About Alexandra Suazo: Alexandra Suazo is Senior Manager of Digital Marketing and Marketing Content at American Girl, the premium brand for girls owned by Mattel. Before relocating to Wisconsin for her current role, Ms. Suazo oversaw Digital Marketing and Web/Mobile Products for New York Cruise Lines. Her background in Digital and Business Strategy also includes positions at Fairway Market, MWWPR, and StrongView, as well as a wide range of freelance projects and consulting work.
Ms. Suazo holds a bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Journalism from The City College of New York. She returned to CCNY to complete her master’s, graduating from their Master of Professional Studies in Branding + Integrated Communications (BIC) program in 2015.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Alexandra Suazo] In 2007, during my second year at The City College of New York (CCNY), I decided to transition from Engineering to Marketing and, as they say, the rest is history. Back then, the Media and Communication Arts (MCA) program focused on traditional PR and advertising agency account management — I also minored in Journalism. I interned at Young & Rubicam on the Campbell’s account, and then at an events company managing PR/Marketing. I quickly learned that I did not want to do account management, PR or traditional marketing — I wanted to continue my interest in social connectivity on the interwebs by way of the early days of Twitter, blogging, and e-newsletters… the infancy of social marketing.
My career in digital took off from there jumping right into the deep end to work on the Castrol (motor oil) USA/Espanol brand at a small digital marketing agency where I led social media strategy — think Live Tweeting(!) and Buddy Media for marketing content on Facebook. I then moved around to Digital New Business Development, Digital Business Strategy within an IT department, and oversaw all Digital Marketing for a staple brand in the NYC tourism industry, launching many digital experiences — web and app products — throughout.
I decided to pursue a master’s in 2015 back at CCNY in the newly created Branding & Integrated Communications (BIC) program. During and around the time I completed my degree in 2017, I had been job hunting — trying to get my foot in the door at a national brand/large company to do the kind of progressive integrating marketing and digital experiences I envisioned through my time in BIC. In Spring 2017, I landed an amazing opportunity to relocate to Madison, Wisconsin, to oversee Digital Marketing and Marketing Content at American Girl, Mattel. In hand with my creative partner and our incredible in-house Creative Studio, we lead digital strategy across product/character launches and their respective programs and activation campaigns.
I was one (of five) Top of Class in BIC awarded with a Certificate of Achievement, led a winning team in a BIC final capstone pitch to Univision Communications, Inc., completed the General Assembly Digital Marketing Assessment 1 recently, have multiple Google Analytics certificates, and am currently working through Lynda courses on Digital Transformation and Business Strategy.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Professional Studies in Branding + Integrated Communications (BIC) program at The City College of New York?
[Alexandra Suazo] During my digital business role in IT in the grocery industry, three to four years after graduating from the MCA program, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree. I knew I had all the fundamental marketing strategy, digital experience planning and execution expertise, but felt I was missing overarching business/brand strategy experience.
I had been hearing from CCNY and fellow MCA alumni about this new BIC program led by one of the amazing Professors from MCA and was excited about the idea of being at the forefront of this program in the first graduating class. It goes without saying that the lines of marketing/experience/brand have been blurring for many years, and it’s critical for traditional marketers to understand brand strategy and brand purpose before all else. In addition to the excitement, I felt that completing the degree would help tie my experience up in a business-strategy-brand-marketer-digital-tech bow that would appeal to more senior roles at larger companies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is the BIC program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Alexandra Suazo] The BIC program is structured in three tiers: Management/Planning, Public Relations, and Creative. As a student of the Management/Planning track, our classes focused on concepts from creating your own agency and P&L/rate sheets to Business Strategy and Measurement, Market Research, Strategic Media, and Leadership and Ethics. The great thing about BIC’s approach to Branding is its focus on consumer behavior throughout classes. Every assignment began with the question “what consumer problem are we trying to solve?” which is key to a solid, foundational brand strategy. Additionally, working in groups is a common thread which is important for the real world (agency or in-house). Teamwork in a world of digital transformation is imperative.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your final portfolio? What projects did you decide to include and why? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their portfolio?
[Alexandra Suazo] I initially found it difficult to define what my portfolio would be. Although I was a key player in the strategies and creative delivered throughout course assignments on my teams, it felt harder to articulate or wholly take credit for a strategy in a portfolio that should be reflective of my specific contribution and work. I took a few steps back one day, spoke with a professor, and spent time reflecting on what I’d truly learned over the two years of the program — what I’d take with me after I left the program. I realized my greatest learning was the power in my interpersonal and leadership skills that empower and bring people together into successful teams that drive results. My professor and I coined me as “the glue that holds people together to get the work done”; with that as my key learning, my portfolio was suddenly so easy.
I created a story around my experiences leading four different teams and pitches, the challenges we faced, and how my method of leadership G.L.U.E (Guide, Lead, Unify, Empathize) helped get us to the finish line (and in one specific example, win the pitch). I reviewed it once with a creative professor who loved my approach which gave me the final vote of confidence I needed. In the days leading up to my Portfolio Defense, I had the idea of bringing in something memorable to accompany my presentation; a bottle of glue for each judge with my leadership method and bit.ly to my portfolio on it — lasting impressions matter.
I don’t usually have issues or fears with presenting to people, but being confident in the material is always half the battle. While it wasn’t a portfolio that showed samples of my work as a creative designer/copywriter or PR professional would, I’m glad I took the approach that felt right for my experience in the BIC program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from CCNY’s MPS in Branding + Integrated Communications program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Alexandra Suazo] Since I attribute my biggest learnings as having found myself and my leadership skills, my key takeaways focus mainly on the people and teams aspect of the program. The best thing you can do for your career is work with as many different types of people varying in ages, cultures, and professional backgrounds and I had that in CCNY’s BIC program. The first graduating class had students from something like six different countries — learning different types of work ethic and how to handle different types of personalities has continued to be foundational in my leadership skills throughout my career.
Before arriving at American Girl, I thought learning an agency approach to branding strategy like we did in BIC wasn’t applicable when working in-house/client-side; sentiments I felt the BIC curriculum lacked when I first graduated. Now that I’m at a larger brand where strategy is crucial, thinking and presenting/pitching like an agency is invaluable to traditional marketing organizations. It’s something that helps me stand out from the rest every day.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the BIC program at The City College of New York? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at CCNY or another university?
[Alexandra Suazo] Once you’ve decided to pursue a master’s anywhere, buckle up. Every class, professor, student, assignment, presentation, and teamwork opportunity will come with its challenges and learning moments. Nothing worth having comes easy.
Have patience, think creatively (whatever that means to you), be resourceful, absorb and reflect on every learning good or bad. Be open to change and different point of views — it will all be worth it… if not in the end of the program, later in your career. Don’t shy away from LinkedIn, build your brand as a professional and share your work and point of view with the world; if you don’t, someone else will.
Thank you, Ms. Suazo, for your excellent insights on The City College of New York’s Master of Professional Studies in Branding + Integrated Communications program!