About Courtney Wessel: Courtney Wessel works as a Marketing Analyst for DRI—The Voice of the Defense Bar, an international organization that provides education, resources, and tools to defense attorneys and in-house counsel. Her role primarily revolves around loyalty marketing, developing and executing strategies to engage and grow DRI’s membership, but she also manages various digital marketing efforts and business analytics. In addition to her work at DRI, Ms. Wessel is a Board Member and Social Media Manager for the University of Miami Chicago Alumni Club.
Ms. Wessel graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication with a Bachelor of Science in Electronic Media, as well as a double minor in Public Relations and Dance. She completed her master’s in 2016, through the Full-Time Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Northwestern University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Courtney Wessel] I earned my bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami in Florida, majoring in Electronic Media with a double minor in both Public Relations and Dance. I earned my master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University.
I currently work as a Marketing Analyst for DRI—The Voice of the Defense Bar, the leading organization for civil defense attorneys and in-house counsel. My role is very broad, all revolving around loyalty marketing. I support strategy and manage execution of multi-channel integrated marketing communications campaigns and develop content to drive customer acquisition, awareness, retention, and engagement. Working with outside vendors, such as Laurel Road, a finance company offering our members student loan refinancing, I lead the partner marketing that helps DRI members take full advantage of their membership.
In addition to product and event-based marketing campaign work, I manage our digital marketing, including strategy, budgeting, and execution of paid social media campaigns. This includes business analytics work. I track KPI’s to translate insights into brand building plans for leaders and key stakeholders. In addition to social media, I work with our design team to develop email marketing campaigns with a strong focus on testing and optimization.
The portion of my job that deals with internal communication comes from my role working with our members. DRI has multiple substantive law committees, each who put on educational programs across the country. I manage around 14+ international marketing committees, consisting of defense attorneys in specific practice areas, who help develop programming and marketing of an education event, whether it be seminars, webinars, podcasts, or on-demand programming. In this role, I manage internal marketing timelines, while promoting membership engagement.
Outside of work, I am a board member and social media manager for the University of Miami Chicago Alumni Club. I manage social accounts, help put together local events, and engage fellow alumni in the Chicago-land area.
My role at DRI is my first full-time position since graduating from IMC, however I did work (freelance) as a communications consultant for Northwestern’s Digital Learning Department prior to my current role, where I developed a comprehensive communications strategy, built and monitored social media accounts, and produced monthly business analytics reports for DL leadership.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Full-Time Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Northwestern University?
[Courtney Wessel] I pursued a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications to develop the skills needed to support, manage, and contribute to a marketing communications strategy at a high level. I also wanted to learn more about internal communications, finance, and investor relations. Since employees, money, and investors are all vital parts of organizations; Northwestern’s courses in these subjects really attracted me to the program, and stood out compared to offerings of competing programs. My mother also encouraged me (she likes to say required me) to earn an advanced degree. I am the first in my immediate family to obtain a master’s degree.
I ultimately chose the full-time IMC program at Northwestern for many reasons. One, compared to other communications programs that usually take two years or longer (specifically I was accepted into NYU’s Corporate Communications program and USC’s Master’s in Communication program), this professional program only took 15 months to complete. Second, I was a recipient of the IMC scholarship, which helped cut down the cost of attendance. Third, I was encouraged by two mentors to pursue the program and Northwestern in general. In college at UM, I interned for the South Florida National Parks Trust in Coral Gables, under Executive Director Don Finefrock, a Northwestern Alum. Having studied at Medill himself, he had rave reviews and encouraged me to apply to Northwestern, even writing me a recommendation. Another mentor, Shannon Campbell (previously Public Relations Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at UM), lectured about the importance of an IMC approach in public relations. She often cited Northwestern’s IMC program in her lectures, and when I spoke to her about my intentions to apply, she wrote me a glowing recommendation. I was lucky to have the support of family, mentors, and Northwestern alumni from the beginning.
I ultimately chose the full-time program because I was transitioning straight from undergrad. Not working full-time meant that I could fully devote myself to finding success in the program. Initially I thought I might be interested in an internal communications career path, even investor relations. But since completing the program, I became interested in a career in loyalty marketing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Northwestern’s IMC Full-Time 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?
[Courtney Wessel] Northwestern’s IMC program operates on trimesters. During your first two trimesters, full-time students take five core IMC courses: IMC Strategic Process, Marketing Management, Financial Accounting, Consumer Insight, and Marketing Research and Statistics. These classes provide a well-rounded understanding of marketing, both from an analytical and creative standpoint. These classes help students understand customer journeys, how money plays a role in organizations, and how to properly collect and analyze data to guide your strategy and decision making.
