By Eva Simeone
A roar of applause erupted in Baker Ballroom Thursday night when the documentary "The New Selling of America" first cut to Ohio University.
"A Fortune 500 company?" the voiceover had just asked. "Not exactly."
"New York? Chicago? L.A? Not even close. We're in the foothills of Appalachia. This is Ohio University. The business people are students working at -- well, they're actually running -- The Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre."
Produced by ThinkTV of Dayton, Ohio, the one-hour documentary focuses on how America needs to capitalize on its competitive advantage in sales in order to remain a dominant leader in the global economy.
A sneak-preview of the program aired Thursday night for an audience comprising students, support team members and other guests invested in the university's Sales Centre.
About a quarter of the documentary features Ohio University, highlighting sales role-playing in Copeland Hall and following two Sales Centre students, Amber Fox (now an alumna) and senior Kathleen Rioux, during sales training classes on campus and later during their internships.
The documentary notes that of more than 4,000 universities in the United States, only a small but growing number have academic sales programs. Ohio University's was among the first.
Established a decade ago, the center offers students of any major the opportunity to gain a certificate in professional, retail, media, financial services, sports management or technical sales. Certificate candidates must complete a 28-credit hour, cross-disciplinary classroom experience and a 300-hour sales internship.
Howard Stevens, CEO of the HR Chally Group sales research company and chair of The Sales Centre's advisory board, introduced the PBS program Thursday night. "One hundred hours of filming later, and almost a quarter million dollars in expenses, Ohio University students are the stars now," he told the audience.
Asked what businesses gain by hiring Sales Centre students, Stevens said, "For one, the turnover rate is cut in half and the ramp-up rate is cut in half for students who complete the certificate program."
Through a corporate outreach program, Sales Centre participants use the skills they learn in the classroom to present the self-funded organization to prospective corporate members. Participating businesses pay $5,000 to $25,000 to access the center's sales research and tap students for full-time positions and internships.
The documentary crew followed Rioux to her internship at EMC in Boston, where at one point she competes with others in a five-minute pitch about the business technology company. She got high marks from reviewers, one of whom said her third-place win was all the more significant considering she had gone up against many who were staffers.
Sales Centre student Chris Sirc, a senior majoring in marketing and management, was impressed with the documentary's portrayal of center.
"It was awesome," he said. "A lot of us are feeling the same way as Katie. As she left EMC that summer, she had a job waiting for her (after graduation), and it's great to feel that we have these jobs secured so early in our college careers."
Tom Starr, who graduated from Ohio University in 1969 and now serves on the center's advisory board, said waching the documentary brought tears to his eyes.
"I saw students who have evolved from uncomfortable freshmen to very comfortable professionals, and we can give a lot of that credit to The Sales Centre," he said. "Sales truly is a profession, and it needs to be recognized like any other profession.
"This is a dream come true, to see this in a PBS documentary," he added. "I think that people will get it now."
Earlier this week, Producer Gloria Skurski said discussions are under way about when the documentary will be available nationwide. It is expected to air on WOUB-TV in the coming months.