spend hours, stay late after staff meeting,” Curtis said. “Countless times we had to go back and rework.”

The validation of the win made the work worth it.

“Getting those results back was definitely a huge payoff,” team member Ashlyn Thompson said.

The victory was won with mixed emotions. Y Digital was dissolved this summer to launch the new PR Intelligence Lab. The goal of the new lab is to involve all students in the work Y Digital previously produced, rather than the 32 students that were accepted into the previous lab. But for students who worked in Y Digital, which had a high reputation among companies and maintained a 100% job placement post graduation, knowing the same program will not be active in the upcoming year is difficult.

“I think bittersweet is a great way to put it,” Blakely said.

Durfee said he is incredibly proud of the work that his students produced. Though saddened that Y Digital no longer exists, he’s grateful for the legacy of its work and the opportunities it gave his students.

“Never in my life have I been more proud of my work than watching these students find success. I’ve never felt more proud than watching these students win awards,” he said.

Readers can find the results of the 2021 competition on the Global Online Marketing Academic Challenge website, with BYU’s team under the CID number 616-763-8868.

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