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5 Things I’ve Learned in 10+ Years of Corporate Marketing

My name is Margo (Snellings) Catalano (CLAS ’02) and I’m already feeling slightly audacious imparting wisdom about my career to-date in marketing. I always envisioned myself in business, just like my mom, and with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that I always had a one-track mind for it. At the ripe old age of 10, I was a budding jewelry designer, complete with kit parts for earrings and a hot glue gun from Michaels. The Babysitters Club was an organization which I longed to franchise, and personal brand and typographic standards (on every note page I ever took in any class) were always followed with ardent fervor.

Unfortunately, a math whiz I have never been called, and the finer points of science have always proven elusive. Because of this, business seemed an unlikely route. However, I found a natural fit in marketing, a field rife with creativity, personality, and psychology. Even the financial analytics involved in marketing can be exciting to this creative mind, when viewed through the lens of a puzzle with bread crumbs of directional data all along the way.

While every day continues to be a learning experience, there are some truths that have stood the test of time for me.

1. There is no “model” for how to break into marketing. Astore_Marketing_Plan
For anyone who looked up my qualifications to write this piece, I’ll address the elephant in the room – I majored in Studio Art with a concentration in Photography. It was the best academic decision I made during my time in Charlottesville. I appreciated early that I would have four years to expand my horizons and just learn. My passion always involved creating things, so when the lightbulb went off at 2AM in my Lefevre dorm room that I could leverage an art-based education to bring a unique perspective to marketing and business, I declared my major the next day. Most of my extra-curricular time over the following years was spent working in various marketing and PR-based disciplines (the money was nice, but experience was the goal), including interning for a few years in the Athletic Media Relations Department and maximizing all the McIntire School of Commerce had to offer for those who weren’t commerce students. Adept marketers understand the things that motivate people, how they interact with each other, and how they digest information. Hiring managers seek intelligent individuals who understand those dynamics, embracing non-traditional backgrounds. My policy to hire for intelligence, personality, and social fit – knowing that I can teach the specifics of my industry and company.

2. Marketing strategy is evolving – almost faster than anyone can keep up. Because the marketing game is changing so fast, the next big answer to a business problem could be yours. Nurture curiosity – in yourself and others. Learn new programs or expand your knowledge in areas in which you display proficiency, but not expertise. If there is minimal cost involved – take an afternoon to try a new business solution. As an example, within the last year, I found myself perplexed that my particular business segment had no presence on the App Store or Google Play. After realizing there had to be portal-based app development services for those of us who are less versed in code, I created a functional app that is now a market leader and a first-of-its-type product for a $30+ billion healthcare enterprise. In one afternoon, with a little creativity, I proved a concept for a total cost of $200 – a one-month service subscription. As consumerism (in all categories) moves both online and into our mobile devices, and information access exponentially grows, innovation has never held a more level playing field, and the world is your marketing oyster.

3. At points early in your career, you’re going to just have to “do the time.” Similar to most overachieving, intelligent University of Virginia graduates, I have found myself feeling stagnant in roles over the years. There have been times when I absolutely *knew* I was ready for the next level of my career, only to have a senior executive gently tell me to take off my coat and stay a while. What could they possibly mean? I had been in [insert role here] for two years already! Almost like clockwork, as I sat contemplating how to change that executive’s mind, some crisis would unfold, requiring complex and experienced thought. I would watch those with more experience handle unforeseen circumstances, presenting opportunities for me to gain nuggets for success and professional maturity along the way. It has become a personal requirement of mine to spend a minimum of two years becoming merely proficient at a position, and then the next two honing my skills, all while advancing the goals of the business. Understanding this timeline up front takes a huge weight off of your shoulders, as you can truly immerse yourself in seeking to learn before you endeavor to lead. With that said, there will always be opportunities for growth, bringing me to my next point.

4. When you see the opportunity to shine – go for it!
Sometimes the stars really do align, and when you see it coming, you have to go for it. One of my favorite business (and life, really) quotes is from Seneca, and reads “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” You would be surprised to realize how many people don’t understand this. Business is competitive! When there is a gap in leadership or a high-profile project up for grabs, you should always volunteer your skills in whatever way they can benefit the team, project, or company most. In the short term, don’t think about what you could gain at the end – just focus on doing a great job tackling the business priority needing attention. It may mean longer hours without increased compensation, or pushing the boundaries of your skill set comfort zone, but I remain shocked at the number of people who don’t understand that being a reliable team player in the short term almost always results in long-term rewards. Senior leaders seek employees who foster a culture of “yes,” and will work to solve problems. While this sounds trite, the more you can define yourself as a problem solver, the more notice leaders will take of you, and more opportunities will arise.

5. There is no substitute for hard work, and sometimes hard decisions.
I know you’ve heard that a million times already. Sometimes it means not hanging out with your friends, skipping that happy hour, ATTENDING that happy hour (albeit maybe not with the people you want), going home early, staying out VERY late, or any number of other things requiring sacrifice of your personal time and desires. Working in corporate marketing, I’ve “had to” stay out until it was time to shut down the tab as many times as I’ve had to know when to call it a night. I try to remember that “good things don’t usually happen after 11pm,” as told to me by a very wise executive early on in my career, as he left a just-getting-started party at a corporate networking event. Ten years later, he has yet to be wrong.

If you follow even part of this advice, you will grow your network, gain the respect of your leaders and your peers (who might become your leaders), build an incredible body of work, and learn how to adapt and think several steps ahead. Many times the work will be exhausting, but, hopefully, even more times it will be fun. And then, it stops being work.

Post by Margo Catalano (CLAS ’02)

Read More: College

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