On a brightly-lit June evening, in a classroom at Simon Fraser University, a group of excited students chatted away, turning online interactions into offline conversations. While free pizza and LinkedIn headshots were nice perks that evening, everyone was awaiting the main event, a speaker session titled Social Media at Work: Impact of Social Media in Marketing.
This was the first event presented by our Community Manager, Joanne Tong, and the new SFUSMN 2014-2015 executive team, and it featured Vanessa Choot as our guest speaker for the evening. Vanessa is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Ivanhoé Cambridge and the Founder & Editor-In-Chief of ModernMixVancouver.com
The night kicked off with Vanessa taking us through her career path since graduating from UBC Sauder a few years ago. She went on to talk about how she has used social media to support marketing objectives, and other best practices when melding digital with the traditional. But one of the biggest take-aways of the night was seeing how many times Vanessa not only seized opportunities to make advancements in her career, but also created them herself.
We knew that there was still so much Vanessa had to share, so we caught up with her again to bring you this exclusive Q&A, recapping some of her discussion points from the event, and including even more insights for our student members.
A Q&A with Vanessa Choot
What are some skills that students can start developing now if they want to work in the field of digital marketing and get a leg up on the competition? Anyone can “talk the talk” in an interview and say they have experience in social media and digital marketing, but what are some real-life examples?
“If a student just goes to class, and doesn’t do anything extra beyond the classroom, it’d be quite difficult for him or her to stand out as a job applicant. I went through the commerce program at UBC (marketing major, of course) and took advantage of so many opportunities that the program had to offer. Throughout my time at UBC, I was involved with the UBC Marketing Association (graduating in fourth year as their Vice President) which gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded students who were all interested in the same field as me and also gave me experience in event planning, sponsorship, etc.
I also participated in business case competitions (I was sent to Kingston, Ontario one year for an all-expenses paid trip for a case competition), and also went to conferences and networking events with business professionals. Meeting marketing professionals who took the time and effort to answer all of my (many) questions gave me more realistic insight into an industry I was interested in and helped me better define my career options. Also, certain organizations outside of school offer student discounts and scholarships (such as the American Marketing Association), so take advantage of these offers before you graduate!”
What experiences were key in helping you realize that digital marketing was the path you wanted to go towards in your career (so far)?
“It helps to have a general idea of what you want to do (for example, when I first graduated, I wanted to be in advertising) but sometimes you can’t control exactly where you end up and one opportunity often leads to another like a snowball effect.
As I wanted to pursue a career in advertising but my university didn’t offer any co-op placements in that field, I dropped out of the program and networked my way into an agency internship. I worked a part-time unpaid internship at a market research / advertising agency in Gastown while finishing my final year at UBC, which gave me an advantage in getting a paid summer internship at a different advertising agency after graduation. At the same time, I was also running my lifestyle blog ModernMixVancouver.com, which gave me a little bit of experience in the digital field, and all things combined led me to a full time position at a digital advertising agency which I spent three years at, which gave me a solid foundation in digital marketing, and allowed me to transition smoothly to the “client side” to the marketing department at Metropolis at Metrotown and eventually led me to be at the Western regional head office at Ivanhoe Cambridge (which I’m currently at). See? Snowball effect.
Timing was also key. When I graduated from UBC in 2009, that was about the time that brands began to consider social media as a marketing tool… especially advertising agencies, who tend to be the first to jump on new innovations. So timing, combined with my slight competitive advantage in digital-something through my blog, helped me slide towards digital marketing in the early stages of my career, and it kept snowballing from there.”
What would you say are some important things for marketers to consider for a successful pairing of social media with traditional marketing?
“Depending on the industry you are working in, more often than not, digital marketing tends to play a supporting role in marketing campaigns. For example, at Metropolis at Metrotown, the shopping centre hosts several seasonal events for its shoppers, including mall-wide Black Friday promotions and a shopping event/partnership with LOULOU magazine. Social media played a supporting role in the campaigns, but wasn’t necessarily the star of the show. Likewise, when we built seasonal social apps and contests for the shoppers at Metropolis at Metrotown, they weren’t randomly decided upon. They were often part of a larger campaign and had the same creative and messaging as our traditional campaigns. Just like how you wouldn’t rely solely on billboards, or solely on radio ads, to promote a big campaign, digital marketing works well when it is layered with other elements. The more seamlessly you can integrate the digital elements into the rest of the campaign, the more consistent (and hopefully effective) your campaign will be.”
Despite only being a side-project of yours, Modern Mix Vancouver has become a popular blog that has brought you numerous exciting opportunities. What are some tips you have for people looking to grow their blogs, which may also be side-projects?
“When you’re looking for content to blog about, don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities. For example, when I first started Modern Mix Vancouver, I went to a craft fair and met so many local artists who were willing to take the time to answer questions and be interviewed for a blog post. Also, consistency is key. Like any other hobby, if you want to get better at something, you have to stick with it. If you can’t stick with it, maybe it’s not the right fit for you.”
We had a blast at the event, and thank our smart and inquisitive attendees from SFU and UBC, including members of our projects. We thank Vanessa Choot for sharing her experiences with us, leaving us all a bit more excited about where are careers can take us. Keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook pages for news about our next events and how to get involved!
Digital Marketing Coordinator – Ivanhoé Cambridge
Founder & Editor-in-Chief – Modern Mix Vancouver
After graduating from UBC with a BCom in Marketing, Vanessa Choot worked at a digital advertising agency for three years for client brands including Tic Tac and Ferrero Rocher. After 3+ years in advertising, Vanessa switched into the shopping centre and retail industry, working in digital marketing roles for shopping centres including Metropolis at Metrotown. On the side, Vanessa also runs the Vancouver lifestyle blog ModernMixVancouver.com and has participated in digital marketing campaigns with brands like Pepsi, LUSH, Bombay Sapphire, Oakley, Keurig and Dodge Canada to showcase their brands from a blogger’s perspective.
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