By Amy McGraw, MSU StratCom student
Malcom X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
In my career as a marketing professional in the financial services industry, it was becoming obvious that to survive in my career and to keep my credit union differentiated in a heavily competitive market, I was going to have to make some pretty significant changes. I had to unlearn everything I knew about marketing and be open to a new future by embracing the disrupters that so many of my peers were either running away from or just plain ignoring.
I completely changed our marketing department to include a digital inbound marketing specialist and a content strategist. Both of these young professionals held degrees in digital marketing and, within a few months, made tremendous strides in our credit union’s visibility in the digital space. Although I was the vice president of the marketing department, it was very evident that I wasn’t really clear on exactly what my team was doing. I began to look for education programs that could help me not only catch up but give me a strategic edge. It wasn’t long before I realized that there were no programs that could really teach me digital tactics along with the strategic framework that would keep me on top of my game.
In April of 2017 I was honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award by the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences. While I was up in East Lansing, I met Jason Archer and learned about the new online master’s program in strategic communication where I could not only get an advanced degree in exactly what I was looking for, but I could get it with a digital media certification. I was intrigued. In the fall of 2018, I enrolled as a grad student – back in school after nearly 30 years! Not only was I re-learning how to be a student, but I was doing it 1,400 miles away from campus – taking all my classes online from my home in Weston, Florida.
By the time my first year was under my belt (with a cumulative 4.0 GPA), I was able to apply lessons from my classes to my job, advancing my credit union’s marketing and communications department. So much so that the Credit Union National Association asked me to pen an article for its annual “Environmental Scan” on the use of BI/AI modeling in credit union marketing, as well as creating a white paper about the future of credit union marketing.
In addition, in my annual review, my CEO stated in the last year my professional growth had elevated to unexpected heights thanks to my decision to pursue the StratCom master’s degree. He noted that in one of my presentations to the board I handled a very difficult argumentative board member by utilizing the techniques learned from Dr. Anna McAlister in the Persuasion Techniques for Working Professionals class; I had saved the credit union from a PR embarrassment by quickly implementing a Potter Box ethics model from my Ethical Concerns and Controversies for Emergent Thinkers class with Dr. Kristen Wilkerson; I had created a strategic campaign that identified major service gaps with our millennial audience through my work with Dr. Kjerstin Thorson in the Digital Media Strategies class; and thanks to incredible guidance once again from Dr. McAlister in the Evaluation Techniques for Working Professionals class, I was able to effectively structure and administer a focus group with local millennials helping us design a new checking account addressing the wants and needs of this elusive segment based on real data, not just a bunch of senior leaders guessing what will work.
Not only did I receive the highest rating available for an annual review by my CEO, but I was given a promotion to a newly created position of chief experience officer and moved to the senior executive wing of our headquarters. This was all due to the fact that I didn’t just go back to school to get a piece of paper, but I chose a program that taught real-world techniques/lessons that I could immediately apply to my job from day one.
Although I had originally planned to complete the program in two years, my new position will require much more time so I will be scaling back to only one class a semester, pushing my graduation date out to May of 2021. Between now and then I fully intend to use the materials from my future classes to continue to push my credit union forward, sharpening our strategic edge thanks to the guidance of the faculty and staff of MSU’s StratCom program!