Kelly Larson: Account Manager/ Marketing & Digital Strategy, af&co
San Francisco CA
WFU Class of 2012
Double Major: Studio Art & Communications
Kelly Larson catches us up on life since her graduation in 2012. Working for hospitality consultancy af&co as digital marketing strategist, Larson charts the course from Winston, to NYC, to Cali, including tips on life in San Fran + invaluable networking advice.
DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?
Kelly Larson: I was a double major in Communications and Studio Art. I knew I wanted to go the advertising/marketing route after college, but was sort of making up my own creative path (vs. business marketing). I took any available classes in advertising/pr and marketing, as well as interning at Vela Communications my senior year. Some of my most formative classes were Communication Ethics with Dr. Michael Hyde and Management in the Visual Arts.
DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?
KL: After graduation, I moved to New York City without a job. I found my first post-grad internship through a tweet from Ken Kraemer (Deep Focus CCO and now good friend) that MadDeacs had retweeted and was at Deep Focus for nearly 5 years. As an advertising Account Supervisor, it felt pretty cool to be doing the job I had set out to do in school, but as you’d expect, that vision changed (you can only work on potato chips for so long). I realized I needed a better connection to my personal passions: creating experiences for the food & booze obsessed. My next role was a Senior Digital Strategist at M Booth, a communications agency where I helped lead digital and social media strategy. My clients were spirits & alcohol accounts, which was my pivot into the food & beverage hospitality space.
DL: What led you to transition to af&co, and how’s the new role?
KL: More so, it was my journey to San Francisco lead me to af&co. I had hit my New York expiration date and wanted my next city to be more outdoors focused and have a better work:life balance – the California weather didn’t hurt either. Moving to a new city a second time without a job, I doubled down on meeting everyone in SF in the niche field of restaurants, hotels, and hospitality marketing. I was looking for a job that was also specifically digital and was introduced to af&co’s founder, Andrew Freeman, where he basically created that position during our first meeting. Restaurants can be pretty old school about PR & Marketing, so being smart digitally is where I could make an impact and knew I had to get them up to speed. I couldn’t be more excited that my new role, Account Manager, Marketing & Digital Strategy at af&co is a perfect fit and allows me to work with fellow food nerds and restaurant, brewery, and hotel clients.
DL: What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?
KL: Rip off the bandaid. If you want a new job or to make a big change in your life, consider that the options that feels drastic might not be so crazy. Taking uncomfortable steps becomes easier after the first one and enables you to take charge of the change. That ‘big thing’ ultimately will happen because of your network. Keep in touch, grow your contacts, and don’t be afraid to use them – you have to ask for what you need to actually benefit from ‘who you know’. And also, always follow up with a thank you – it’s basic, but essential to close the loop and show that you really want the job.
DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside reference/rec, networking in person, WFU resources, other)?
KL: All of the above! The easiest transition into securing a new role has been through former coworkers at the new company. Otherwise, yes – you have ask people to introduce you and to meet with people in person – especially if you are new to a city. Consider that while they might not be the person that gets you the job, they might know the person that does. Also, never leave a lead open – the further you get in your career, the smaller the circle gets. Don’t let lack of effort or self-doubt make you miss the opportunity to follow through. I’ve made that mistake.
DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare you for life after graduation?
KL: While there is a lot you can learn in the classroom about how to do good work, having practical industry knowledge is so essential to even figure out what the job title is for the type of role you are interested in. I knew I wanted to be in advertising, but was I going to be a Project Manager? Account Coordinator? Associate Strategist? Community Manager? Should that be at a digital agency, traditional agency, media agency? Understanding the landscape, especially explained in real terms from recent grads would have helped a lot. Hearing from a CEO at a notable company is great, but that’s not the job I’m applying for right out of school.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
KL: Talk to people. Anyone that offers to connect you with someone – take it. Maybe their field doesn’t feel like it relates to what you think you want to do, but you may find out about a great fit for a type of job that you didn’t even know existed. Ask them to explain the landscape of the industry they are in to you – those are the constructs you can’t google, but really only understand by being part of it. You’ll learn more about what you might want to do (or not do) and how to get there, as well as made a new connection in the process.