Report Guidelines
Influential Communication in the Marketplace


Written Report on Campaign of Your Choice

The first report should focus on a communication, marketing, advertising, PR, promotion, reputation management, or crisis communication from either a commercial, social-action, or (if you have prior approval) a political campaign if it is presented in a non-partisan manner. Alternately, you could comment on a public relations issue, or a peer-to-peer marketing campaign, or a social marketing campaign, or a series of TV ads--as long as it falls under the heading of "communicating with consumers," and the influence agent is trying to 'sell' a product, service, or idea.

In your report, you'll analyze and critique the campaign. Don't look at the campaign, look into it. Your critiques should point out strengths and weaknesses of a campaign; and your analyses should examine the the inner workings of various promotional materials, campaigns, organizational communications, ads, trends, that accompany the campaign. For example, if you see a billboard on the side of the 405 freeway that you think is effective or ineffective--or it simply interests you--take a picture of it, research the campaign, review what reputable sources have said about it, and write an insightful analysis of the communication, discussing what makes the campaign work or misfire, how it might be improved, etc. Research the communication or campaign and give some insight on what is working and what isn't. If there's no quality commentary on your chosen campaign, consider choosing a different one.

Please provide some indication of the campaign's success or failure (perhaps sales volume, or measured behavior change, or election results, etc.). If you have no idea if a particular campaign was successful or not, find a different campaign to report. We need some sort of "dependent variable" because conjecture isn't sufficient. Subjective statements such as "I think it's pretty effective, because I liked it" are frowned upon. If you give measures of effectiveness in terms of internet hits or engagement, be sure to supply comparison numbers from other campaigns so your figures have context. Comments by individuals in blogs are not considered adequate measures of effectiveness, unless the blog is by a known authority.

Short List of Do's and Don'ts:

  • Research the campaign & reference your research.
  • Include a brief description of the campaign, what it was attempting to accomplish and how, preferably from a knowledgeable insider's perspective (don't pad your paper by going on at length describing the campaign materials).
  • Integrate the material from our class. Discuss influence tactics used by the campaign that we have explored in class and in your reading.
  • Show a few sample campaign graphics and/or URLs where video may be seen (but don't 'pad' your report by showing large, or too many graphics).
  • Provide criticism of the campaign, backlash, unintended consequences, and/or competitor responses.
  • Discuss campaign outcomes, whether changes in sales, changes in visibility or mind share, actual behavioral changes, a won or lost electoral campaign, etc. Good discussions give context or comparisons for the results.
  • Use quality references, including academic sources. Remember that trade journals can be helpful. If you're analyzing a commercial ad campaign, for example, don't overlook Advertising Age and Ad Week.
  • The paper should be between 3 and 4 single spaced pages in length, all included, printed on paper, and submitted in class on the due date. No electronic submissions of this paper will be accepted. Printing the paper and handing it in on time is your responsibility.
  • For more guidance, please refer to the document, "How to Write for Rhoads' Class," found in the downloads folder.
  • Your perspective is that of an objective observer or balanced critic, not a campaign fan or cheerleader.
  • Please, I implore you, no reports on the Dove Real Beauty campaign. I've gotten a report on that every year for the past 10 years and can't take it anymore.

Please present your report in an organized and appealing manner. All entries in the journal must be word-processed and printed out on 8.5x11 paper (ie, nothing hand written, no pdf documents only available in electrons, no legal size, etc.) Here are some important mechanical issues:

  • No paper clips, they slide off. Staple your report together.
  • Adhere to the required length. Not shorter, and not longer. Don't assume I grade longer papers higher.
  • Please use single spaced typing, not double spaced.
  • Ragged right border, NOT justified.
  • Use a serif font like 12-point times for the main text.
  • Keep borders at least an inch all around.
  • I require reports on paper (not electrons). Don't ask to submit your paper by email.
  • Use footnotes (in small font) at the bottoms of pages, so I can easily see your sources.
  • List all your citations (in small font) at the end of your report.

This is a graduate communication class; therefore you are expected to have already learned to write well. If you're an inexperienced writer, or if English is not your native language, please visit USC's Writing Center or make an appointment with Michael Robinson, the CMGT writing coach (, or get help elsewhere from a competent writer. Communication students with master's degrees from USC must be able to communicate competently in written English!

Give these tutors enough time to help you. I've had students wait until Friday afternoon to seek writing help, when the paper was due on Monday--and then complain to me that nobody was responding to their last-minute cry for help! Seeking help with your paper is "your monkey" (and reread the page on "Take This Class?" if you don't know what I mean by "your monkey").

I'll be checking for quality of writing and analysis, quality of included articles, level of understanding of the topics you choose, the creativity of the report, the quality of presentation, and your ability to specify, incorporate and explain influence tactics, strategies, and themes, as well as engage in criticism & analyze unintended consequences. In particular, your in-depth knowledge regarding the influence strategies and tactics that make the campaign work, will be especially important.

