About Vanessa Matthew: Vanessa Matthew is a New York-based entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in brand building, marketing, and communications. As Founder and CEO of marketing consultancy Brazen Marketer, she helps businesses big and small with marketing strategy, website design, content production, and more. Her background includes roles as Marketing Manager for the Harlem Commonwealth Council, Senior Market Research Analyst at PR agency Ketchum, and Associate Director of Development and Communications for Animal Care Centers of NYC.

Ms. Matthew attended Tufts University for her undergrad, earning a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2005. In 2018, she graduated summa cum laude from the Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at West Virginia University. She is also certified by New York University in Media Management.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?

[Vanessa Matthew] After throwing my graduation cap into the air, and celebrating a job well done at Tufts University, I was off to surgery. As much as I was trying to avoid it, I had to have reconstructive surgery on one of my feet. Six months bed rest with a broken foot sure gives you plenty of time to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life. I remember scouring over job sites to see what career paths interested me the most.

I may have been a political science major, but I did not see myself as a politician at the time. I stumbled upon the title ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ while conducting Internet searches. My mouth dropped open as the position sounded like a dream job. But, when looking at the qualifications, my heart sank. I didn’t have a degree in marketing, journalism, or communications.

Young, and scared of rejection, I looked for jobs with similar responsibilities. Director of Development stuck out to me. It was marketing for nonprofits. I don’t remember why, but I was confident the barrier to entry would be low. The Mount Hope Housing Company (MHHC) welcomed me with open arms.

At MHHC, I learn everything from marketing and fundraising to events and grant writing. Over time, I went up in job titles at other places of employment to become a Senior Development and Communications Officer, Assistant Development and Communications Director, and Acting Development and Communications Director. But, who knew that I was before my time. No one else I spoke to viewed fundraising and marketing as two sides of the same coin in 2006. Years later, some people still don’t.

This disconnect, mainly due to jargon, resulted in unimaginable career obstacles. Namely, the lack of the word ‘marketing’ in my job titles mattered more to most than my achievements. I was determined to overcome this by seeking a formal education in marketing. I started with a certificate in Media Management from New York University. This certificate helped a bit, but the issue with the word ‘marketing’ not being in my title still existed. Sadly, my youthful looks were not working in my favor either.

Time went by, and then one day, I got a call about a market research position. The position had ‘marketing’ in the title, and it was in an area of marketing I wanted to understand better. Sadly, I had to take a deep pay cut, but what else was I to do? I took the position and explored grad school options at the same time. However, the job became demanding very quickly, and I decided not to go to grad school at the time. I was also afraid to take on grad school debt.

I wanted to make sure that any school debt would be worth the investment. When I was ready for grad school, my school selection came down to New York University or West Virginia University. I chose West Virginia University’s Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the online Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at West Virginia University?

[Vanessa Matthew] After a few talks with marketing and human resource directors, I finally decided to go to grad school. According to them, my accomplishments as a self-taught marketer were not enough. Not for me at least. I needed the academic credentials to back up my achievements. This was even after becoming the head of marketing for a nonprofit.

I remember thinking, let me just get this degree so no one can use me not having one against me. I also wondered what I had missed not pursuing a marketing-related degree at Tufts. So, not only was I hoping this degree would open doors for me, but that it would take my marketing to the next level. I needed a program that prioritized a practical education over a theoretical one. WVU provided the precise type of education I was looking for.

Now, I am the owner of the marketing consultancy, Brazen Marketer. Brazen Marketer focuses on brand building and design for real estate developers and nonprofits, although many small businesses also request my services.

[MastersinCommunications.com] How is WVU’s IMC 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?

While the head of a marketing department, I knew I did not have the time to attend classes in person. This program is 100 percent online and provided the flexibility I needed for my schedule. But, flexibility does not mean easy – far from it. Lengthy papers were due weekly. And, class discussion posts were mini-research papers. These assignments are due 4-5 times per week, if you want a 4.0 GPA.

Personally, I did not want to give up too many summers, so I took my classes straight through. Having a plan for the classes I wanted to attend before the start of the program helped immensely. I was able to attend the courses I wanted, and in the order I wanted to take them.

Besides their focus on marketing, I liked course finals the most. For most courses, students finish with a blueprint for a piece of marketing strategy. For example, the final for the social media marketing class is a social media marketing plan. A plan, if done well, one could look back on to develop social media marketing plans for other brands in the future. I found these blueprints, along with course lessons, immediately applicable to work.

As for WVU’s online platform, the courses were not pre-recorded or live. They were all in writing. Assignments and lessons were delivered in writing. Discussions with teachers and classmates were also in writing.

[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?

[Vanessa Matthew] The capstone project was the best class I could have ever taken. The capstone sets the stage for about every marketing client project I have taken on as a consultant. You end the class with a thorough marketing communications plan/proposal for a brand. From learning MROI to brand concept statements and executions, the capstone is challenging. But the professor eased some of the stress. I took the capstone with David Marold who I was able to call for help during “office” hours.

My capstone project advice would be to start the market research component early. Research informs all parts of marketing. Reach out to the organization that will be the focus of your capstone for the contacts you need to speak to as soon as you start the class. You will be in a better position for your capstone the sooner you garner insights from your focus group. I would also conduct phone interviews for more qualitative data if you can.

For my capstone, I created a marketing proposal for the lending institution, the Harlem Entrepreneurial Fund (HEF). HEF wants to brand itself separate from its parent company. Now, HEF is my consulting client, and I am using the plan created during the program to help them with branding.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from WVU’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?

[Vanessa Matthew] I know this is cliché to say, but all the courses I took are proving to be helpful in my current career path. The classes I took included Audience Insights (Ethnography), Brand Equity Management, Campaigns, Creative Strategy and Execution, Emerging Media and Market, Entrepreneurship, IMC, Market Research and Analysis, Social Media Marketing, and Visual Information Design. The only class I haven’t needed to look back on for my current work would be Direct Marketing.

WVU definitely prepared me with the latest developments in marketing communications. But, the tech is always changing, and anyone in marketing must be a lifelong learner to remain ahead. The key is to focus on marketing core principles – know your customers, find out where they are, and speak to them authentically.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the online IMC program at West Virginia University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at WVU or another university?

[Vanessa Matthew] Please do not take the online program lightly or think that it will be easier because it is online. You have to be on top of managing your time. And, to maintain a 4.0 GPA, you have to put in real work and create thoughtful research papers and response posts. For any master’s in communication program, I would definitely encourage you to take classes in market research. Do not skip this class. Again, market research is the foundation of marketing insights, strategies, and creative.

Thank you, Ms. Matthew, for your excellent insights on West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program!