This article by Vela interns Annie Booz and Carly MacFarland explores what matters more in marketing careers – experience or education.
The fall semester is in full swing, and while we’ve returned to the classroom, the rest of the employees at Vela Agency have not. As part of our intern experience, we wanted to learn how our colleagues’ own college experiences shaped their careers in marketing.
Everyone at Vela has a different background when it comes to educational experiences. We decided to take a closer look by interviewing three members of the team: Christina Hussey, Fareena Bacchus and Michelle Soyars.
Christina Hussey, Vice President of Digital Media
Christina is a Winston-Salem native. She attended Campbell University, majoring in Spanish and minoring in literature.
While Christina was initially interested in public relations, she found that Spanish was the best-suited major for her.
“I wanted to study abroad, and my mom told me if I wanted to study abroad, I had to at least minor in Spanish or she wouldn’t pay for it,” Christina said. “I’d already completed enough classes to get close to my minor and I decided I would just make that my major.”
After graduating from college a semester early, Christina applied and was accepted into New York University’s hospitality management program but decided to jump into work instead.
She began her marketing career by working part-time jobs as a receptionist and a marketing assistant. Eventually, Christina was hired by Chick-fil-A to be the marketing director for a local store.
“It was really cool, the opportunity to create all my own marketing programs,” she said.
At a Chick-fil-A event, Christina was approached by Ginger Gallagher, Vela’s president, who asked if she wanted a job. A few months later, Christina called Ginger and started working at Vela.
Christina has now been at Vela for 12 years.
“I’m a lifer,” she said, “because I’m always supported in learning new things.”
Christina said she learned most of the skills she uses today from her mentors or her own research.
“I learned early on how to be really organized, see ahead and roll with the punches. Also, Michelle (Soyars) was a good mentor in teaching me how to set timelines and expectations,” she said.
As for majoring in marketing to have a job in this field, Christina believes you don’t necessarily need to.
“A well-grounded strategy background would be incredibly helpful if you want to work in the marketing field,” she said. “I don’t think it is necessary if you are already that kind of person who wants to ask those questions, fill in those holes and connect the dots.”
Fareena Bacchus, Account Manager
Fareena grew up in Lexington, North Carolina, and attended Salem College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and minors in marketing and religion.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the business and marketing field. However I found that the communication major suited me better than the classes offered for the business major,” she said. “I’m not a math or science person and I knew those weren’t my strengths.”
When her senior year of college approached, Fareena was not sure exactly what she wanted to do. She considered going to graduate school and pursuing a master’s degree in higher education but put that idea on hold.
“I decided to see how I liked working in marketing,” she said, “and if, eventually, I really wanted to go back to school, I would.”
Fareena moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for a few years in market research. Last year she moved back to North Carolina and took a job at Vela as an account manager.
“After working in market research, I can now conduct in-depth interviews, moderate focus groups, and build surveys, and I was exposed to account management. If I hadn’t been exposed to those things, then I wouldn’t be able to manage a book of clients now at Vela,” she said.
She’s learned something else that’s important to know for anyone who is considering a career in marketing.
“Through my own self-discovery I realized that the title of a degree doesn’t matter, it’s the skills and the knowledge you gain from it,” she said.
Michelle Soyars, Vice President of Creative Strategy
Like Christina and Fareena, Michelle wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to study when she enrolled at Clemson University. However, after moving from Ohio to South Carolina before graduating from high school, she knew she belonged at Clemson.
“Living in South Carolina, I thought, ‘That’s where I must go to college’. Eighty thousand people fill that stadium every Saturday in the fall.
“I thought I might want to be – and I still really want to be this when I grow up – a computer graphics person in the movie industry.”
The only major remotely close to what Michelle wanted to do was graphic communications, and it led to Michelle’s creative, successful experience in the print industry.
Michelle was hired at R.J. Reynolds as a process engineer.
“I spent a few years doing that and I decided that I didn’t really like the chemical engineering part of my job, but what I did really like was the problem-solving and the creative and graphic parts of what we did,” she said.
A printing production job opened at R.J. Reynolds that involved helping to source printed materials for the company’s consumer marketing group. Michelle realized she wanted to be “where the action was” and went back to school at night to pursue an MBA, with a goal of making a move to marketing.
“It was never my plan to go back to school. But in the ‘90s, an MBA was the next box you had to check,” she said. “Everybody was getting an MBA. Graduate school, for me, was night school; one class at a time.”
Michelle was given opportunities to work on all of the company’s brands in many different capacities – advertising, event marketing, pricing, merchandising, promotions, direct marketing, retail, and overall brand management and strategy work.
It was the strategy and branding work that really got her excited about going to work in the mornings.
“Ginger and I started the agency 13 and a half years ago. We were a two-woman show,” Michelle said. “Between the two of us, we had done everything that we needed to know how to do in the past through our prior careers. We just did our thing.”
Their “thing” blossomed into Vela – an agency that’s inspired by strategy and driven by ideas.
“Eighteen years in corporate America really helped me understand how our clients think; the environment that they work in every day, the pressure that they’re under, and how their decision process works,” she said.
If you are interested in learning from people who come from different higher-education backgrounds and are well-rounded and diverse in their skills, apply for a Vela internship.