Spotlight Interview: Maggie Niehaus

Maggie Niehaus: MBA Candidate, Emory University

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2012

Major: English

Minor: Journalism

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Maggie Niehaus: I was an English major and a Journalism minor. After I decided to be an English major, my Dad, who’s an investment banker and very logical, said “that’s a subject, but that’s not a job.” So Journalism was the job-version of my English major. As an English major, I knew I’d be well-read, but unless you want to be an academic or go into creative writing, that isn’t a job. I was taking literature courses and things that were a little bit fluffy, and it was very hard to translate that to a career, and that’s where Journalism came in. It was taking what I was reading and how I was learning to write, and turning them into practice skills. My original post-grad game plan was to work at a magazine. I wanted to do something with my degree, but more on the editorial side rather than something like investigative or hard journalism.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your most recent job?

MN: Magazines, as great as they are and as good for the soul as they are, are not necessarily the industry that you want to be in right now. Print isn’t what it used to be. Quite frankly they weren’t hiring when I graduated, and not interested in making their staffs bigger. Instead, magazines were looking for content from freelance writers, and without a lot of people on the payroll. I also didn't really want to live in New York, which was limiting. That kind of got me into the PR world.

I remember sitting in a journalism class, and the professor was joking that PR was the field for journalists that don't want to do journalism. To real, hard-core journalists, PR has a negative connotation. That’s not the case for me, because I never tried it as a real journalist, and the skills really do translate.


After graduation, I ended up at Edelman. I had a PR internship in consumer branding, where I was pitching media and writing press releases. From there my career went rogue. I really built my career at Edelman by following the firm’s growth and seeing where the company was going. I saw the company was moving in a more digitally-focused direction, so I began to make my pivot. While Edelman is a PR company through and through, I wanted to be one of the first people to get their foot in the door into the newly-emerging digital practice. I thought that this could potentially help me accelerate my career, and that is exactly what happened.

I went from interning on the PR side to working full time in the digital practice. It wasn’t a direct translation of my skills, but my career was very much more about the people I knew and getting people in my corner. I was doing good work, whatever that may have been, so when I went up for jobs on other teams, those people could vouch for me. That’s how I built my career at Edelman. A big part of it was getting in earlier in the digital practice, which then evolved into me building out a paid media team in the Atlanta office. When I joined, a lot of what I was doing was digital advertising, which was globally run, and wasn’t specific to an office. We were a pod of resources any global office could use. That led to me having great experience off the bat working with our office in the Middle East and Europe, which I would have never worked with otherwise. However, later they decided to build out a media team in each of their offices, and because I was located in Atlanta, I helped to start that team here. I was that team’s first hire in Atlanta, and I was just a year into my job. I took it and ran with it. In early days of media team in Atlanta, there were 3-4 of us, and this past May when I left, there were 12-14 members. Our unit quadrupled because the company saw value in bringing digital into everything they did. This allowed us to scale the team to the size of the clients we had.

My first clients were so small you never heard of them, but by the time I left, it was companies like Olive Garden and SeaWorld. My path was less about any formal training, and consisted of me identifying opportunities and knowing that I can learn quickly.  My theory was that I could figure it out last time, so I could figure it out this time, too.

DL: What led you to pursue an MBA? And how did you pick Emory?

MN: What prompted the search is that I had worked at the agency for five years. I was in this place where I was on track to be a lifer at Edelman, which is fine, but if I was going to leave and go client-side, it should be now. I had lots of friends go get their MBAs, and I never thought it was for me until I was thinking about what kind of jobs I would want if I were to leave Edelman and go client-side. Getting an MBA started to make sense. I was thinking about pivoting from the skills I had in terms of PR, communications, advertising, and analytics. I have done bits and pieces here and there, but if I wanted to do real big brand marketing, it required me to get an MBA. Also, part of that was I had never taken a business class. I did English and Journalism, which are great, but I couldn't go run someone’s P&L statement without being taught how to. You can get your MBA at any time, but it can be a seamless way to jumpstart a career pivot. My MBA is a way for me to explore other options that I don't know existed, but also to build my playbook of things I can bring to the table. In terms of picking Emory... I started by taking the GMAT.  I wanted to see if I could even do this. Before I started looking at schools and doing applications, I wanted to get a sense of what schools were feasible. And then, I knew I wanted to be in a city. I didn’t want to go to a business school in a college town, because I am from Atlanta and have spent my adult life here, and I wasn’t looking to suddenly be back in a college town. I also wanted to be somewhere business school is only one aspect of my life. I wanted to be able to have stuff outside of school. So with that in mind, I only looked at business schools that I could get into in major cities. Truthfully there weren’t a ton which fit for me. A lot of schools in my range were in places I didn’t want to live, so I applied to NYU and Emory, and got into both. I was thinking about finances and the kind of places I would want to live post-MBA and places I would live during school, and from there I picked Emory.

DL: PR is such an interesting career path. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?

MN: Read the news. That sounds silly, but learn about the stuff that people are interested in reading and thus writing about. That will help you tailor your communication skills. To translate the soft skills I learned at Wake, reading the newspaper is the endgame for PR. What kinds of stories are companies and brands telling, and how are they telling them? Also follow companies on Instagram and see who’s doing something interesting. I listen to trade advertising podcasts, like Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad by AdWeek, which dissects the most interesting commercials. In the end, it is about the stories brands tell. I think an English major translates well to PR because it's about reading, writing and telling stories, just different kinds of stories.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MN: I think Wake could just help students realize that there are more careers out there than they seem to indicate. Business school is the same way. They talk about consulting and finance, but it doesn’t have to just be those two. At a place like Wake, lots of smart people go into consulting, finance, law, or medicine, but those are the paths the school talks about the most. There isn’t as much of a focus on the other things you could do. So maybe it’s finding people who have interesting stories and paths, and having those people share them. It’s making sure there is a broader representation of companies that come to school or panelists that speak on campus. I think it's a bit of vicious cycle; I didn’t engage closely with career services while at Wake which was on me… but there’s also no dedicated program keeping up with us after graduation so the connection can be hard to make after the fact.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Atlanta?

