Chief marketing officers from a number of companies and organizations visited MSU virtually on Feb. 23 to share insights and talk with students about leadership in marketing and how the industry shifted during 2020.

The event was a cross-college partnership between the Broad College and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the second of its kind to be held in tandem with Forbes. Jenny Rooney, the editorial communities director and chair of the CMO network at Forbes, facilitated two panel discussions with Spartan alumni from both colleges.

“I started to discover the fact that the industry was changing so dramatically and so rapidly that there needed to be a way to connect marketing practice with marketing education in new ways,” Rooney said of her inspiration for the event.

Shifting an intimate conversation to a virtual space is never easy, but Anna Linn, associate director of corporate and foundation relations, helped ensure that it was seamless.

“Being able to bring our alumni into the curriculum and discuss really challenging topics is awesome,” she said. “The strength of the Spartan network starts with events like these that allow alumni, students and faculty the opportunity to meet new people, challenge and appreciate other experiences and perspectives … always a win.”

The role of marketing during times of uncertainty

The first panel included Melissa Bordeau (M.A. Advertising), founder and CEO of It Fits Bar and CMO of FILMFROG Marketing; Steve Heitzner (B.A. Marketing), retired chief sales and marketing officer of Marriott International; Arun Sinha (M.A. Advertising), advisor and CMO of Vestrata; and April Clobes (B.A. Marketing; M.A. Advertising), CEO of MSU Federal Credit Union. The group touched on personal anecdotes about their work during the pandemic as well as how important marketing has been for both internal and external relations.

“The ability to do proper messaging over social media was most critical at this time,” Clobes said. “That’s where people were looking for information, and to get changing rapid information quickly out was very much in social media and as well as all of our own digital channels.”

MSUFCU is a leader in the credit industry, having almost $6 billon in assets and more than 900 employees. When the pandemic hit, the credit union had to review every office’s local ordinances and shift their focus from cultivating bustling office environments to securing that each employee had a virtual space to work from.

“People were concerned about many things; one was that the virus could be passed through money,” Clobes said. From ensuring that employees had appropriate PPE to educating the workforce about the science behind the virus, Clobes shared how marketing managers and directors had a lot of responsibilities on their plate.

Across the discussion, the takeaway was how CMOs have to build trust not only inside their organization but also with their customers and clients.

CMO standpoints on DEI in the workplace

The second panel consisted of marketing pros Andrea Brimmer (B.A. Advertising), CMO of Ally Financial; Erica Hughes (B.A. Communication), director of multicultural marketing at Ally Financial; Molly Ball (B.S. Agriculture & Natl Resources Communications), president and CMO of the National FFA Foundation; and Lisa Dancsok (BA Advertising, MBA), chief brand and impact officer of Arizona Community Foundation. This group discussed the relevant topic of diversity, equity and inclusion and where marketing fits in.

“Marketing can be the heart and soul of an organization,” Rooney said, emphasizing that the field is now manifesting as real empathy. Community involvement is crucial from a marketing point of view as it involves communication and interactions.

During and after the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020, Ally Financial shifted their social media narrative to showcase an authentic community focus. “We are telling the story of Black entrepreneurs who are young and using social media for good and to celebrate our communities,” Hughes said. She noted that when your business has a large following, what you post and promote leaves an impact.

Brimmer mentioned the “marketer’s toolbox” and shared that when important conversations are happening in the community, it’s a marketing professional’s job to dedicate social channels to the topics.

Engaging with students

After the panel discussions, students got the chance to network with alumni. Anna Rose Benson, a junior marketing student and president of the MSU Marketing Association, shared how she was able to have genuine conversations with alumni and secure valuable follow-up calls with recruiters.

“Something I learned was to sell myself in 10 minutes or less because the recruiter only has that small span of time to understand my story and my personality,” she said. “To me, connecting with Spartan alumni is inspiring; events like this spark my drive to push forward, land an internship and later a full-time job so that I can be a resource to Spartans in the future.”

Eric Doerr, director of student and corporate engagement for Broad’s Department of Marketing and one of the event’s organizers, shared why the event is important for current Spartans.

“I believe there is immense value anytime we can bring leaders and alumni to campus to speak and engage with students,” he said. “This gives our students an opportunity to learn from those who once walked the same sidewalks and pursued similar academic degrees.”

Although virtual, the CMO Symposium provided the audience of students with unique insights regarding the shifting role of marketing after everything 2020 threw at the business realm.