Once the core courses are completed, students have an option to follow “tracks” that focus on specific areas, such as data analytics, or to take electives as they please. I chose to not take a specific track, because my interests fell in many different areas. Some of the courses I took included: Investor Relations, Internal Communications, Marketing and PR, Global Brand Communications Management, Managing Integration, Leading Media Organizations, and Brand Communication Decisions.
The skills and strategies learned in classes included how to adapt communication when dealing with various audiences. Communicating internally with employees differs vastly from dealing with investors or customers. Using data to understand their position and needs, helps tailor messaging and increases the opportunity to appeal to a given audience. Other important skills learned were how to make the most effective presentations, and how to tailor a presentation to be short, sweet, clear, and effective. Public speaking was a huge component in many of my courses. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, was the skill of writing. The greatest skill learned throughout the program was editing, proofing, and checking grammar. The level of expectation when it comes to writing well in Northwestern’s IMC program is unmatched.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your Immersion Quarter? What kind of role did you take on, and with what organization? What was the project you worked on? What communication issue or challenge did it address, and what were your primary deliverables (i.e. communications plan, tutorial, video, visual marketing materials, etc.)? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their Immersion Quarter and corresponding project?
[Courtney Wessel] My immersion quarter role was a digital marketing consultant and project manager with Brand New Media Group in Evanston, IL. I helped lead a team of fellow IMC students to generate actionable insights, recommendations, and strategies for financial marketers in the top 50 asset management, wealth management, and insurance companies. Given that financial companies generally focus and invest on marketing less than other organizations, our challenge was to provide BNM clients with competitor analysis and recommendations on how they can best market their products and services in the financial industry. Some of the clients and sponsors included Bank of America, Bloomberg, MetLife, and Prudential. Our primary deliverables were to develop new and evolve existing data models in mobile, social, and financial marketing innovation that evaluate, score, and plot companies in financial services, providing them with benchmarks and recommendations based on best practices. This report and presentation was presented by the President, Francis Dudley, at 2016 BNM conferences.
My advice to those completing the immersion quarter would be to really immerse yourself in the project. I never anticipated working in finance, however because of this project, I can speak to financial marketing in a way that many others can’t. Even if the project is outside of your personal career interests, you can use the experience in interviews to show your adaptability and willingness to quickly learn about an unfamiliar industry.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Northwestern’s IMC program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Courtney Wessel] Northwestern certainly prepared me for the latest developments in communication technology. Most importantly, the program prepared me to ask the right questions, think outside of the box, and connect marketing efforts to the bottom line, proving the value of my own work. It’s one thing to have data, but it’s another to connect the dots.
The major experience from the IMC program that I found to be the most helpful in my career path was my participation in Medill’s first Global Brand Communications Capstone course in London, England. Studying global branding, brand equity, and retail and luxury marketing in England and visiting various organizations, meeting professionals from around the world taught me the value in being a global citizen. It is for this reason why I am comfortable communicating and working with attorneys both domestic and international. Understanding the subtle nuances of culture can build authentic relationships, shape communication strategies, and ultimately make your job a lot easier.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Northwestern University’s Full-Time Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Northwestern or another university?
[Courtney Wessel] Do it. Northwestern’s IMC program challenges you to think differently about marketing and communications. Having studied communications in undergrad, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on how things worked… until I started the IMC program. The professors are world class, the curriculum is incredibly challenging, yet rewarding, and a Northwestern Degree is impressive—there is something to be said about how an elite program can set your resume apart from others, negotiate higher salaries, and take on higher-level work earlier on in your career.
My other advice is to take the classes that you’re interested in. Data analytics is a big component of Northwestern’s IMC program. But like me, if analytics isn’t your cup of tea, then gather the skill base and knowledge, and then pursue your passions. I personally was not interested in a career in analytics. And although Northwestern’s IMC program is known for its advanced analytics courses, the program can be tailored to you if you’re interested in social media, consumer insight, investor relations, public relations, etc.
Overall, my advice for anyone looking for a communications program in general is to find what works best for you and really look at the courses and professors that are a part of your program. Are there professors who work in industries that you are interested in? Great! Are there courses that teach you skills you didn’t learn in undergrad? Awesome! And certainly look at the career services offerings at each school; sometimes it takes a village to help you find your first job after a professional program.
Thank you, Ms. Wessel, for your excellent insights on Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program!