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Eastern communication majors tell it like it is

Published on March 01, 2021

Eastern communication majors tell it like it is

In the age of social media and Google ads the need for competent and ethical professionals in the public relations and advertising fields has never been greater. Today’s consumers deserve and demand accurate information about the products they purchase. A number of Eastern Connecticut State University alumni in the mass communications field are using their Eastern education to keep the public informed of daily life in America while also promoting their clients’ goods and services in the marketplace.

Hughes
Hughes

Cecelia Hughes ’09 serves as senior manager of operations and CEO of communications at Cigna in California, where she is responsible for supporting operational and communication needs for Cigna’s president and CEO.

Hughes found a home in Eastern’s Communication Department when she moved to Connecticut from North Carolina to attend college. She said the most impactful experience she had during her time at Eastern was sitting on the national board of the Public Relations Student Society of America as the vice president of internships and jobs.

After graduating from Eastern, Hughes received her M.A. in Media, Culture and Communications at New York University, with study abroad experiences at the London School of Economics and the University of Hong Kong. She later worked for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York and the Boston University School of Social Work and served as a regional crisis communications specialist for Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Hughes will soon celebrate five years with Cigna, which she says has been a remarkable and rewarding experience. “I’m beyond passionate about the work I do, and to this day, I still tell people that I received a better education at Eastern than any other place. Professors Ayeni, Gómez and Jahandarie sparked a fire in me that I’m not sure I would have ever found had I not made the decision to attend Eastern.”

Todd Buckholt’12 is a senior copywriter at DraftKings in Boston. He creates ads and marketing communications for DraftKings Daily Fantasy Sports, Sportsbook and Casino products across a range of channels — broadcast, digital web banners, social media, email and app notifications. Buckholt is responsible for all copy written on DraftKings websites, apps and promotional landing pages. He develops and shapes the tone of voice for the DraftKings brand and ensures that it is used consistently across all channels.

Buckholt
Buckholt

After graduating with his master’s degree from Boston University, Buckholt was hired as a copywriter at PJA Advertising/Marketing agency in Cambridge, MA. There, he worked with numerous clients across several industries — financial services, health sciences, pharmaceutical companies, internet security, cloud storage, mobile/cellular phones, camera companies and restaurants. He has been at DraftKings for the past three and a half years, a job that “combines my passion for sports and writing/advertising; it’s pretty much a dream job for me.”

Buckholt says his Eastern education helped him pursue many areas outside of his comfort zone. “One of the most important things for copywriters is to be able to dig in and learn everything you can about the brands and clients you’re working on. And 99 percent of the time you don’t get to pick your clients. Being required to take classes I probably wouldn't have taken otherwise while at Eastern forced me to hone my research skills, allowed me learn new things and played a pivotal role in my career.”

Little
Little

Gabrielle Little’14, of Glastonbury, serves as a media relations specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., where she writes media advisories, op-eds and press releases about new research, events or important hospital announcements. She also develops and cultivates relationships with members of online media, print and broadcast outlets.

Little said the hole to squeeze a story into news or print is getting smaller, making it tough to get ink or airtime these days. But she has learned to think creatively about angles on a story to succeed in securing press coverage. She recalled her first national media hit.

She had tried everything to get press coverage on a bone marrow donor, a Central Connecticut State University football player, and his relationship with his donor recipient, a 2-year-old patient at the hospital. “For weeks, I pitched the story locally and no one picked it up. I was frustrated because I thought it was a perfect piece that would melt the hearts of the public, but my pitch was constantly ignored or declined.”

Little realized she needed a different approach and learned the football player was flying down to Washington D.C., to plan a surprise birthday party for his young friend.  “I helped him plan the party at our hospital and re-pitched the story to local and national media outlets. This time local media outlets flooded my email with coverage requests. In addition, the story was picked up by national media including CNN’s Headline News. I will always remember this experience because it forced me to enhance my relationship building and storytelling skills and think strategically when pitching to the media.”

Communicating effectively and thinking critically and strategically were crucial skills Little said Eastern’s liberal arts education taught her. “These skills are invaluable for a public relations practitioner and help me daily in my role.”

Busch
Busch

Tracy Busch ’16 serves as executive director and vice president for space150 New York, a New York City-based, tech-driven creative agency. Her work spans social media marketing to ecommerce platform building to production and growth marketing. 

As executive director, Busch oversees operations, growth and client relations. This includes revenue forecasting, cost management, business development and organic growth. In addition, she is an executive sponsor for space150’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee’s Diverse Workforce subcommittee. During the pandemic, Busch has worked hard to introduce new products while keeping her teams motivated as they work remotely.

Busch said she is also focusing attention on mental wellness. “It’s always been important to me that people take time for themselves, and now more than ever, people need to feel encouraged to take that time away from work to focus on their personal needs. In addition, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there’s been increased focus on diversity and inclusion that has been needed for quite some time. Our industry is wildly unbalanced and inequitable. We simply must do better to recruit, nurture, promote and pay diverse talent.

“My Eastern education armed me with transferable skills that allowed me to shift away from traditional public relations and into social media marketing, a job that didn’t even exist formally until years after my education. I think this is important because today, research is telling us that more than 75 percent of high school students will hold jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Busch said it was Professor Christopher Ayeni’s passion for public relations that drew her into the field. “He created a safe space for us to fail and was always pushing us to think bigger. When I say ‘us,’ I am thinking of the close-knit group of students that literally sought out his courses year after year. Together, we reinstated the PRSSA chapter at Eastern; traveled to Miami and have continued to support each other in our careers years over the years.”

