A whole new world of digital marketing
24 year-old Blake Smith is working toward his master’s degree in Brand & Media Strategy while working as a digital marketing intern at a Fortune 500 global advanced materials and specialty additives company.
Does that sound a little intimidating? It shouldn’t. Because while Blake is a sharp young professional and talented writer, he’s also a very down-to-earth and joyful person.
There are many other sides to Blake that aren’t immediately evident in his professional work. For example, the average reader might not know that Blake is a zealous bibliophile (books are one of the most important things in the world to him), or that he’s just as comfortable on a long-distance hike as he is holed up in a cozy coffeeshop, or that it wasn’t too long ago that he dressed like Pinocchio to make pizza and chicken nuggets for five straight months (more on his Walt Disney World Company experiences later).
But that’s the cool thing about Blake, and also about the field he’s discovering as a young professional: there’s never a dull moment, and there’s a whole lot of fun to be had.
Expanding his horizons
While in undergrad at East Tennessee State University, Blake had been taking classes in a few different fields but never really found a place where he felt he belonged. Perhaps more than anything, he didn’t want to be “stuck.” Because he has a wide variety of interests and talents, Blake knew that his career tastes and goals would evolve over time. Thus, he didn’t want to silo himself into one certain type career by picking a major with a single established trajectory.
Blake was introduced to the realm of digital marketing by a professor at ETSU who encouraged him to enroll in a basic marketing-focused summer class she was teaching. From then on, Blake was hooked.
“What attracted me to digital marketing, besides the fact that it’s one of the highest expanding career fields, was that I had options,” Blake explained. “My career paths are endless with this degree. From non-profit work to a small business owner (I’ve always dreamed of opening my own coffee shop/bar/bookstore), the skills and experiences that I have learned with digital marketing leave essentially every door wide open.”
When he discovered digital marketing, he knew that it was the right major for him. Blake loved having the opportunity to receive hands-on experience in the digital marketing program. He recounted his experiences with social media analyses, learning how to use the Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes programs like Photoshop, InDesign, and Premiere), blogging, and more.
His first experience with a full digital marketing campaign in undergrad was in a class structured around creating an advertising campaign for a local business. In this course, Blake and his classmates acted as “agencies” for various clients. Blake was elected head of his team and worked with seven other students on developing a safety campaign for the downtown Johnson City area.
“There had been several accidents in the area due to pedestrians not utilizing the crosswalks and our team was tasked with spreading awareness and increasing the use of said crosswalks,” Blake said. “This is also where I fell in love with marketing. Working tirelessly on a campaign with some wonderful classmates and friends, and also working on something that I knew was going to help the city in which I lived, was incredibly fun and gratifying.”
In this experience, Blake recognized the power of diversity of talent on a team.
“It was great to work as a team and to complement each other’s skills. For instance, I love to write. So, I wrote some humorous and engaging flyers to be spread throughout the area. However, I am a quite awful designer, so I delegated that out to some other members of team that were adept at turning my copy into images. This was my first preview of what is what like to work with an entire creative team.”
This campaign was excellent preparation for Blake’s experience with the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) his senior year.
Hosted by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), NSAC is an annual college competition that challenges advertising students to represent their schools by acting as an agency for a national clients. Past NSAC clients have included Mary Kay, Pizza Hut, Snapple, and Ocean Spray. For Blake, the client was frozen-food company Tai Pei.
“This team was full of specialists – project managers, designers, creatives, copywriters,” Blake said. “At first, I didn’t really fit in as I didn’t consider myself a specialist in anything.”
That changed a couple of weeks into the semester, when the group needed copy written for the character developed to be the face and voice of the campaign. An avid writer, Blake decided to give it a go. Blake said that he and three other writers presented their ideas and written copy to the class so that the group could decide who would be the head copywriter for the campaign.
“I remember staying up for hours and working on copy that I thought for sure would blow the class away and would allow me to finally fall into my place on the team. Well, I presented, and they basically told me – in a nice way – that it sucked. It was heartbreaking for me because I thought the work was good and I was proud of it. After the feedback, I went straight home and got back to work. Scrapped everything I had previously written and rewrote it all.”
The next day, Blake presented again (a little less confidently) and this time, it did blow the group away.
