Real-World Challenges, Real-World Solutions

Catholic Charities of the East Bay had a branding dilemma.

“People know about them,” said Brain Caughell, EMBA ’14, “but their message wasn’t always consistent.”

As part of their graduate-level marketing management class, Caughell, Chris Sizemore and six other Executive MBA students were asked to evaluate Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s (CCEB) brand, analyze their results and present their findings to not only their class, but to the organization as well. This project, which pairs organizations that have a real-world marketing problem with Saint Mary’s MBA students, and takes months to complete, is used frequently by School of Economics and Business Adminstration (SEBA) faculty and serves as an example of how SEBA breathes life into the cliché of “real-world experience.” CCEB

“My goal for the students is to take what we experienced in the classroom and apply it to a real-life situation,” said Professor Tomas Gomez-Arias. “With these partnerships, we have a way to show students that what we learn in class can directly translate to problems they will face in the business world.”

“It’s a value for the organizations too,” Gomez-Arias continued. “They get access to intelligent, highly educated students who provide them with a valuable service."

CCEB has been a positive influence in the East Bay for over 75 years. The organization has a broad reach that has helped thousands over the years through homeless assistance, literacy programs, relief work, immigration advocacy, violence prevention, school counseling, senior care, legal services and even tax help. Despite its sterling reputation, CCEB wanted to assess its image.

“We decided to do a brand audit,” said Sizemore, EMBA ’14. “A kind of ‘you are here’ map that focused on four key segments of their brand: awareness, loyalty, differentiation and association.”


The audit took part in two stages that included soliciting and assessing donor materials, the CCEB website, external communications, overall messaging and distributing a targeted survey to 241 internal leaders, supporters, volunteers and community members. Results of the brand audit showed that donors and volunteers were primarily connected to CCEB through local parishes, rather than through CCEB itself. The students recommended streamlining the CCEB website and strengthening partnerships with parishes--allowing for cross-promotions when possible. When it came time to deliver their results, the team ran into an unexpected problem: an empty chair.

"The chairman of the board at CCEB, our main point of contact, left the organization during the middle of our project,” said Caughell.

“It made it tough,” added Sizemore. “But after the chairman left, we spoke with Tomas and he told us that these things happen in business. It made the project that much more challenging and intriguing.”

The group plans on sharing its recommendations with Catholic Charities of the East Bay once the situation with leadership stabilizes. Despite the unexpected challenges, there was a still a sense of satisfaction at the end of the project. 

 “These are incredibly dedicated professionals and their scope of impact is so broad,” said Sizemore of CCEB. "With the limited amount of time that we had with them, we really wanted to give them something valuable that would help their cause. This type of work with an organization that is really worthy, it makes me proud to be a part of Saint Mary’s.”