Steven Jarmon Offers Students a Real-World Glimpse of the Communications Industry

"It's a really interactive, dynamic kind of class," says Steven Jarmon of the class he teaches for the M.S. in Strategic Communication program, Evaluating the Communications Toolbox. The course, which he created, aims to familiarize students with various communications tools: advertising, public relations, social media, direct marketing, and more. Once students gain a more sophisticated understanding of these tools, students can better deploy these strategies – and figure out which communications paths are right for them. To that end, the class is comprised of company visits to firms including an advertising agency, a public relations firm, clients, and others.

Jarmon has decades of experience in the communications field. He was formerly a marketing and communications executive for major consumer brands including Nikon, Timberland, and Snapple. One of Jarmon's most high profile marketing innovations includes coming up with the idea to place whimsical trivia – Real Facts – beneath Snapple caps.

We spoke with Jarmon about what students learn in Evaluating the Communications Toolbox, how young grads are leveraging their social media skills, and how he brainstormed the Real Facts that grace Snapple lids.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Can you tell me about your class?

This was a class that I designed, Evaluating the Communications Toolbox. Due to developments in technology, the industry is so rapidly changing. The class gives students an overview of what's going on in the communications business.

What happens in the classroom?

In addition to meeting on-site at Columbia, the class meets mostly off-site at various communication firms in and around New York City. We visit different companies throughout the semester: a PR firm, an ad agency, clients including the ASPCA, JetBlue, Google.

These company visits give the students an unprecedented peek inside the industry. We spend about an hour and a half with the hosting company discussing a case study, some of their communications challenges, and their internship program. The other half of the class is spent talking about that aspect of the industry.

It's not a traditional lecture class. It's a really interactive, dynamic kind of class.

In what ways do you discuss social media?

Clearly, the lifeline, particularly for young people, is online media. That's how we consume all sorts of information, from news to gossip. We've used it to the nth degree in our personal lives, and brands want consumers to be as interested in them as consumers are in their personal media.

Brands have taken to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – which means there are so many opportunities for our graduates in the world of social media. Brands are looking to younger graduates; older executives want to hire digital natives. The younger person may be able to understand innately what the best social media approach might be.

Some of our recent graduates have been able to enter the field without being placed in the junior-most position. They have truly relevant experience in social media, which serves them in the professional world.

Are there any brands that you think are doing social media particularly well?

There are more inappropriate uses right now than appropriate uses. Take the DiGiorno Pizza #WhyIStayed example. But I think social media is a tool that has yet to be figured out. I think our recent graduates are going to be at the forefront of solving that problem: How do you make social media messages relevant and not an intrusion?

Can you tell me a little bit about your career?

I spent about 30 years in leadership positions in marketing and communications for major brands. I've been on the agency side, and I've been on the client side, which means I was in-house. There, I had various positions at Nikon, Timberland, and Snapple.

Snapple is probably where I had the most challenging yet rewarding part of my career. Snapple was a brand that was dying. A new company bought it. They were looking to resurrect it.

Consumer Insights said that when people drank a Snapple, they would shake it, they would pop it on the bottom a bit to break the vacuum seal. And as they opened the top, they would look under there. For years, we used that space for summer promotions. And we realized, why don't we try to use that real estate? It was my idea to put those Real Facts under the cap.

I've been away from Snapple for a long time, but I see that they're still using it.

Is there anything that you wanted to mention that I didn't ask about?

What's really nice about the program is it's collaborative. It's not just a lot of isolated, siloed classes. It's a very integrated, cohesive, holistic approach. I think that makes a big difference.