About Chad Mezera, M.S.: Chad Mezera is the Assistant Dean of Online Programs at West Virginia University’s (WVU) Reed College of Media. Since joining the faculty at WVU in 2005, Mezera has spearheaded the development of WVU’s Online Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications, and also led the development of the Online Master of Science programs in both Digital Marketing Communications and Data Marketing Communications. As Assistant Dean, he now oversees the continued expansion of and updates to these programs. His work has been recognized by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and the West Virginia University Board of Governors.

Within the Reed College of Media, Mezera provides faculty support, curriculum guidance, student mentorship, and oversight of the College’s online courses. He also coordinates extracurricular programming for undergraduate and graduate students alike, including WVU’s Integrate conference and other networking events. In addition to leading the expansion of the College’s online graduate program offerings, Mezera launched a bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications in 2020, along with undergraduate minors in entertainment media, strategic social media, and event planning. In addition to overseeing those minors, he manages WVU’s online undergraduate minors in public relations, advertising, health promotion, and sport communication.

Prior to his position at WVU, Mezera worked at a government information technology organization in internal corporate communications. He also developed a think tank dedicated to improving workforce performance and honing organizational best practices for federal, state and local governments. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Advertising in 2000 and his Master of Science in Journalism in 2002 from West Virginia University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of West Virginia University’s innovative and unique Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications? What is the history of this program’s development? What role does data analysis play in effective marketing campaign development? What is data marketing communications, why is it a valuable field to study, and how does this program prepare students to excel in this space?

[Chad Mezera] Let me first talk a little bit about how the data program came to be. Discussions for this program started about eight years ago. We had an advisory board for the IMC program that we convened every year in New York with some high-level folks who work on Madison Avenue as well as throughout the city, several in high-level hiring roles. Over a couple of years, we had discussions about a talent gap in the industry–specifically, a need for marketing communications practitioners who were well-versed in understanding data. On the one hand, the industry had seen an increasing, almost limitless amount of information, information that could have powerful marketing implications. Marketing companies and departments were lacking communications people who could comfortably walk between their data scientists and communications people, VPs, and Directors of Marketing to interpret what to do with all this data to improve their communications.

From those conversations, we began thinking that perhaps there was an opportunity for us to put together a specialization for our IMC program. That was the initial discussion. From there, we talked with professionals in the industry, asking them what they would need from new hires. What do you need them to be able to do? And we quickly saw that a specialization was not going to accomplish what our industry partners needed. We then started with a blank piece of paper and asked our advisory board, “Ok, you mentioned this talent gap. Explain it to us. Give us some examples.” From there, we conducted further research and slowly developed a curriculum that was brand new.

Long story short, from these discussions with the IMC advisory board, we determined that there was an opportunity and need for folks who were trained in a very specific approach to analyzing data and leveraging the insights from it to design effective marketing campaigns. There was a strong need for professionals who understood how communication works in the industry, and who also knew how to couple that understanding with an analysis of the data that has become increasingly available to educate and improve their marketing communications approach.

We developed the M.S. Data Marketing Communications program entirely from scratch. We built it from the ground up through direct consultation with industry leaders. As a result, it’s a program that is entirely unique in its approach because we started first by solving the problem before we developed the curriculum. It’s a very successful program in that the students who have graduated from it have been very marketable in their careers. We have some impressive success stories already.

In terms of the curriculum specifically, we designed it to be comprised of thematic pairs that cover every key and complementary aspect of data marketing communications, from audience segmentation and message customization to brand data collection and visualization, social media optimization, data management platforms, campaign planning, campaign assessment and metrics, and customer relationship management. While this program does not require you to be a mathematician — it is NOT a data science program — it does empower marketing people to interpret data sets and make strategic decisions based on the data they have. It was specifically designed to fill that gray area, that talent gap that we were hearing about. Our students are not necessarily those folks who are comfortable running regression models, but they are able to use the numbers and see the information they can glean from them to improve their marketing communications activities, and turn that into ROI for the brand that they work for.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What online technologies are integral to this program, both in terms of how course content is delivered and the kinds of data management and analysis platforms students learn how to use? How does this program facilitate students’ interactions with faculty and peers online? Are the online classes mainly asynchronous, or do some have synchronous components?

[Chad Mezera] All of our online programs utilize Blackboard as their learning management system. Students in our program also use a variety of data management platforms and tools. As with our M.S. in Digital Marketing Communications, we give students access to these tools at no or low cost, and in lieu of more expensive textbooks.

Our programs are also asynchronous. We have students from all around the world, so we expect our instructors and course developers to ensure our courses remain accessible to students around the globe. Our faculty frequently incorporate live video sessions, but the key is that they capture that content and build it back into the course. That way, if a student is running late or cannot attend due to work and/or family obligations, they don’t feel the pressure to attend the live session, as they know they can access the content later.

In terms of students interacting with their peers, we don’t want students’ experiences in the classroom to be focused on trying to schedule with their classmates as opposed to really delving into the work at hand. As a result, group activities tend to be more discussion-based and critique/feedback oriented, and not so much developing deliverables together. The technologies within our system are constantly improving, and as they do, there are additional ways for us to engage our students with one another as part of the learning process.