After you've handed in a draft of this report, I'll try to contact you by phone to have a short discussion about its strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of the call is to give you some feedback on your topic, your analysis, and your writing ability. The more complete your draft is, the more help I can give you. Of course I may offer what I consider to be improvements. As this is part of the learning process, don't take offense that I am recommending changes, or challenging your thinking. That's what a professor is supposed to do! (Some students get defensive when revisions are suggested, and need to be reminded that a professor's duty is to do more than provide self-esteem and positive feedback.)

On the other hand, if I happen to compliment you on a portion of your paper, or tell you that I think your paper is a good one, that is not a guarantee of an "A" paper; this is a graduate class and I will probably get a lot of good papers. Understand that I am not the coauthor of your paper, and my review does not guarantee a particular grade. My review is designed to give a warning to students who are off-track, rather than to perfect already good papers. Despite my feedback, your paper will still be graded in comparison to other papers. I want to be clear that positive feedback from me on your draft doesn't automatically mean you'll get a top grade--outstanding research, analysis, and writing does.

This is the only report in the class that receives a review by me before you hand it in.

I will place some examples of good reviews from past classes in the downloads folder, if you care to study them. Please note that I did not have the same length rules in place at the time, so some will be too long for current assignments.

Oral Presentation on Unintended Consequences

In the latter part of the semester, students will present an oral report with a one-sheet (that is, two-page) handout to accompany it. A schedule for presentations will be published after the class is underway. The time at which you are requested to present is chosen by the prof, but you are nonetheless required to present on the date chosen--please don't choose that date for a "skip" day, unless you really are ill.

The oral presentation should be on the unintended consequences of an influence attempt, marketing ploy, or campaign. It must be a different attempt/campaign than discussed in any other report in this class. There are scores of reasons that campaigns have unintended consequences, and as a class, we will want to explore a variety of those reasons. You'll refer to two different kinds of reasons for UCs: (a) those from our "Taxonomy of Reasons Influence Campaigns Fail" and (b) those enumerated in my presentation on "Psychological Antecedents of UCs."

With so many different reasons for UCs, we don't all want to explore the same type of UC. For this reason, and for the purpose of avoiding duplicate presentations on the same campaign, you must text or email me the campaign on which you'd like to report. I also request that you identify the primary reason the campaign had UCs (even if you present multiple reasons, which you very likely will), and send that primary reason to me along with your reservation request. Assignments are given on a first-come-first-serve basis; if I don't allow your first choice, please have a second choice in mind. You may reserve your topic at any time during the semester. Just don't wait until the last minute.

What are unintended consequences? Much as we may strive for clarity and effectiveness, communication campaigns don’t have precise, focused effects. The imprecision, multiple and diffused effects, and unintended consequences of human communication make influence attempts/campaigns notoriously challenging. For the oral presentation, tell the story of the unintended consequences of an influence attempt/campaign, and try to identify some of the antecedents that may have caused the unanticipated consequences.

Sources for the oral presentation may be a combination of the sorts discussed in class or in readings as approved sources. For the most part, influence agents and campaign organizers don't like to talk about events that yielded unexpected results. The trick is keeping your ears open and finding examples that gave unintended results, and then discovering what led to those unintended consequences.

I will place handouts of some great reports on unintended consequences of campaigns--written by previous students--into our downloads folder. Note they were for a different class and some have different page, content, or format requirements. Follow the page & format requirements stated here: 2 pages, front and back, on a single sheet of paper. Use footnotes to document your references.

You'll have around 10 minutes to present your information--I'll give you a more exact time as we get closer to the presentations. You may be surprised, when you practice your delivery, that you have difficulty keeping your presentation limited to the minutes allowed--especially when you consider you may need to answer questions and respond to comments. I recommend that you practice your summary live in front of a colleague (or at least a mirror) before presenting to the class. Time yourself!

You will not be addressing the entire class at once. You'll be addressing small sub-groups of the class, but multiple times. Be prepared to give your presentation three or four times to separate groups of students. Other students will be presenting at the same time that you are, in different parts of the room. This keeps things casual. Presentations are more like structured conversations this way.

Remember to bring handouts of your report to distribute during your presentation, one for each member in the class. As mentioned above, your handout should fit on a single sheet of paper (double sided). This handout is similar to the other reports you've made during this class, only shorter. Use actual paper for the handouts; no electronic submissions for this assignment.

Handouts are graded by the class--see the rating sheet in the downloads folder. Note that grading is done of the handout, outside class. The rating of the presentation handout is not done in class, it's done as homework. Re-read the handout and rate it using the rating sheet in the downlads folder. The oral presentation itself is not the object of grading, the handout is; but a good oral presentation will certainly help you make your case. Review the guidelines for mechanical issues given for the campaign analysis paper above, and apply them (as appropriate) to this handout.