Russell
Russell

Stephen Russell ’06 serves as an account director at Wireside Communications, a Boston-based, award-winning strategic communications, marketing and public relations agency focused on the consumer and business-to-business technology sectors. Russell works with clients on day-to-day external and internal communications strategy and execution, messaging development, marketing strategy and external communications, to increase brand awareness and internal communications.

After graduation, Russell worked for six years at Racepoint Global, a public relations agency in Boston, before joining Waltham, MA-based Constant Contact, working as a part of the external communications team.

“Each of those roles provided me with new experiences, enhancing my skill set beyond external communications to include internal communications, customer marketing and content marketing. I feel very fortunate to have had those experiences and take them to my current role at Wireside, where we have expanded our capabilities and team to offer a complete set of services mapping to what brands most need today — communications strategy based on a deep understanding of technology, consumer trends and the influencer landscape.”

“I actually started my journey at Eastern thinking I was going to go into radio or television broadcasting. About a year and a half into taking those classes, I realized that field wasn’t for me. To be honest, I didn’t know where to go from there… I think back at conversations with professors in the Communications department and they really helped guide me, suggesting that I take a class or two on public relations. What was great is that the suggestion didn’t come out of the blue. It came because they knew me, my personality and what field could be a great fit for me.”

His advice to students interested in a career in communications is to work at a public relations agency early on, for several reasons. “First, you have the opportunity to work on a few different accounts with clients in different industries. This provides the experience of learning many different industries and markets at once and helps you determine over time the industries and markets that you are most passionate about. At an agency you are also placed on a few different teams, providing the experience of working with many different personality types and working styles. Finally, agencies are fast-paced environments, providing the experience of working on multiple initiatives and projects at once — you learn fast!

Agyemang
Agyemang

Nana Agyemang ’13 is leaving her mark across Africa as founder and campaign strategist for Arba Stature, a Namibia-based creative solution agency designed to help private and development sector businesses accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. “We offer African solutions to African problems.”

After earning her Communication degree at Eastern, Agyemang earned her master’s degree in Global Marketing Communications and Advertising at Emerson College. Returning to Africa, she has worked for some of Africa’s biggest brands in roles ranging from marketing specialist to advertising account manager and strategist.

This involves various industries, including luxury fashion and concierge, social impact, food and beverage and development communications. “Together, we have multiple years of cross-industry, international experience, having worked with clients in several countries, including Namibia, Ghana, South Africa, the United States, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia.

“I made a conscious decision to work on both the client and agency sides, with jobs at a leading corporate bank, and then at an award-winning agency. These roles entailed everything from brand management, project management and strategy, to campaign execution and experiential design.”

Agyemang said Eastern was a phenomenal experience for her. “It was much more than a liberal arts education. It presented me a plethora of options when I started working, because — having learned so much about everything — I was well positioned among other job candidates. Eastern is an ecosystem that can catapult any student into a life and career of fulfilment and success.”

Wilson
Wilson

Noreen Wilson ’08, who earned her Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Albertus Magnus College, serves as a marketing producer for Voya Financial. She is responsible for utilizing consumers insights to develop and execute marketing strategies. “It is up me to understand the needs of our consumers as it regards retirement, so I am proactively looking for opportunities to improve the consumer experience through the lens of business needs. I also manage project plans, and maintain general awareness of other content projects and initiatives to help identify how our current work can be more efficient.”

Wilson has fond memories of Eastern. “From the professors to the students, the lessons that I learned at Eastern have carried me to where I am today. . . Not every class nor every professor was my favorite, but each provided me with instrumental lessons that are immeasurable in my career.”

Gregory Shimer ’93 has done it all in public relations and advertising. He currently serves as business development director for the Rebel Interactive Group, a full-service marketing agency in Southington.

At Eastern, Shimer was editor of the Campus Lantern. “I started working right out of school with local newspapers such as the Reminder. It was my job to open up new regions, meet new businesses, understand communities, build relationships and grow the paper each year. I moved to the Providence Phoenix for a time and learned a great deal more about partnerships and promotions thru my first mentor who was an old radio guy.”

Shimer
Shimer 

In 2001, Shimer launched his own ad agency and worked out of his home. “I had about a dozen full-time clients and got to be there for my kids every day while they were growing up. I worked with motorcycle dealerships, renaissance fairs, racetracks, movie theatres, construction companies and more. I built my first website in 2001, bought one of the first Facebook ads in 2003 and was Google Certified as far back as 2005.”

Later positions included working for WebMD, Rugsale.com, owned by the Kaoud family, and Staples. In January 2018 Shimer joined Rebel.

Shimer said Eastern’s liberal arts education taught him the value of networking and community, the value of being curious about everything and that learning rarely happens just in the classroom — “it happens all around you.”

“There were lessons at every turn, which is the point isn’t it? College isn’t about facts and figures; the true lesson is learning how to learn when there is no clear path, no instructor. The true gift of a college experience is eternal curiosity.”

Prior to graduating, Melissa Walters ’13 served as president of the American Advertising Federation student club her junior and senior year. While working at her first job out of school, she took night classes and completed a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications at New York University.

Her company was acquired by Solvay, a chemical giant based in Belgium, and she now combines her graphic design and social media skills in a new role. “Since the end of 2018, I’ve taken on a global manager position focused on social media — from social strategy development to listening to the conversations on our brand equity, social advertising on channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and consulting the global communications teams on their individual social strategies for their respective markets and brands.”

Written by Dwight Bachman