Marcia Sullivan is vice president for integrated marketing and communications at Maryville University in St. Louis. Padilla supports the university’s media relations efforts. We asked Marcia about her role, how it’s evolving with her university and what tips she has for newly minted graduates getting started in the field:
- Integrated marketing and communications means a lot these days. What activities demand most of your team’s time? Why?
Effective storytelling is still at the heart of everything we do to support the university’s strategic growth. Most of my marketing team is focused either on developing great stories – through written content, photography or videography – or they’re involved in amplifying them across multiple channels, whether in print, on the web, or through the morass that is the digital marketing universe. Specifically, in the last year, my team has become much more focused on creating specific messages for each audience and finding creative ways to repurpose a single story to serve different audiences.
As the head of Integrated Marketing and Communications, the work that demands most of my time is balancing my group’s role as both master and servant. My team is ultimately responsible for Maryville’s brand and reputation, and we have a clear strategy that guides our work. We also, however, are considered an in-house marketing agency to support other divisions on campus (admissions, development, academic affairs). These two functions are not mutually exclusive. They should be interconnected, but they do clash on occasion and our team spends time navigating priorities, educating others on sound marketing practices, and protecting/lifting the brand.
- Maryville is quickly building a significant presence in online education. How does the rapid growth of online programs impact your role?
Maryville was founded in 1872 and has a strong brick-and-mortar presence in the St. Louis community. We have a thriving undergraduate student population that attends classes on campus. As our reputation grows nationally as a quality online university, my role requires delicately managing a brand that is changing – particularly among our mainstay audiences in our backyard. Part of what makes Maryville an excellent choice for online students is that we’ve been an accredited, student-centered institution for nearly 150 years. Our online degree programs, while a different format than traditional on-campus programs, are of the same high quality and are in alignment with our brand promise. My role as the protector of the brand is to ensure the expansion of online.maryville.edu does not in any way diminish our reputation as a brick-and-mortar school. That requires us to have a message matrix that speaks to each audience and their interests, but that always puts that message in the context of our history, our commitment to quality, and to innovation for the future.
- Technology has accelerated change across all industries. What advice do you have for younger people exploring marketing and communications professions today?
You’ll note earlier I used the word “morass” to describe the digital marketing universe. (From Merriam-Webster: marsh, swamp, a situation that traps, confuses or impedes.) That is how I, as a late-career marketing professional who has struggled to keep up with marketing automation, perceive the acceleration in digital marketing. It is often confounding to me. For most young professionals who have grown up with technology or those who have kept abreast of digital trends, I believe it is an exciting and infinitely challenging opportunity. It is my opinion that technology is changing so rapidly that younger marketing professionals must consider specializing or going deep in a particular digital vein in order to be effective, and to collaborate well with others who have a specialization in another area. That said, all the technology expertise in the world will not serve you well unless you understand the basics of marketing and communication. Great storytelling, audience segmentation and motivation, and the use of compelling and persuasive language, whether written or visual, is paramount.
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