As part of Northwestern’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program, each student participates in a summer immersion project. Students are placed in various companies across the country and world. Many of us had prior work experience before coming to the program and have gained valuable practical knowledge that helped prepare us for our graduate internships.
In the months leading up to the Summer Immersion Quarter, IMC students receive a solid academic foundation in areas such as marketing analytics, management, consumer insights, and strategy. Many of our class projects involve students essentially working as marketing consultants with real clients to help develop IMC plans for their businesses.
I chose to focus on marketing analytics during my time at Northwestern and am exploring career opportunities in the analytics field. This summer, my internship helped me gain practical experience solving complex business problems for Hallmark Data Systems, a marketing services company within the B2B trade magazine industry. Our team utilized SAS statistics software to analyze millions of records of email data in order to create individualized scores that rate each customer’s level of email engagement and likelihood to opt out of receiving emails. These might be nuggets of résumé babble, but nevertheless, in IMC we are taught data is essential to marketing and to overall business success.
I’d like to share a few key lessons my IMC Summer Immersion experience taught me. While some of the information is analytics-specific, I believe these takeaways could be valuable to any graduate student entering or re-entering the workforce. In fact, I think the following skills could mean the difference between marketing career success and stagnation:
1) Things are messy
In an academic environment, many assignments are well prepared beforehand by professors. Necessary resources are given. Guidelines and rubrics are set. Professors have office hours. Time commitment is clearly understood. For example, in analytics courses, students receive clean data sets, numbered problems, and sometimes even answers to those problems.
In an office environment, assignments are not always clearly understood. It is up to you to proactively determine where to find the proper resources and which resources make sense to use. Sometimes assignments must be questioned to ensure that the deliverable is in fact relevant for the business.
As I learned over the course of my summer analytics internship, in the real world there are multiple data sets in multiple file formats with messy information, no clear instructions, and certainly no answers. It is up to you to problem solve, determine which pieces of data to use, which statistical models to apply, and how these models add value to the business as a whole.
Moreover, since it takes innovation for businesses to be successful, and innovation is inherently unprecedented, there are no clear guidelines. You must chart your own course.
2) Teamwork is key
As much as it is discouraged, it is possible to be successful in school without being a team player on assignments and even projects. This can’t happen in the world of mark
eting. An IMC career is all about connecting with consumers, with people. Being able to understand your teammates and work together not only makes your work and your company’s work better, but it is also the first step in understanding people.
In analytics, it may be tempting to get carried away writing programs to quickly unearth exciting insights from data. However, forgetting to communicate your ideas with the rest of your team may backfire and cause overlapped work that can slow down the overall progress of the project.
3) It’s important to remember the big picture
In school, it can be easy to get caught up with working grade-to-grade, only thinking about the details of each assignment. While this certainly has value when learning new skills and ideas, this is a habit that can lead to many missed opportunities in a job. Knowing the details is the status quo within a job setting – it is expected. Going beyond the details and understanding how they all fit into the overarching goal of the business is what sets you apart and impresses your boss.
The best analytics minds can go beyond just the numbers, statistics, and models. They strive to understand how data relates to the customer’s needs, the company’s purpose, and the client’s business objectives. Overall, IMC professionals truly understand how to connect quantitative analytics and consumer-centric business strategy.