ADV 540

 

How to Read, Analyze, Discuss, Write Reports and Present Case Studies


Case studies provide students and teachers with examples that can illustrate principles, provoke discussion, and facilitate learning. However, many students are unaccustomed to the case study method of learning. This document is designed to provide general guidelines that will help you make case studies a useful part of your educational experience.   While the focus of this handout is on team-produced case briefs, it applies to cases you write individually as well.


Case Studies and the "Real World"
The cases we study in class are designed to incorporate realism. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that these cases differ from "real world" situations in several important respects.


First, the information is "pre-packaged" in written form. By contrast, practicing managers accumulate their information through such means as memoranda, meetings, chance conversations, research studies, observations, news media reports, other externally published materials, and rumors.


Second, cases tend to be selective in their reporting because most of them are designed with specific teaching objectives in mind. Each must fit a relatively short class period and focus attention on a defined category of marketing and communications problems within a given subject area. To provide such a focus ­ and to keep length and complexity of the case within reasonable bounds ­ it may be necessary to omit information on problems, data, or personnel that are peripheral to the central issue(s) in the case.


In the real world, management problems are usually dynamic in nature. They call for some immediate action, with further analysis and decisions delayed until some later time. Managers are rarely able to wrap up their problems, put them away, and go on to the "next case." In contrast, a case analysis in class is more like a snapshot taken at a particular point in time.  And the time period may not be consistent with when you are working on the case. 

 

You arenÕt expected to update the case.  If it was written in 2003, youÕre not expected to bring the case up to date. However, if using secondary research will help you come up with a better solution, by all means use it.


A final contrast between case discussions and the realities of management is that participants in class discussions are not responsible for implementing their decisions or living with the consequences of those decisions. This does not mean, however, that you can be frivolous when making recommendations in class.


There is no one "right" solution to any case ­ either in the classroom or the real world. Similarly, there is no one way of writing or presenting a case report. However, the following guidelines should familiarize you with the task of case preparation.


Reading the Case
It is important to gain a feel for the situation by first skimming quickly through the case. Ask yourself:
What sort of organization is the case about?
What is the nature of the industry?
What is going on in the external environment?
What problems appear to face management?
What are the communication strategies identified in the case?
Are there additional communication strategies that might be relevant?

What can you control and what canÕt you control? 


An initial fast reading, without attempting to take notes or underline, should provide you with some sense of what information is being presented for analysis. Then you will be ready to make a very careful second reading of the case. This time, underline key points and take some notes. In addition to the above questions, consider the following:

  • What decisions need to be made and who will be responsible for making them?
  • What are the objectives of the organization itself and of each of the key players in the case?
  • Are they mutually compatible objectives? If not, can they be reconciled, and will it be necessary to redefine the objectives?
  • What resources and constraints are present which will help or hinder attempts of the organization to meet its objectives?


You should make a special effort to establish the significance of any quantitative data presented in the case. See if combining and manipulating data presented in different parts of the case may lead to new insights. But don't blindly accept the data. With cases, as in real life, not all information is equally reliable or relevant.

 

A separate handout is provided for most case. It defines the problem and guides your approach to the case. Often it will include references such as links to articles or other resources you can use. Do NOT ignore these.  They were provided for a reason.


Discussions
As you work in teams on cases, your team will need to begin with an in-depth discussion of the case. You should have read the case at least twice (as described above) before you begin your discussion of the case. To come to a team meeting without having read the case is unfair to your team members.


In the team discussion, you should focus on both talking and listening. Throughout the discussion, try to synthesize all comments by all team members. Don't allow "group think" to set in. If you have different ideas from other people in your group, speak out! It can be useful for people with different ideas to debate their points with each other. But don't be so eager to participate that you ignore what others have to say. Learning to be a good listener is also an important element in developing managerial skills.


Avoid "rehashing" facts. Focus on commentary. Before contributing, ask if points you plan to make are relevant to what has been said and how they might redirect discussion.


Writing the Report
When you write a report of a case study, assume that your audience is a manager who has asked you to review the facts and make a recommendation. Prepare an action-oriented advisory report that presents concisely your analysis and recommendations.


The body of the report (exclusive of executive summary and appendices) should be from six to 10 typewritten pages double-spaced, appropriately formatted in report form. Spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors indicate a lack of professionalism.  The quality of the report matters more than its length, however.


The professor may provide you with some specific guidelines for individual cases that require sections in addition to or in place of those listed below. However, unless otherwise directed, you should use the following format in writing your reports.


The Report Format
I. Executive Summary (1 page, single-spaced)
II. Report Main Body (6-10 pages maximum, double-spaced)
A. Statement of the Problem
B. List of Critical Factors
C. Definition of Alternatives
D. Conclusion
E. Additional Comments

F. References
III. Appendices (tables and exhibits as appropriate)


Label each of the parts with the subheading indicated. More detail is provided below on how to write each of these sections.


Executive Summary
The executive summary is to be written in memoranda form (single-spaced) from your team to the manager. It provides an overview of the report to follow. The executive summary generally consists of five paragraphs, each of which concisely summarizes sections A through E of your report. Since you are briefly describing the conclusion section, you should present you recommendation here. If you do not have an additional comments section, thereÕs no need to mention it in the executive summary. The executive summary should be no more than one page in length. Be particularly careful of your writing in this section. You are selling the manager on your ideas and even a single typo can make you look unprofessional. This is your first opportunity to sell your solution so make it persuasive.