“My idea was picked to lead the tone of voice for the rest of the campaign and I was chosen to be the lead for copywriting moving forward. It was probably the proudest moment of my undergrad. Also, this was my first professional lesson – when people tell you your work sucks, keep working until you change their minds. Constructive criticism is necessary in all facets of life.”
In that vein, Blake has a few words of advice for stressed-out college students:
“Don’t stress about the little things. Life has an innate way of taking care of itself.”
“Worrying means you suffer twice”
Now, Blake is in the home-stretch of earning his master’s in Brand & Media Strategy at ETSU – he is currently writing his thesis on “Branding and Marketing Strategies of National Parks” and his anticipated graduation date is in spring 2019.
It was around the time that he began pursuing his second degree that he landed a digital marketing internship with Eastman Chemical Company.
“I knew that Eastman was the gold standard in this area as far as internships were considered and I was constantly checking and asking people if there were openings,” Blake said.
He was ecstatic to finally learn from a professor that Eastman was in need of a digital marketing intern. He applied right away and is now in his second year of working for this international company. His role there is a great fit for his writing talent, and it’s allowed him to get hands-on work in search engine optimization (SEO), analytics, strategy, and other hot-button topics in the field.
Blake didn’t just sit around and wait for the Eastman internship to come his way: he worked for it.
“If you’re a current student looking for an internship or a graduate looking for a job, be persistent,” Blake advised. “Nothing is simply going to fall into your lap. You have to network, search, and constantly ask, ask, ask. Be annoying!”
And when the stress of grad school and work starts to get overwhelming, Blake has a few key tactics for coping with it.
“We can sit and worry all we want, but as Newt Scamander says, ‘worrying means you suffer twice.’ Try and find what works best for you to alleviate some of the stress. For me, that’s journaling, reading, cooking, and long runs. Surround yourself with good people – people who lift you up and can glean some positivity from. It’s quite amazing what a good group of friends can do for you. However, I am a firm believer in that a little stress and anxiety is good for you. Channel those anxious feelings into something positive and I promise you good things will happen.”
An opportunity at “The Most Magical Place on Earth”
An internship with Eastman isn’t the first coveted job that Blake has had.
During an internship with the Walt Disney World Company in Orlando, Blake had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of working in the Magic Kingdom.
“The internship itself had little to do with marketing, but I learned a great deal from my time spent there,” Blake said. “Disney does a great job of making everyone believe in the story – the magic. Everyone, from the custodians to the managers, believe in making magical experiences for anyone who interacts with the Disney brand.”
And the whole Pinocchio experience? Blake said that witnessing the memories being made at Disney made *less than glamorous* tasks like that worth it.
“Disney taught me that even the most dream jobs have their bad moments. There are going to be days when work sucks and there’s no way around that. However, you should find a job that makes those bad days worth it; a job you believe in.”
Blake said that working for Disney is one of the many ways in which he envisions himself putting his digital marketing chops to use full-time.
“I dream of going back to work for the mouse – aka Walt Disney World. My experience there was nothing short of magical and I would love to make it my full-time job.”
Blake can also see himself reveling in his love of books by working for a publishing company and working directly with authors to promote their work.
“Spending the whole day reading books, meeting authors, and then marketing their novels doesn’t sound too bad,” Blake chuckled.
He said that he also loves the idea of combining his love and admiration for national parks with marketing to inspire more individuals and families to visit them.
Blake added: “All of these sound great now, but they could easily change in a week or year! Life is great in that we keep evolving and are constantly setting new goals and aspirations for ourselves. My overarching career goal is to find a job that I am truly happy with. A job that I have an opportunity to do some good for other people and that I am excited to wake up for. I constantly go back to the old saying ‘don’t work a job that you wouldn’t do for $5.’ I strive to find that.”
Going against the norm
Blake believes that empathy is one of the keys to success in life and that travel is one of the best ways to cultivate it.
“If I had any advice for students still in school, or better yet out of school, it would be to travel. Travel as much and as often as you can. Learn about different ideals and cultures.”
He also encourages other young professionals to find their own special, singular qualities and let them shine.
“Be yourself in all facets and speak your mind,” he said. “Go against the norm and find ways to separate yourself from the pack. Uniqueness is incredibly important in the job market. So, make yourself stand out!”