Marketing Interview: Owen Nitka of MarketingLab

We had the opportunity to interview Owen Nitka, Senior Account Executive at MarketingLab, a Minneapolis-based marketing agency. Owen is a 2007 graduate of University of Minnesota, and brings a unique perspective on the agency (marketing) careers and tips for the marketing student. Check out this all-encompassing and insightful marketing interview here:

How did you know that the agency side is right for you?

Every work environment has its own culture, and for marketers there’s probably nowhere that difference is more pronounced than between agency and client-side work. My first work experience was an internship with a Fortune 500 company during college.  In that time, I was able to see how marketers deal with all the environmental factors affecting one brand.  The experience was valuable, but the highly disciplined structure of a large corporation just did not fit my personality. 

Prior to graduation, I had an internship at MarketingLab, a shopper marketing and consumer engagement agency and was immediately met with a rush of excitement from the big ideas that filled the office. Working on a range of brands and a multitude of projects meant I never had a dull day. The best part of working at an agency is that creative solutions are king!  I was motivated to focus on the fun part of marketing – developing engaging and innovative ways for our clients to sell more stuff.   There is no clear cookie-cutter answer for client vs. agency and obviously the answer depends on the marketer’s personality, talents, interests and in particular their motivations.

How creative can you get with your job? What excites you the most about creating new campaign ideas?

Agencies thrive on creative thinking, so you always have a chance to stretch your creative muscle. Working in a smaller office, everyone has a hand in the strategic and creative development. Although we have a full creative department, it takes an entire team to deliver the best thinking.  MarketingLab started 12 years ago with one key objective; help clients sell more of their products and services by changing shopper behavior.  Whether it’s a relatively small project or huge campaign, its all starts with an actionable insight.  Our job as an agency partner is to turn those insights into impactful and profitable programs.  It’s exciting to carry an idea all the way through from concept through activation and see the measurable impact is has on our clients’ businesses.

What tasks do you do on a daily basis, and how or how didn’t college prepare you for them? 

As a Senior Account Executive, I am responsible for account management and developing new business opportunities. The commonality between both of these is the building of strong relationships with clients by leveraging knowledge of their business. For my current clients, I’m the day-to-day contact who manages all elements of a program from concept to activation to recap.  Providing exceptional account service can mean different things depending on the client or project, but often includes: strategic development of marketing solutions, managing a team of project managers and external vendors and ensuring appropriate financial management of projects.

What was the turning point for you when you decided to pursue a degree in Marketing? 

Throughout high school, I was interested in business, but didn’t have a particular area of focus. It was important for me to choose a university that had a quality program with strong ties to a vibrant and dynamic business community like Minneapolis.  From the University of Minnesota, it’s easy to get connected to different opportunities. The school is friends and neighbors to Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, and non-profits, meaning that mentorship, internships and job opportunities abound. After taking the ‘general’ business courses my sophomore year, I found the creative, strategic and competitive elements of marketing to be more fun and engaging than anything else. From there, I went beyond the marketing degree to enroll in a self-designed curriculum that integrated marketing and strategic communications through the journalism school. 

What advice could you give recent college graduates who are looking to enter the world of marketing?

  • Whichever part of marketing you’re interested in, it all moves pretty fast. Chances are, whatever your professors taught you your freshman year of college no longer applies. Need an answer to a pressing marketing problem? You won’t find it textbooks. Effective marketing isn’t about looking up the answer, it’s about creating the solution. For example, nobody taught professional marketers already in the business how to “do social media”; they had to figure it out on their own. That’s your future: figuring out marketing. Forever.
  • There’s more to the marketing world than big brands and agencies. Yes, you can work at a marketing agency, big or small. And yes, you could work for a big brand like Target, BMW or Coca-Cola. But there are SO many more options. What about working in-house at a cool tech company? A small business? A hospital? Just because your professors only talk about the campaigns big brands have executed, doesn’t mean those are the only marketing jobs out there.
  • Network like crazy with everyone.  I know every graduate has heard this, but I’d challenge recent grads to always be looking for opportunities to increase the value of your network.  Whether you live in a big market or small one, the network in your chosen industry is going to be extremely tight knit – everybody knows somebody.  Don’t wait for job postings to go up, set your own interviews.  I never turn away a request I get for an informational interview.  You can learn more about a potential career in 30 minutes across the table from working professional than hours of online research.  Point is, you never know who could end up helping you out the future. Get to know as many people as you can.
  • Your career will be the best campaign you ever work on.  Prove your skills by marketing yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to give you the opportunity. Invest time in building your social media reach, and leverage LinkedIn to connect with other marketing professionals. Demonstrate your passion for marketing by properly marketing yourself. If you can’t market yourself, how will you market for others?

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