An Inside Look at Medill IMC’s Media Economics and Technology Course

Image from IMC Lecturer Judy Frank's PowerPoint presentation

By Xintong (Joy) Zhou

As one of the most popular courses in IMC, “Media Economics and Technology” is famous for its insightful key learnings, highly interactive classroom exercises, as well as a heavy workload. Why is it so popular among students? What on earth does it teach? What key takeaways do students get from this course? To give you an overall view of Media Econ, Vitamin IMC interviewed Professor Judy Franks and students who are currently in the course.


Vitamin IMC (VI): Can you give a brief introduction of this course? Why do we have this course in the IMC program?

Judy Franks: Marketers cannot engage with consumers without some form of media, which serves as a pipeline to deliver messages and incentives to consumers. However, the media world changes so fast with all the emerging technologies. This course intends to help students, who are future CMOs, ignore all the gloomy scariness, and understand how the media, such a mythical black box, works.


VI: What kind of key takeaways you want students to get from this course?

Judy: I want students to appreciate media as a valuable asset, which is critical to the life of customers and also to them as marketers. Marketers should not treat it as a swamp to go fishing audiences from as cheaply as possible. When students read Napoli’s theory about dual product marketplace, they may have a sense of how important audiences are and how difficult it is to get them, while media companies have to engage with audiences every day. Without healthy media, marketers cannot do this by themselves.

I always think that the best way to learn is from each other so I have many group projects and the groups are self-selected by students. And there are very few right and wrong answers since media economics is experiencing such a period of chaos and no one knows where it is going. I ask students to debate pieces of curriculum and force students to form their own opinion.


VI: Since many of my classmates in this course are currently working on the project, “Build Your Media Company,” can you talk about this project? What key learnings do you want students to get?

Judy: I hope students have a sense of how difficult it is to build a successful media company and make them have an appreciation for challenges that media companies face. Also, this project urges students not to act like marketers – “how can I get customers as cheaply as possible,” but to think from IMC perspectives – “what is the typical day of a consumer and why do they spend time on this media?”


VI: Anything else you want to share with students?

Judy: Students may think this course is difficult but that isn’t my intention. I just feel there are so many things that I want to share with them and give them all the possible opportunities to learn, by reading materials, working on cases, and working within groups. Since there are so many learning modalities such as online videos nowadays, I want to build a kind of in-class experience which students could not manage outside the classroom on their own.

I’ve been passionate about media my whole life and now I teach and share this passion with students. It is important to work with passionate people even if you may not share the same passion.


Thank you so much for sharing, Judy! Now let’s hear from our classmates –


VI: Could you introduce the project you are currently working on?  

Thomas Nissen: We just finished up a project called “Build your own media company” where we could envision, describe and pitch a brand new media company to the rest of the class. Our team created a children’s television streaming platform we called “Playground”. It is similar to Hulu or Netflix in execution and it is loaded with children’s TV shows from PBS, Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and so on.

Tasmina Chhugani & Zuzu My Dang: Our media company, “Just Got Here” was based on providing a platform for people who are relocating and to give them all the advice, resources and recommendations they would need to help them through this stressful situation and make them feel comfortable in their new home. 


VI: What was the most fun part of this project?

Tom: The most fun part was building up the content library for “Playground” with classic television shows from my youth.

Tasmina: Identifying an unmet need which we based on our own experiences of moving to a new town. It was also fun to come up with a range of creative solutions with my group and to continuously build upon and improve our initial idea.

Zuzu: Drawing from personal insights to identify a need that is underserved. Deciding on a name for the platform was also super fun when you had five people in the team and each came up with so many crazy ideas.


VI: And what was the most challenging part?

Tom: Pricing the platform competitively while working in the class concepts

Tasmina: Making sure that this concept was not currently being done today and that it was a completely novel idea.

Zuzu: Throwing challenging business questions at ourselves and trying to resolve them within a short period of time.


VI: What are your key takeaways from Media Economics course?

Tom: While media changes at such a rapid pace, it’s evolution follows very set patterns. Media “disruptors” like Snapchat today or Youtube 10 years ago seem like game-changers but they are playing by the same rules as every other form of media. They all need advertisers to fuel their growth. The revenue streams generated by media will always need to find ways to become profitable, even when media platforms change overnight.

Tasmina: How to successfully reach your audience despite changing the media environment due to technological innovation and changing audience behavior, and to recognize the importance of the consumer and the content over the actual channel.

Zuzu: My key takeaway so far, from a marketer’s perspective, is that to navigate the media chaos we need “a few simple tools and one big picture” (Judy Franks). Start with a great story then fund combinations of media so that they work together to support our story as it goes on and engages with our customers – Fully embrace the power of the audience in our media planning.


Big thanks to Judy and my classmates for giving us a look at the Media Economics and Technology course! Judy will have this course in the spring quarter again – don’t miss the chance to take it!


-Xintong (Joy) Zhou

Born in Nanjing, China, Xintong (Joy) completed her undergraduate study at Fudan University, Shanghai, with a degree in English. Currently studying in the Medill IMC program, she is interested in digital marketing and marketing analytics and aims to become a marketer who works on building data-driven strategies. LinkedIn

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