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Blair Zimelis (IMC16)

Senior Strategist at The Marketing Arm

Blair Zimelis credits the Northwestern Medill Integrated Marketing Communications master’s program as the reason she got to where she is today in her career. The classes she took gave her the process she uses every day in her job as a senior strategist for The Marketing Arm. During Immersion Quarter, Zimelis was able to apply what she learned in the classroom for the first time.

Tell us about your career path.

At Medill, I learned that I could combine my interests in human behavior and marketing into the role of a brand strategist. I took classes in consumer insights, brand strategy, media economics and so much more all tailored to the role of a brand strategist. The real-world experience of the Immersion Quarter and in-class projects showed me what it was like to work in this type of role. The program gave me a strong portfolio of real work to show as I was interviewing at The Marketing Arm for my role as a strategist and now senior strategist.

What are your main responsibilities at The Marketing Arm?

I am responsible for developing creative solutions that matter for our clients’ business problems. Day-to-day, I develop the strategy that guides our creative work. I look at consumer data and cultural trends to craft strategies, stories and business plans for my clients. I work with creative and account service teams to extend our marketing campaigns across multiple channels including broadcast, online video, social, audio, digital and more. I work with our impact strategists to learn from past performance to optimize future creative work. I also manage a team of strategists who keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on with consumers and culture that will affect our clients’ business.

How did the Medill IMC program prepare you for your job?

The Medill IMC program gave me the process of art and science that I use on a daily basis: identify the problem we’re solving from data and research, uncover consumer insights and find a focus for our creative solutions that will actually move the needle. The program also taught me how to turn that process into a story that inspires others and sells our creative work.

What did you do during Immersion Quarter?

I helped determine causes in unstable enrollment for Outward Bound, a provider of experiential and outdoor education programs. The opportunity gave me real, hands-on experience as a strategist that I could share with potential employers in my job search. The project with Outward Bound was my first time applying the process that I learned from IMC to many of the same real business problems and situations that I work through on a regular basis in my current job.

What is a class or experience that sticks out in your mind and why?

Something that sticks out in my mind from IMC that I still repeat today is a quote from Associate Professor John Greening. He always said, “ambiguity is an opportunity.” These are words that help me face every new challenge in my professional and personal life. In my current work, I’m challenged to understand my clients’ business problems with little to no information or direction. Because of these words from John, I embrace the unknown as an opportunity to learn and uncover something new or different, not as a dead end. As a young professional in a new role, it’s easy to get caught up in what you don’t know and let imposter syndrome set in. Learning to embrace ambiguity has empowered me to seize any uncertain task to leave my mark and add value in a new way.  

How has Medill Career Services helped you?

I was connected to The Marketing Arm through the career advisor at Medill. I stayed close to the career adviser throughout the program and she knew the role that I was looking for. The opportunity at The Marketing Arm came to her through one of her contacts and she immediately thought of me for the opening. She put me in touch with the recruiter for the role who helped me prepare for the interview. Starting at The Marketing Arm as a strategist, I used the lessons from the IMC program daily to work my way to where I am today.

What other types of master’s programs did you consider?

I considered an MBA in addition to the Medill IMC program as I was finishing my undergraduate degree. I ultimately chose Medill IMC for several reasons:

What advice would you give to someone considering Medill IMC?

For anyone considering Medill IMC, think about what you want to add to your personal brand and what’s going to help you stand out. Medill IMC has many amazing opportunities in the classes, professional work and extracurricular experiences that it offers. Most importantly, Medill IMC teaches you how to think and embrace challenges in a way that will allow you to add value no matter where you end up.