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Challenging the Status Quo with a Degree in Data Marketing Communications — Shannon's Story

Challenging the Status Quo with a Degree in Data Marketing Communications — Shannon's Story

If I asked my 18-year-old self if she thought I would earn a master’s degree in Data Marketing Communications (DMC), she likely would have looked at me with a blank stare.

In 2010, the sales, marketing, and technology silos were just that, separate, and not always equal, departments of a business. But today, it is my belief that data-driven marketers are leading the charge in breaking-down these silos by bridging the gaps between departments and by creating a greater depth of opportunities.

My name is Shannon Nicholson, and I'm here to tell you how before I could identify with this group of influentials, I had to find my way — and that included navigating a bachelor's and a master's degree in unrelated fields.

I navigated through a bachelor’s in journalism with an emphasis in public relations and industry experience, before deciding to attend WVU for a graduate degree in Data Marketing Communications.

In May 2014, I graduated from West Virginia University with my B.S. in Journalism.

Throughout my four years of undergrad, I learned copywriting, campaign planning, tactics, and measurement, earned media, event promotion, journalistic writing, and media ethics.

Following all the preliminary coursework, my capstone experience, increasing awareness of a statewide non-profit organization by 10 percent, and securing $250,000 in grant funding, I was sold on a career in the industry. I was hungry for an opportunity to show off my skills. I spent almost a year as a customer service account manager before I was hired as a junior account manager at a small advertising agency. It was my experience at the agency that exposed me to so much more than just producing campaigns and marketing materials for clients.

In my time at the agency, I became increasingly aware of the disparity between business and marketing goals, as well as the potential for miscommunication — assuming clients understood industry terms.

I was also exposed to the detail of measurement of digital and social media marketing. It was then that I decided I wanted to focus my career on developing marketing strategies that are directly relatable to business goals, that are digestible for a non-marketing background, and that are quantifiably measurable.

I learned that when push comes to shove, marketing budgets are the first to be placed under scrutiny.

Enter: The DMC program at WVU.

I had the great pleasure of being a student in the first-ever DMC cohort. I like to describe this program as a “reverse MBA.” Instead of a business mind understanding marketing strategies, a marketing mind is developing strategies in tandem with larger, enterprise-related objectives.

Early on, this program taught me to question and challenge the status-quo. I learned defined goals, thoughtful research and data, and an understanding of your place within the company helps to gain buy-in, determine appropriate tactics, and deliver results.

Another beneficial aspect of DMC is that although the program is offered online, our classes were experiential in nature. At the end of each course, I had something tangible to prove my subject knowledge such as: a comprehensive content/social media/search engine marketing strategy, a mobile marketing strategy, and a user experience journey map. Not to mention the capstone course resulted in an all-inclusive marketing proposal.

Attending graduate school online isn't for everyone, but the classes in both the Data Marketing Communications and Integrated Marketing Communications programs are designed with busy, working professionals in mind.

Looking back, had I gone to grad school immediately after completing my undergraduate degree, I would have chosen the wrong program.

I’m thankful I opted to explore the workforce before seriously considering grad school.

This program helped me propel my career into a managerial/strategist role, connected me with industry experts who beyond the classroom are willing to serve as mentors, and provided me with a network of professionals across various marketing disciplines that I can now call my friends, who will provide me with advice and support.

The principles taught in the DMC program are flexible for many industries, businesses, and positions. I am excited to see its full value unfold over the years as I progress further in my career.