MN: I think what I like the most is that Atlanta has the third-most Fortune 1000 companies in the country. It is a major hub and economic target, but you don't have to have the big city chaos that is New York. It is the best of both worlds. You can have big city feel or go to a suburb. I am from here, so I am really biased. I am a city person, and even Winston-Salem was too small for me… but if I am going to live in a big city, why not live in the big city I already am from? I felt like Atlanta has everything any other city could offer me, plus the bonus of being home. And the cost of living also really helps!

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?


MN: Think outside the box. There are a lot of jobs that exist that you don't know about. Don't just follow your friends or family. Think about all of the possibilities out there, because something will be a perfect fit, so just be creative in your search process.

Spotlight Interview: Tayllor Battle

Tayllor Battle: Designer, Mighty 8th Media

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2010

Major: Studio Art

Double Minor: Art History & Communications

aboutme.jpg

Tayllor Battle arrived at Wake Forest hoping to work in museums one day. Now based in Atlanta, Tayllor discusses her career in graphic design and what’s led her to this point since leaving Winston.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Tayllor Battle: I majored in Studio Art with a concentration in oil painting. I also minored in Art History and Communications because I thought I might want to work in a museum some day.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

TB: After graduation I got an account management internship at an Zimmerman Advertising agency in south Florida. Out of the program I was offered a job, but decided to move to Atlanta because that’s where I really wanted to live. I took another internship at BBDO Atlanta, which lead me to my first real job in media planning and buying at Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising. I worked there for two and a half years and loved it most of the time, but eventually needed a change. So I took a job at Zenith Media to work on the Sonic fast food account. After about 6 months or so, I realized the job change wasn’t what I was looking for. What I really needed was a career change. I missed my creative roots. I got swept up in some fun jobs, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew if I was going to work for 40 more years, it needed to be doing something fulfilling. So I quit my job and joined the circus. Okay not the literal circus, but a little portfolio school called the Creative Circus. I had never heard of portfolio school before, but I just so happened to live in the city on one of the top programs in the country. I like to think of it as a Masters in Design without the thesis-writing and test-taking. I spent two years there working harder than I’d ever worked in my life, to put together a portfolio that helped me land a design job. Which is where I am now. Working as a Brand and Marketing Designer at a small agency called Mighty 8th Media.

DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

TB: They helped me realize I definitely wanted to stay in the arts. Also, the Wake Forest name carries a lot of weight. I definitely think it helped me get interviews and be seen as a serious candidate.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside reference/rec, networking in person, WFU resources, other)? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs.

TB: Some online, some by inside references, some by networking. When you’re looking for a job, I think it’s really important to just put yourself out there in every way you can. When I was looking for the role I’m currently in, I really inserted myself into the Atlanta design community. I went to straight networking events, but I also went to designer talks, museum exhibitions, Creative Mornings, and anything else that might put me in a situation to meet the right people. I also worked my network. I reached out to alumni from both of my schools to gain perspective on the industry and what employers were looking for. It can be really difficult to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, but it will help you find the right job in the end.

DL: The design route seems to be a popular career option for art alums despite the fact we don’t have a formal design program. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the field?

TB: Definitely take advantage of the resources and classes that Wake has. When I was there, I focused way more on the Fine Arts than Design. Unfortunately there just isn’t much of a market for a full time artist. I wish I would have taken more of the Graphic Design classes at Wake and engaged with that community more. But I am endlessly grateful that I got an authentic art experience at Wake and it informed my Graphic Design eye moving forward. Coming from the Wake art program though, I definitely recommend a Portfolio school or other Graduate program if you want to be a Designer. It will help you take what you learned in the Wake Arts and really focus it on the practical aspects of Design.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

TB: In the arts specifically, I think there could have been more of an effort to push fine artists into the Graphic Design field since it’s a more practical skill in today’s job market. More practical projects to work on would have helped too. Designing for yourself and designing for a client are so very different and it’s important to learn that skill.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Atlanta? What is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?

TB: Atlanta has so much to offer. It’s a big city with a small town feel. It’s got skyscrapers and trees. It has culture, community and great music. It has great design that comes from some big name brands, local brands, big agencies and small agencies. For me, the best part of the art scene are the programs being organized by the local AIGA (American Institute of the Graphic Arts) and Creative Mornings chapters. They’re really working to bring a global and local perspective to the art community here with speakers, workshops, networking and more.

DL: What is your favorite part about working for Mighty 8th Media? (Can include perks, specific experiences or anecdotes from the job)

TB: I love the wide variety of projects I get to work on at Mighty 8th. I love that every day is different. I love helping real businesses solve real business problems. I’ve worked at a couple of massive agencies and brands over the years and I really love that Mighty 8th is the opposite of that. I have autonomy, but also a great team to collaborate with. I have creative freedom and clients that value our creative expertise.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

TB: Be engaged. If there’s one thing I regret from my time at Wake Forest is that I wasn’t as engaged in the educational process as I should’ve been. Being truly engaged goes a long way with your peers, teachers, coworkers, and employers. You really can’t fake genuine engagement and people know it when they see it.