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Building a Career in Digital Marketing

Temerlin alum Wendi Leggitt '07, director of DKC Connect, on listening, hard work and the 'aha!' moment

New and mysterious just 10 years ago, digital marketing is now an essential part of today’s marketing campaigns. Advertising alumna Wendi Leggitt describes social media’s place in the marketing mix – and how pursuing late-night “aha!” moments as an undergrad prepped her to lead the digital division of DKC, one of the nation’s top public relations firms.

When Wendi Leggitt graduated from SMU’s Temerlin Advertising Institute in 2007, she was ready to tackle the world. Bolstered by supportive professors, she learned how to think strategically and create opportunities. Through creative thinking exercises in class, she stretched her abilities to tap into new ideas and explore different ways of reaching audiences. And while working on course projects late into the night, she learned the rewards of tenacity, a practice she says has served her well in her career after graduation.

Now the director of DKC Connect, the digital division of DKC - one of the nation’s top 10 independent public relations firms with clients including New Balance, Bazooka Candy Brands and Paradisus Resorts - Leggitt remembers lessons learned as a student. “A defining moment from my time at SMU was creating taglines for one of my advertising classes,” she recalls. “I was approaching a project deadline and felt that I didn’t have the idea that was my ‘light bulb moment,’ so I spent all night writing tags, searching for words on and staring at my computer screen. I spent many all-nighters trying to come up with ideas, copy and clever advertising executions, and wouldn’t stop until I felt I had done my best.” Although grueling, Leggitt believes the experience prepared her well for the marketplace. “Entering the workforce in New York following graduation required a lot of grit, so the ‘real world’ late nights at the office didn’t seem as bad as they may have otherwise,” she says.

Under her leadership, DKC Connect’s digital revenue increased by over 128 percent and its client roster has grown to include work with brands such as QVC,, The Plaza Hotel and filmmaker Ken Burns. DKC’s digital campaigns have been featured in prominent media outlets and trade publications such as Fast Company, PR News, The Holmes Report, ABC News, USA Today and The New York Times.

Reaching audiences

Creating successful digital campaigns, says Leggitt, begins by listening carefully to the client.

“As the brand expert, the client has the best foundational knowledge of the product and the consumer,” she says. From there, she says it’s important to go to the online platforms where the consumer community resides to listen to what they are saying and absorb the nuances that may help refine or improve brand messages and awareness. “Often there are unexpected opportunities that come to the surface, like influencers on Twitter who are sharing positive content and messages about a brand with their followers,” says Leggitt. “In turn, these influencers can become organic social media ambassadors.”

Key, too, is for marketers to use online listening tools such as Sysomos, Hootsuite and other social media analytics, which will help assess what consumers are saying and provide a deeper understanding of consumer thought processes, interests, online interactions and other important factors such as demographics. “Social media is a very data-driven medium, and a scientific approach through the use of data, combined with compelling creative to communicate messages, is what translates to success,” says Leggitt.

A great benefit of social media is its transparency, she notes, which allows marketers to see in real-time how they are trending. “For example, if your goal is to target influencers on Twitter with a particular brand message and those influencers begin retweeting your brand’s content or mentioning the brand in their content, you are heading in the right direction and hopefully, as a result, the brand is receiving more awareness, interaction or sales.”

Social media: just as mighty as the press release

Because social media has become much more integrated with other, more traditional marketing vehicles such as television, special events and print advertising, Leggitt says social media’s ability to engage directly with a target audience is very powerful – to the point that social media can empower target audiences to be the message vehicle themselves. “When you give consumers the ‘keys,’” she says, “you are naturally carving out a bigger piece of the marketing plan for social media as a by-product of their engagement. This engagement may vary from brand to brand, but social media is unique in that it can be a stand-alone vehicle, or support other aspects of a marketing plan, making it very important to the bigger picture.”

A Facebook post, tweet or Instagram picture can now hold just as much significance as a press release, says Leggitt. “In distributing messages through social media, millions of people can be reached and driven to action instantaneously with one compelling photo, video or short piece of text.”

Advice for students

For students thinking about a career in digital communications or social media, Leggitt urges them to not only have a thorough understanding of online platforms, but also master a well-rounded approach. “This includes knowing the business of your client, your agency, public relations, advertising, media, branding, etc.,” she says.  “You’ll need to understand what makes people tick online and offline, how to craft an effective message, and how to optimize a strategy. A broader skill set and know-how will help develop and inform a specialization in one area or another, especially in the realm of digital media.”

When asked what her top three pieces of advice would be to students preparing for a career in communications, marketing, advertising or public relations, Leggitt cites traits that she knows first-hand work well in the industry. “Be open-minded, be prepared to work (and work hard), and listen to what’s going on around you – at work, in the media, online – because a lot of creative ideas come from observation, and the best creative ideas are those that capture the essence of an intersection of things, which requires thought, patience and persistence.”

Read the full interview with Wendi Leggitt

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