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 Robert Derda and students

Professor Robert Derda with students in the Pittsburgh Playhouse box office.

The Point
Spring 2019

Selling is a key business skill. At the Rowland School of Business, students have the opportunity to put sales skills they’ve learned in the classroom into immediate practice by helping to build ticket sales for premiere productions at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and professional sports organizations such as the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In spring 2019, students in Professor Robert Derda’s Personal Branding and Business Development class learned sales techniques in the classroom and later participated in the actual ticket sales process by making calls to prospective patrons in the Playhouse Box Office.

Entertainment management lab

Derda, along with Playhouse Box Office Manager Anthony Dennis, supervised the students as they worked by phone to increase ticket sales for the world premiere of The REP production of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. SAEM students have worked on ticket sales for previous Playhouse productions, in keeping with the mission of the new Playhouse to serve as a learning laboratory for all aspects of entertainment management.

Dennis spoke to students in the class on two occasions before the actual sales calls began. The sales training is comprised of two parts, according to Derda, who is also head of the sports, arts and entertainment management department. “We begin by doing sales training – learning phone sales skills – prior to the students making the calls. Later on, they do a person-to-person sales experience.

“The beauty is, students learn how to sell, then have the opportunity to actually sell in a working box office environment,” he says. “So, they gain an understanding of the challenges and how difficult it can be, and also the rewards when somebody says ‘yes.’ They’re learning about the highs and lows of selling. And they are supporting the University during the process.”

Student Matthew Whitaker, a senior SAEM major, says the class has provided valuable hands-on experience. Students learned about the story, script and production process of The Old Man and The Sea, “so that we understood what we were selling,” he says. “This project helped me branch out and try something new that will be very beneficial for me moving forward. I now have some actual experience with ticket sales. Professor Derda does an excellent job with teaching us real world applications to get us ready for life after graduation.”

Haley Adams, who earned a degree in SAEM in 2018 and expects to complete her MBA in 2020, agrees. “Our class was able to see exactly where the production would be taking place, to help us answer any questions that might have come up during our calls. We then went over a script that Professor Derda created to help us get the conversations started during our calls. It was a great experience getting to know some of the customers, and engaging in conversations with them while promoting The Old Man and the Sea.

“Once I got started, it came very naturally to me and I loved it. It benefited me a ton because I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something I never thought I would do.”

Calling for the Cavs

Outside of the classroom, more than a dozen SAEM seniors signed up to participate in sales training and volunteer ticket sales for the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by Point Park alumna and Cavaliers’ sales director Dana Drewniak. She visited campus on Feb. 14 to tip-off the sales training.

“These students had the benefit of receiving the very same training that the Cavs provide to their full-time staff,” says Derda. After the training sessions with Drewniak, the students made calls on behalf of the team, from mid-February through mid-March, in the University’s phone center in Frontier Hall. The ongoing training sessions were coordinated by Graduate Assistant Jessica Martin.

On April 7, the student volunteers attended a Cleveland Cavaliers game, where they were recognized by the team before the game. “The Point Park student who is the top sales person [received] an interview with the Cavaliers for a sales job,” according to Derda, who praised the work ethic of the participants.

 “Most of these students are seniors and ready to graduate,” he says. “They saw the value of volunteering for this project in order to build their professional skills.”

Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by John Altdorfer
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University