By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—What’s so great about a career in strategic communication?
A lot, as students found out at the inaugural StratComm Expo this month.
A panel of insightful and encouraging professionals and an information/networking fair with representatives from nearly a dozen local and regional businesses provided perspective on this dynamic field.
They included Andrew Dangler, digital marketing analyst for Humana; Sam Plappert, senior writer for Power; and Tommy Spalding, client strategy director for the Courier Journal. Both Dangler and Spalding are IU Southeast alumni.
Eschewing PowerPoints, the panelists dove instead right into questions that had been submitted by the students.
The format proved a winner, with the panelists providing insights that were candid, eloquent and “on point” about the very diverse worlds of working communicators.
From working with cutting-edge digital tech to enjoying creative freedom, the panelists ticked off the perks. They also opened up about the less glamorous aspects: modest starting salaries combined with steep learning curves and massive workloads, to name a few.
Students also got plenty of tips on how to build a professional portfolio, the importance of presentation and networking, how to get and use internships, and finding one’s place in corporate culture.
This is a view behind the curtain that no college course can provide, however reality-based, according to Tammy Voigt, professor of practice in strategic communication.
The event evolved out of conversations between Voigt’s colleague, Michael Abernethy, senior lecturer of communication studies, and the IU Southeast Career Development Center (CDC).
They wanted to bring students together with professionals in order to create synergies of learning and career planning.
As the idea took shape, the CDC served as a liaison to the business community, connecting the faculty group with AD2 Louisville, the young professional arm of the local American Advertising Federation chapter, who in turn brought in the professionals. Misti Jones, CDC assistant director, career coach/employer liaison for the Schools of Arts & Letters and Social Sciences, handled the logistics, advertising the event and sending out surveys to gauge its success and gather input for improvements.
Skilled strategic communicators are in demand in today’s information economy.
“Strategic communication integrates the functions of advertising, public relations, promotions, social media, brand identity and so on, to create and deliver messages strategically,” Voigt said. “The key is integration, which reflects the increasing sophistication of organizations as they seek to use a variety of strategies and tactics to convey a consistent message, or to speak with one branded voice.”
The strategic communication program at IU Southeast gives students a solid foundation in the basic concepts that are driving the expansion of communication-related jobs across many industries.
“Our students learn how brands integrate the functions of advertising, public relations, promotions, social media, brand identity and so on, to create and deliver messages strategically,” Voigt said.
The Expo was like a master class in which the experts presented themselves as resources, partners and potential sources of internships.
Value was added through the participation of employers and representatives of professional organizations, who distributed information and answered questions, and also shared their perspectives during the open discussion.
“It is imperative for students to realize that there are great career opportunities in our region, be it in the agency, industry or vendor sectors,” Voigt said. “But it is just as invaluable for them to learn the realities inherent in our industry—the long hours, the salary levels, the opportunities for advancement, the stresses and pressures of working in a field of constant deadlines, changing technology and different personalities, and so on.”
Students expecting a connect-the-dots formula for career success may have been a little disappointed. And that was a good thing. One of the recurring themes of the discussion was the way in which career paths, especially in this field, seem prone to unintended trajectories. Fixed blueprints matter less than a broad and varied skill set, professionalism, flexibility, the willingness to learn, and the resilience to keep trying in the face of unpredictability. Knowing where you want to go is good, knowing how to get there via sometimes circuitous routes is even better.
“What students learned is that no matter what their interest area is within the industry, there is a place for them,” Jones said. “Now they have a better idea how to be successful.”
Homepage photo: Andrew Dangler, digital marketing analyst and IU Southeast alumnus, speaks of his experience working at Humana.