Company Spotlight: Kelsey Graham

Company: Hill Holliday 

Interviewee: Kelsey Graham 

Interviewer: Sofia Tavares Zlock 

A few words from Sofia; a BUMKC member

Walking into 53 State Street was daunting, yet exciting. Kelsey had pre-approved me with security so once I got my badge to enter the elevators and I headed up to the 35th floor. Walking into the reception area automatically put a smile on my face. The atmosphere was very relaxed and festive for the upcoming Halloween holiday. There were shrieking brooms moving across the hard wood floors and ghosts hanging from the ceiling. Groups of adorable babies and young children dressed in costume, brought into work by their parents for a Halloween fashion show, were getting their pictures taken. As I sat on the comfortable couch, I admired the view. In Boston, there are so many locations to see the city but Hill Holliday’s was beyond incredible. As I sat waiting for Kelsey, I listened to Beyoncé play in the background and read excerpts from the Wall Street Journal that was perched on top of wooden logs that were being used as coffee tables.  The atmosphere at Hill Holliday was relaxed but powerful and I knew I was in store for an extremely insightful and fun interview!

S: How did you become involved in social media marketing?

K: When I graduated BU I started working at the place I was interning called Small Army and while I was there I was doing a lot of different types of jobs. I was working on the internship program, I did some account management on a few accounts but my main role was new business. I found myself as I was doing pitches and brainstorming—I kept being drawn to more digital and social media focused ideas. I started reading more about it and using social media more often. I saw a job on twitter open up for digital strategy and I knew a friend from BU working in that department. I told him that ‘I was interested in an entry-level position. What do you think?’ And that’s how I ended up here in this role. It was sort of random. It’s not like I said, “I want to work in social media, that’s totally what I want to do.” I just found myself drawn to those types of ideas and thinking.

S: Do you think that networking with people you knew previously to get the job was beneficial to you? 

K: Yeah, I knew him from school so that was definitely helpful and I think in general networking on twitter is really helpful. I know a lot of people that have found jobs just by talking to people on twitter. I think it’s definitely helpful.

S: Can you explain what you do as a senior social media strategist?

K: Our group does a combination of things. I would say the first is social media marketing, so working with our creative teams. If they have an idea, we’ll bounce ideas off of each other and brainstorm how we can make social a part of it or adjust it so it fits better in social media. We also work closely with our media department to extend ideas from TV into social media or to buy paid social media and the strategies behind that. And then there is also the business side of it so we have members from our team who are helping some of our brands who are more regulated and they’ll help them build an infrastructure that will support social media and companies where they normally wouldn’t be able to have a social media presence. So, customer service and working with legal and compliance making sure anything they do is sound. The third aspect is platform knowledge, so knowing what’s new, what’s happening, what new tunnels there are, what’s happening with the channels we are using and keeping our clients up to date on what’s going on.

S: I definitely got a glimpse walking in to the office what the environment is like here at Hill Holliday for the Halloween festivities but can you tell me more about the environment at Hill Holliday?

K: People really care about each other here, which I think is sort of different in this industry. It’s more self-competitive where you compete with yourself. It’s not cutthroat at all. The people I work with, I collaborate with and I want them to succeed as much as I want my self to succeed. There’s a lot of good vibes between people. People are also wicked smart so you learn a lot from people here. Especially people who are higher up in this business for a long time, they are really willing to teach you and mentor you and help you get better. That’s how I would describe it.

S: What has been your proudest accomplishment at Hill Holliday?

K: That’s a hard question!

S: Maybe one brand that stuck out or one business that you worked with in particular?

K: So, I think one of my proudest moments was… I worked on a project for one of our clients with the creative department. I hadn’t really had much of a chance to work with them before and we were thrown into an assignment together. It was me and our director, copywriter and a technologist just thrown together and they told us to come up with ideas to reach millennials. It was really fun to be able to collaborate with them and the work we came up with was I think some of the best work that I’ve gotten to work on before. I was really excited about that! It was some kind of storm that was happening and we were all on Google hangout from our kitchens and for the whole day we were brainstorming together. That was really fun. I really enjoyed working on something that was cross-disciplined.

