About Cody Hays: Cody Hays works as Senior Digital Strategist for TEAMTRI, overseeing all digital communication efforts for the professional consulting company. He is also a freelance Digital Strategist and Social Media Manager who runs his own marketing and advertising outfit, Cody Hays Multimedia Management. Prior to joining TEAMTRI, Mr. Hays worked as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Florida for graduate-level courses in Social Media Advertising and Copywriting for Digital Messaging. His background also includes a stint as Social Media Coordinator for Northern Arizona University.
Mr. Hays attended NAU for his undergrad, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Career and Technical Education with an emphasis in Business Marketing. In 2018, he completed his master’s through the University of Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communication program, specializing in Digital Strategy.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Cody Hays] I earned my Bachelor of Science in Career and Technical Education, emphasis in Business Marketing from Northern Arizona University. I then went on to earn my Master of Arts in Mass Communication (MAMC) with an emphasis in Digital Strategy from the University of Florida. This degree program was online.
My first job out of undergrad was with Northern Arizona University as their Social Media Coordinator. I worked full time while also pursuing my graduate program at UF. Halfway through my grad program, I transitioned to TEAMTRI (www.teamtri.com) where I currently serve as our Senior Digital Strategist. I lead all client-focused digital marketing and web development.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the online Master of Arts in Mass Communication (MAMC) program at the University of Florida?
[Cody Hays] To be honest, the University of Florida wasn’t my first choice. I was set on going to American University, but once I visited the campus something just didn’t sit right with me. I barely made the University of Florida application deadline, but I’m so glad it worked out this way.
I was drawn to the UF program because they offered so many courses that seemed to have a direct connection to my position at the time, as well as where I wanted to go as a marketing and communications professional. I loved that the program was a communication-based program, with a marketing emphasis. Too many of the marketing programs I was looking at had accounting and finance elements—something that didn’t interest me at all. UF offered Copywriting for Digital Messaging, Social Media Advertising, Social Media Branding, and more—which all seemed like much more practical courses. I knew these courses would help me as I began my path towards a marketing director position.
More so, the program was incredibly affordable—positioned at a price point lower than even my in-state options. I knew that I didn’t want to go into debt to earn my grad degree, and UF made that possible through affordable tuition and grant funding.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is the University of Florida’s MAMC 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?
[Cody Hays] The program consists of project-based courses, which was a great way to connect current projects at work with projects in my classes. My instructors encouraged us to apply what we had learned that week directly to what we were doing at work, so it made the balance of going to school full-time and working full-time really achievable.
The program really focused on preparing us for the day-to-day operations of a digital marketing manager. Now when someone asks about Google Display Ads or developing a social media strategy or the best way to layout a landing page for a new product, I have the knowledge and resources to do that well because we covered it in class. For example, there were weeks where I was learning about copywriting for social media ads and one of my projects at work was to develop ads for an upcoming admissions campaign at the university. I was able to take what I was learning in class and apply my skills to both my class and work assignments.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on your experience with UF’s online platform? Were courses asynchronous (prerecorded), synchronous (live), or a combination of both? Did the school’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? If so, how?
[Cody Hays] Each instructor had their own unique way of working with the online platform. I had some professors who liked to bring us all together to meet once a week, and I had others who would record lectures ahead of time and post them to Canvas. I also had classes that would do a mixture of the two. If I wasn’t able to make it to class, I did have the option to watch the lecture later.
Regardless of which format I had, the instructors were always an email, call, or even text away from a quick answer. They prioritized our time to make sure they didn’t hold us up. I appreciated this a lot, especially working full time because my only time for homework was during the evenings and on weekends.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your capstone project? 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 project?
[Cody Hays] My Digital Strategy capstone was unique because it was actually combined with the capstone for the Web Development students as well. The project goal was to pitch a digital strategy and new website to an actual client and win the “contract”. We were separated into groups that had one digital strategy student and three to four web development students.
At the beginning of the course, we met with an actual client—a restaurant franchise based out of Canada. We discussed their business goals and marketing needs, which included improved social media channels and a brand new website. Over the next 16 weeks, it was our job to develop a digital strategy for the client and translate that strategy into a new site for them. The result was a complete marketing strategy, including brand guidelines, communication strategy, social media strategy, paid advertising strategy, SEO strategy, web strategy, SWAG, and more. Our group ended up winning the competition and getting to continue our work with the client after the course concluded.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from the MAMC program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Cody Hays] One of the key pieces that I use with clients is something I learned in the Lead Generation class with Brianne Fleming. She taught me how to create a communications strategy for clients and bridge the gap between client goals and every piece of communication that goes out. From email, to social media post, to articles in a local newspaper, we connected it all to organizational goals. This tool is something that I’ve been able to use quite a bit throughout my career.
For example, last week I was approached by another department to help them with a recruitment campaign. They need to recruit over 1000 volunteers to judge student competitions at conferences across the country. We started by developing a communication strategy and using the worksheet I got in the Lead Generation class. We mapped out the goals they had and then connected those goals to the different communication efforts (social, email, phone calls, etc.). Then, I was able to take what I learned in the Copywriting for Digital Messaging course and draft those emails in MailChimp, and take what I learned in my Social Media courses to create social media strategy, graphics, and copy.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Mass Communication 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 UF or another university?
[Cody Hays] The piece of advice I always give to people who are considering grad school, or are currently in it, is to make school your top priority. You’re investing tens-of-thousands of dollars in yourself, but if you don’t take advantage of all the resources they are developing and sharing for you, then you’re not making a wise investment.
At the end of each week, I would do a self-evaluation and try to determine how much of the information I retained. If it was less than 70 percent (because be real, there’s no way you’ll be able to remember everything), I would make a note of it and try to work harder the following week. You have to keep yourself in check, especially in an online program, because it’s easy to let life take priority.
Thank you, Mr. Hays, for your excellent insights on the University of Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communication program!