Established in 1988, Flexseal designs, manufactures and supplies a comprehensive range of fully-approved components for drainage and plumbing systems. Together with its sister company, Fernco Environmental, it is part of the global Fernco Group with sites in Germany, France, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and the US, as well as at Barnsley in the UK.

In 2012, the company worked with students from The Business School at Huddersfield to identify and evaluate the marketing opportunities available to it and provide recommendations on the best allocation of its marketing resources. Following the successful completion of the project, Flexseal has refined its marketing strategy and already implemented several of the student team’s recommendations.

Collaborations with Huddersfield’s long-established marketing course showcase the University’s innovative approach to integrating coursework with live projects for local organisations. Through this kind of structured engagement, students are thoroughly prepared for their future careers and provide participating businesses with valuable, in-depth research and creative communications strategies. For many businesses, keeping up to date with the latest marketing methods and opportunities can be a challenge. In the face of a proliferation of digital and traditional media outlets it can be difficult to know how best to engage with different clients and what resources are needed.

To address this challenge, Barnsley based Flexseal decided that the University of Huddersfield could help. The drainage and plumbing systems manufacturer employed students from the Business School to run a market research project and now has the information it needs to develop a robust and effective digital marketing strategy.

Ed Fairfield, Flexseal’s Marketing Manager, recalls his first meeting with the student team. “I was very impressed at how professional, well presented and commercially focused they were,” he says. ”The students had obviously done their research, understood what we wanted and were full of enthusiasm for the project.” The project was run as a selective module taken by students from diverse disciplines within the Business School. “There is a dynamic mix of skills in the project teams, with students from marketing, business studies, sports marketing and hospitality,” says Vince Rohde, Design and Marketing Consultant and part-time lecturer, who shares the module with Dr Fiona Cheetham, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Marketing and Strategy. “Every year we run about 15 similar projects with a range of local companies.  The students take it very seriously and respond well to working as a team with the opportunity to address practical, real-world issues.”

Businesses engaging with this resource take it just as seriously and are keen to take the student teams’ recommendations further. “It’s great to see the students’ work developing into an implemented marketing plan,” says Mr Rohde.  “There is a wealth of industry experience among the academic staff here but we try not to get too involved. Though we offer guidance and advice, the primary relationship is between the student team and their client.”

The Flexseal team worked closely with Mr Fairfield, to undertake extensive qualitative and quantitative research of Flexseal’s target market. Its final report provided a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of different marketing methodologies and recommendations on where resources should be allocated to generate the best return.

Flexseal already had a large market share but, with technologies changing so fast, knew that there was room to improve communication with its customers.  “We had an idea which platforms our customers might use but lacked the evidence to determine the most viable combination of traditional, social and internet marketing channels,” explains Mr Fairfield. ”The team at Huddersfield understood the need to balance budget against timeframe and their results provided valuable insight for us, as well as recommending some new methodologies and opportunities to add to the mix.”

Since completion of the project, in March 2013, Flexseal has made several changes to its marketing activities and, based on the sector preferences identified by the team, is now planning further improvements. Reflecting on the value of this module for industry clients, Dr Cheetham and Mr Rohde share the view that: “This kind of collaborative project can make a significant difference to raising customer awareness in any sector. We’re certain that the intelligence and enthusiasm our students brought to this project provided a better result than employing a commercial organisation, and with a far lower financial risk.”