S: What’s your favorite part about working here?

K: My boss is my favorite part of working here. I’ve never had a boss like this in my life. He completely supports me; he throws me to the wolves—which is awesome. He pushes me and I think it is so important to be pushed. He doesn’t just say, “Oh, it’s okay, I’ll do it.” He always says, “This is how you need to do it better.” He pushes and pushes me. I don’t think I would have moved as quickly as I have in the last two years that I’ve been here, had I not had him pushing me. The first time we did a project together he told him that I was going to present on a stage in front of fifty people. I think that’s so important. So he’s probably the best part of working here.

S: Do you ever get to meet with the CEO, Karen Kaplan at all?

K: I have! It’s really cool. They do this thing called “Cocktails With The Coach” and she’ll invite 4 or 5 of us at 5:00 on an afternoon and you’ll come in and she’ll have wine, beer and we sit there for an hour and just ask her questions and you can ask her anything. She is so cool and so down-to-earth.  She’s awesome. 

S: I’ve read a lot of articles about her and just her way of thinking about the industry itself is really inspiring and different. I just love reading about her.

K: And girl power! It’s great to have a woman in charge! It’s so rare in advertising. It’s always been, traditionally, a boys club. Here especially, there are so many women in charge. Which is really cool. I feel like CEO is stogy and she’s not that at all. She’ll say whatever she wants.

S: In class, our professors have been stressing the importance of identity and adaptability in a constantly changing work environment—do you find yourself needing to adapt your current skills?

K: I would worry less about personal brand and worry more about your skills. Learning new things and doing new things. I think when we talk about personal brand people think I have to give off this persona and I am about this thing. I write this type of blog and these are the only things I care about. That’s so unnatural. That’s not how we are as people. So I think, I’ve changed my interests so much since I’ve started here. A couple years ago, I had a food blog and now I have a random blog. I think you evolve over time and you have to being to evolve. Especially in social and digital media because tomorrow there could be something new and is really cool and you want to play around with it. And once you’re over that- you’re over it and that’s okay. You don’t need to stick on one thing. I’m really interested in teen social media behavior and that’s always changing. Being adaptable is really important. Two years when I started my role was completely different then it is now. We were asking ourselves, “Should we get a Facebook page?” and now it’s ‘how can we incorporate twitter with out TV buys and make sure our creative execution is right across all platforms?’ We’re in a totally different job description compared to two years ago.

S: Do you think the future of marketing lies in social media?

K: No, I think that would be a strong statement. TV isn’t going anywhere. I think we need to change the way we approach media. We can’t just think what’s the social idea, what’s the TV idea? We need to think what’s the idea and how can we express it in different ways. I need to be ready for what’s going to be the next thing. It’s like being on the edge for what’s new then relying on social media. I think you’re going to see things more integrated.

S: What advice would you give a student looking to start a marketing career?

K: Number one is internships. That’s what worked for me. I did tons of internships. I was interning the summer after my freshmen year and every summer after that. The key is your senior year second semester to have an internship with the opportunity to get hired after. It’s hard to get a job after you graduate unless it was with a past employer.

S: Do you thinking getting an internship is competitive and what should students do to separate themselves from other students to get an internship?

K: That’s the other thing. I didn’t get an internship at Hill Holliday when I applied. I didn’t get into any of the big agencies for internships so I went the smaller agency route. For the Small Army internship, I had been in contact with a professor in COM and she was the one that put me in touch with someone that worked there. I’ve found every internship I’ve had through connections. Some were student connections; others were professors, people you meet at networking events or someone you find on Twitter.  I think someone recommending you is the best way to find anything. That’s who we look at first. When we look at applicants we look at the people who someone has referred first. I think putting yourself out there and having people know your name is really important.

S: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

K: For getting a job, your first job doesn’t have to be your last job. If you are a senior, I wouldn’t stress so much about finding the perfect job. I would worry about finding a job that would teach you something that you can apply to another job down the line. I wouldn’t worry about picking the perfect job, the perfect role, the perfect company, the perfect industry because it’s going to change once you’re in it and learning things and experiencing things. I’m exactly where I want to be. I made it early and I’m very lucky.

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