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KNOXVILLE — Seniors in the UT Knoxville College of Communication and Information’s (CCI) advertising campaigns class recently got a taste of the real world that was a bit “spicier” than they expected.

During the semester, student teams were tasked with creating an advertising campaign for McCormick & Co., the nationwide spice and flavorings retailer. But when the teams presented their campaign projects, the team of judges included McCormick CEO Alan D. Wilson and other executives from the company.

Wilson, a 1980 CCI alumnus and president of the UT Knoxville Alumni Board, said the work of the student teams was outstanding and quite professional.

“I was very impressed with the way the students did the research, came up with some really creative ideas, explored the heritage of the brand and then had some great recommendations on how to communicate to the target audience,” Wilson said. “They had the ability to identify how they were going to do it, and they did a great job.”

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Kate Kopperman of the student team “Innovative Expressions Inc.,” which won the competition, said the class provided a wonderful professional opportunity.

“The campaigns class is a great idea. It helps us add everything we’ve learned from all our classes together into one and gives us a great real-world experience,” Kopperman said. “I think it’s awesome that we could present our campaign proposal to real clients like the CEO of McCormick. It’s a great benefit that UT offers us.”

Brandon Tillman of team “EITC Interactive” said the presentation wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile.

“Presenting to the executives was very hard, very nerve-wracking, but it went well and it was a great experience,” Tillman said. “It meant a lot to be judged by the McCormick executives, because we talk with teachers every day, but this was a chance to talk to high-level business leaders.”

Getting a glimpse of the “real world” is what it was all about, said Garrett Cody Banniza of team “Mindful Dexterity.”

“Going through this process and bringing everything you’ve learned through your entire college career together just for this event, it really gets you geared up for the real world,” Banniza said. “You know where you’re going and you know that when you get there, you can actually accomplish these tasks that you’ll be given.”

McCormick CEO Wilson agreed that preparation is the key to success.

“UT prepared me extremely well for the real-world experience,” Wilson said. “It gave me the confidence to go out and make a career. I learned certainly the technical skills, but the important thing is that I learned how to learn. That’s what is so important in any role — being able to adapt to the situation and the challenges. UT certainly prepared me well for that,” he said.

Wilson said the idea to judge the competition came from Andrew Foust, a McCormick & Co. executive and fellow CCI alumnus who took part in the advertising campaigns competition in 2004.

“[Foust’s] team actually won it, and Andrew wanted to give back,” Wilson said. “I thought it was a great idea.”