Statement of the Problem
Concisely state the question to be resolved in your report. Include any sub-parts of the problem and all requirements that have been established for a satisfactory solution. Briefly indicate also any critical restrictions that have been placed on the acceptable solution such as limitation on monetary expenditures, time, distribution, or personnel. State the problems in terms of possible action to be taken (e.g., "How to improve . . . so as to achieve . . . without an undue expenditure of . . .?"
State the problem, not the symptoms. Unless your diagnosis of the problem is correct, all subsequent decision making will be flawed. Also be sure that you have indicated the significance or importance of the problem. What will be the implications of a delay or do-nothing decision? The length of the problem statement may vary from case to case. However, in general you should be able to state the problem in one page or less.


List of Critical Factors
DonÕt try to summarize all the data in the case. Instead, focus on the key factors that will impact how you plan to resolve the key problem you identified. Use a table in this section. Consider using sub-heads to group related items.  Comment briefly on each factor. Just identify concisely why they matter at this point. Again, length may vary, but usually your list of key factors will be the longest section of your brief.   A table is recommended where the factor is stated in the left column and a sentence describing why it matters to your decision goes in the right column.  For example, if youÕve been asked to select a target audience for an advertiser and one of their objectives is to cultivate a different demographic group than their current customers, this matters because basing the TM on the existing users does not address this objective.

 

Factor

Significance

One objective is to cultivate a broader audience than current customers.

Focusing on the exact same audience as current users does not address this.

Current users are described as white females, 65 and older, HS education, home owners, conservative, family-focused, loyalÉ

Current users are aging.  If the company wants to survive long-term it must attract an equally loyal younger audience.

 

There are categories of factors that are likely to be relevant in every case, such as:  the economy; the product; the objectives; current users; industry trends; target market; competition; past/current advertising; the company producing the product.  These same factors (including the many smaller factors implicit in each larger factor) will serve as the tools for evaluating alternatives and writing a compelling conclusion section.

 

This section shows your client that you know everything there is to know about his/her brand and the circumstances surrounding an effective solution.

 


Definition of Alternatives
This is the heart of your case analysis. There is very rarely a single solution to any problem. In this section you need to identify two courses of action. As a rule of thumb, you should identify two to three alternatives. Generally  two are sufficient.  Regardless of how many alternatives you have, you should only present the most viable solutions.  DonÕt present an alternative just to fill up the brief.


You should carefully and concisely identify both the pros and cons for each alternative that you identify. These are likely to be based mostly on the critical factors you identified. You might firmly believe that one solution is best. Still, you should provide a balanced discussion of all alternatives that you have identified.


Because this section is the "heart" of the of the case report, it may be the longest section of your written report. Typically, it will be from three to five pages long. Remember, to be clear and concise. You may be tempted to write multiple pages for each alternative. However, try to keep your full report to a maximum of 10 pages.


Conclusion
Spell out your recommended program of action, that is, the alternative solution that you recommend. Your recommendation should be an outgrowth of imaginative and thorough identification of all the alternatives or possibilities that might reasonably overcome other obstacles involved in the problem. Base your choice upon a critical evaluation of the "crucial" differences between alternatives. Make sure you indicate how you anticipate overcoming potential negative factors associated with your plan of action. This section is short. Don't rehash information from the definition of alternative section. Simply state in one page or less which alternative you think is best and why. It is often good to conclude with a strong call to action.


Additional Comments
Conclude with any final comments that you believe need to be communicated to the manager. Use this section to show your full grasp of the case and to include any points you wish to make that fall outside the structured format above. This section is optional.

 

References

The number of outside sources you use for a given case varies.  However, itÕs hard to imagine a case that wouldnÕt warrant at least one outside source.  References should be provided in standard bibliographic form.


Appendices
In writing your reports, it is not necessary to include any of the data tables or other exhibits directly from the case report unless leaving them out makes it difficult to explain your analysis or recommended course of action. If your case analysis includes some new detailed information (for example a timeline or a comparative analysis) you should include this detailed information in appendices.


Presenting the Case
Case presentations in class will usually be limited to 15 minutes (you will be notified in advance of any changes to the time requirements). You should also be prepared for up to five minutes of questions/comments from your classmates and/or the professor after your presentation. It will NOT be possible for you to cover everything that is in your written report in this time. Nor should your presentation necessarily follow exactly the format of the written report.


Your presentation should have a strong opening and closing. You should also touch on the key points from your written report. Make sure that you clearly identify the problem. The primary focus of the presentation should be on what you recommend and why. This may require you to synthesize materials from several sections of your written report.


Equipment will be available for PowerPoint presentations of every case. It is more important that you use PowerPoint to help you organize your presentation than that you take advantage of all the bells and whistles of the presentation software. PowerPoint reduces both the effort and cost of preparing a presentation. You can create all your graphics digitally and incorporate them into the presentation.


It is not necessary for every member of the group to participate in the presentation. It might be difficult to shuffle everyone on and off "stage" in your 15-minute time slot. Nor is it usually a good idea for one person to be solely responsible for the presentation. Handing off portions of the presentation among team members helps keep the audience's attention while also highlighting transitions in your material. However, all students are expected to have some experience with presentations throughout the semester. If some students are not participating in presentations, the professor will talk with them individually and provide coaching as needed in presentation skills.