[MastersinCommunications.com] West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications requires students to complete a Capstone course during which they develop a data-driven marketing communications campaign for a selected client. Can we have more information about the Capstone course and the types of projects students complete in this course?

[Chad Mezera] For the capstone course, students work with real data to develop a proposal for a brand or a company, with recommendations on how this brand can improve their communication strategies using the data that is available to them. Students take a data set and scrub it for what insights they can glean, and then utilize the platforms and tools they have learned to use to develop a proposal for a particular communications approach or campaign. Students work largely individually, though there are collaborative group discussions for the sharing of ideas and supportive feedback.

Much of the beginning of the Capstone course is students discussing the data and what they see in it. But each student executes his or her proposal and campaign individually, and they are assessed on their individual performance. This discussion element is important, as in the industry you’re never going to have one person responsible for getting all the information, interpreting it alone, and then making all the decisions. We do our best to replicate these boardroom discussions in our virtual classrooms, but it is important to us that each student work individually on their project and are assessed individually, as they then have a campaign proposal that is solely their own that they can feature in their portfolios and speak to solo when interviewing with potential employers.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What areas of professional and research expertise do faculty of this program have, and how does this expertise benefit students? What role does faculty mentorship play in West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Chad Mezera] Faculty members’ research and industry expertise were built into the program from day one. While we designed the program’s curriculum, we not only reached out to folks whom we knew to be experts in the industry, but also made connections with people whom we wanted to teach within the program. For example, the instructor for our campaign planning and programmatic media course is a full-time employee with Verizon in New Jersey, and what she experiences in the workplace is what she uses to inform each of her classes. Every one of our instructors in our program work in the data marketing space and is a specialist in what they do.

Within the classroom, the instructors are of course students’ direct line of support, and over and above that students enjoy a great deal of one-on-one mentorship from faculty members whose areas of expertise align with their interests. We also have resources that help students with the technological side as well. We have staff who are experts in the platforms that we use, who can meet with students over Zoom to coach them if they are having trouble. For example, one of the members of my team is an alumnus of this program, and in addition to his work in student advising and student retention, he coaches students one-on-one to help them understand and be able to use Excel to maximize the insights they can gain from the datasets they have.

In addition, our alumni group is highly engaged with students in the program. As the data marketing space continues to evolve, we’re grateful to have that level of engagement because our alumni are also helping us keep our curriculum up-to-date. All of our alumni across all of our programs are very engaged, but I would say our data marketing program alums have a particular camaraderie that we are very proud of. They’ve shown an incredible willingness and passion for giving back and continuing to be engaged with students in the program. Many of our Data Marketing Communications alumni have mentored current students interested in growing in the data marketing field as part of our mentorship program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Chad Mezera] To apply, we require a personal statement, résumé, official academic transcripts, and optional letters of recommendation. While this program is not focused on math, we do want applicants to have a comfort with numbers. They do not have to do a lot of the heavy statistical work, but they do have to be able to look at a data set and be comfortable dissecting various parts of it to arrive at insights. As a result, we do review undergraduate transcripts to see what kind of coursework they are familiar with to see if the program would be a good fit.

Within the statement of purpose, we look for students’ passion for the field and for clear reasons why they want to pursue this field of study. Unlike some of our other programs, where the applicant demographic is a bit more mixed with graduates fresh from college alongside seasoned professionals, the data marketing communications program has mostly professionals with several years of experience as its applicants. I think that is due to the fact that new graduates or relatively inexperienced folks in marketing may not be as comfortable with numbers and may not be as apt to engage with them. As you proceed in your marketing career and especially when you are in a position of leadership, the numbers become more important. Being able to understand how to use data at a higher, more strategic level, making smart and impactful decisions becomes much more of a differentiator.

Returning to my discussions with our advisory committee in New York, and our talking about the talent gap in the industry, our advisory board wasn’t just talking about the entry-level gap. They were also talking about how people even in management weren’t comfortable looking at data and making sense of all the information in front of them. Maybe not surprisingly, our data program has skewed more towards this mid-career demographic, relative to younger students who are not at the level where they are expected to deal with data for strategy development purposes.

Prospective students should also note that if they engage with one of our enrollment specialists, we will waive the $60 application fee that the University charges. We highly recommend students connect with us, as it helps us better understand their intent in the program and for us to design an academic and professional mentorship journey that is tailored to their goals.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Chad Mezera] We took a long time to build this program, and it was probably the most fun we’ve had on the development side because we were solving a complicated problem. We did not rely on any of our previous assumptions about the space, nor did we lean on any previous courses we had taught as faculty. We designed this program by really looking at what our students needed, and what the industry needed, and finding out what graduates of our programs could use to differentiate themselves and accelerate their careers.

The result was an incredibly unique program that is honestly a little difficult to explain because many people understand what a data scientist does, and they also understand what a marketing person does, but when you talk about the bridge in between — the role of the data interpreter for the purposes of designing and improving marketing campaigns, that is a person who wears many hats and who can translate the insane amount of information we have now about what clients and customers want, and use it to help sustain and grow an enterprise.

Thank you, Chad Mezera, for your detailed insight into West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications program!