Visuals--the choice is yours. You can simply address your audience without visuals, or you can point to your handout for graphics and photos, or you can make a powerpoint and show it on your own computer to your audience, or you can make a poster and bring it to class, or you can even show a youtube clip (as long as it's very short, say a half minute or less; I don't want a video taking up valuable presentation time).

For all reports and presentations, students in the class will help grade your handout, and the (curved) average of student ratings, combined with my ratings, will determine your score. Find the current presentation rating sheet in our downloads folder.

Final Group Paper: Market Influence Analysis

Teams will select a currently operating corporation, nonprofit, or other group that employs marketing, hereafter referred to as the 'client.' You team will perform a "market influence analysis" for your client, which is essentially a SWOT analysis with marketing influence tactics as the topic.

Teams may select a corporation, nonprofit, or group of their own choosing. Since your team may elect to eventually submit your analysis to your client, consider which type of group might be most receptive to your analysis. Think carefully about your choice. Very large clients may be inattentive to your analysis and your research may duplicate what they already perform internally. Very small clients may provide you with little in terms of valuable real-world experience. Exceptionally successful clients may be difficult to critique. Distant clients may be difficult to contact or research.

Approach this assignment as if you were a consultant. Research your client and review influence efforts they have recently made (marketing, advertising, P.R., communication campaigns, etc). Critically examine their efforts for both documented and potential effectiveness. Try to understand what your client is trying to achieve, what their influence strategy is. Try to understand their challenges, constraints, and competition, and then try to provide helpful, useful information regarding the implementation of influence techniques. (After you've done your initial research, it's possible your client will meet with a member from your team to answer questions, although this is not a requirement for the paper.)

This class has provided you with a rich set of influence tactics (and for many of them, the conditions under which they are known to function) that goes far beyond Kerin's three marketing influence tactics of fear, sex appeal, and humor. Review your notes and your master's-level knowledge base to determine which influence tactics your client is using well (strengths), which used influence tactics could be improved, based on what we know of how influence tactics work (weaknesses); which influence tactics are not in use, but could be (opportunities); and which otherwise appropriate influence tactics might boomerang or lead to unintended consequences (threats). In my experience, clients are often most interested in the 'opportunities' section, so emphasize this element. For the 'threats' section, you may wish to guess at competitor moves and counter-moves. If your target group does X, is it possible their competition will respond with Y?

The length of the body of this paper should be approximately 8 single-spaced pages (i.e., 2pp per person). A cover page and a bibliography can be added to total 10 pages. You may add appendices if you like, but they are not required for this assignment. Use paper; no electronic submissions accepted.

Busy professionals don't have a lot of spare time, so your analysis needs to be compact, to-the-point, devoid of repetition, and practical. That's why the body of this paper is capped at 8 single-spaced pages maximum. Your paper should be as close to perfect as possible for readability, editing and proofreading. Professional communicators are judged harshly for errors and non-fluencies, so expend sufficient effort in revising and refining your paper until it meets high standards. You will be representing USC! Remember your audience likely hasn't taken an influence course, so if you toss out technical terms like "altercasting" or "cognitive dissonance," be sure to explain the tactic briefly and then leave a footnote for the reader to follow for more information.

I've placed excerpts from the top Influence Analysis paper written for this class in 2016, into the downloads folder. It's called "Jamba Juice Top SWOT Paper 2016." These students did a good job on this assignment.

Short List of Do's and Don'ts:

  • Don't pad your paper by going on at length describing the group's campaign materials--your client is likely already familiar with their own marketing materials. (You'll have to describe them briefly for me, however!)
  • Be polite when you make recommendations, and consider the person reading your paper may be the person who has led the marketing effort so far.
  • Discuss influence tactics that you learned in class and in your own reading/ experience.
  • Use quality references.
  • Present your report in an organized and appealing manner. The paper must be word-processed and printed out on 8.5x11 paper (ie, nothing hand written, no pdf documents or computer files, no legal size, etc.)
  • Bind or staple your report together. Don't use paper clips.
  • Please use single spaced typing, not double spaced or space-and-a-half.
  • Ragged right border, NOT justified. (Justified is harder to read.)
  • Use a serif font like 12-point Times or similar for the main text. (Footnotes can be much smaller.)
  • Keep borders at least an inch all around.
  • Don't ask to submit your paper late by email. Work ahead of the clock, not behind it.
  • Use footnotes at the bottoms of pages as needed, so readers can easily see your sources or see an expanded explanation.
  • List your citations (in small font) at the end of your report in a bibliography.

For more guidance on writing, please refer to the document, "How to Write for Rhoads' Class," found in the downloads folder.

After the course is over, you may choose to send your report to your client, or even meet with one of their representatives. I will be happy to write a cover letter for your team, and you can take it from there. Who knows, maybe this assignment will perform "double duty" for you!