An Interview with Advertising/Marketing Professional, Cheryl Roberts

by Cathy Sivak
An Interview with Advertising/Marketing Professional, Cheryl Roberts

While most people click right by spam e-mail and pop-up ads on the internet, Cheryl Roberts is careful to monitor what she calls "kamikaze marketing." Monitoring new media advertising is all part of her role as advertising and marketing director of the monthly publication Parenting New Hampshire, part of the Telegraph Publishing Company.

A 1995 graduate of Keene State College in southwest New Hampshire, Ms. Roberts received her bachelor's degree in Public Affairs/Journalism, with a minor in English. She tapped into her ad sales experience at the college newspaper level to land her first media position out of college, selling ad space for the local cable network. A consistently recognized performer, her career includes experience in newspaper advertising sales, account management in the computer industry and a stint as the director of admissions at a New Hampshire technical college, where she managed a team of educational sales reps and creating marketing and branding programs to promote the school.

In her current position at Parenting New Hampshire, she sets out to overachieve advertising goals for the magazine as well its niche publications and events, while developing and managing inside and outside advertising account manager in addition to creating new advertising and sponsorship partnerships.

Ms. Roberts enjoys many aspects of her advertising career, including the creativity involved, but it's the ability to "play a key role in the success of someone else's business," that she finds most rewarding, she tells "A good ad isn't the ad that looks like a good ad; a good ad is something that looks like nothing else."

You & Your Career

Tell us about your career in advertising. How did you break into the advertising industry, and how did you advance to where you are today?

I actually went to school for public affairs and journalism, which is writing news and making news. I literally just tried to get in any way I could because there are so few papers in the state. When I graduated, I wanted to get in at the local cable network in any way possible, and the job opening was in ad sales. I stuck with ad sales, because I found out that's where the money and the decent hours were. My friends over in editorial are working day and night, all kinds of hours, so I stuck with the advertising end.

Then I went to the newspaper, the Portsmouth Herald. I developed territories, and that's where I got more interested in the marketing end of what I was doing. For your local "mom and pops" type businesses that don't have ad agencies, their business is not marketing; it's something like selling candy. So as a marketing professional, you're the only person giving them advice on areas like "how do your brand yourself" and "how do you get yourself out there." I found I enjoyed being a part of that.

From there, I got into some pure marketing positions. But it wasn't too many years before I got into the newspaper and publishing business, which I love. Parenting New Hampshire is a monthly magazine, and it's almost like a completely different world than the daily or weekly newspaper. You get a chance to spec your ads out, look at the ad layouts, and proof them. Plus, it's such a warm fuzzy niche market that you're dealing with, working with businesses like toy stores, kindergartens, and clowns who go to kid's birthday parties. In this role, I manage seven sales reps, two graphic artists and an ad manager. One of goals I set was to expand our territories. In New Hampshire; roughly 90% of population in within 100 square miles south of Concord. The state has 600 square miles, with the North Country made up mainly of small towns and rural areas with tiny populations. But that means there are lots of small elementary schools; my goal with Parenting, is to truly be statewide, and to have it distributed through every elementary school in the state.

What do you enjoy most about your career? Your current position as Marketing and Advertising Sales Director of Parenting New Hampshire?

What I love most about working in advertising is that I like the creativity of it, and being able to play a key role in the success of someone else's business. What I like about Parenting New Hampshire is that it's a great product, a great magazine for parents; we get so many letters of appreciation, it's just a warm fuzzy place to work.

Describe a typical day of work for you. What are your key responsibilities?

A typical day would be coming in, cleaning up voicemail, email, organizing with the team to look at what we're working on for our customers, looking at ad specs, doing the necessary follow-up. By mid-day, it's usually calling on new accounts - I usually like to go out to new accounts with a spec ad or spec campaign based on research that I've done on, so that we have a talking point rather that saying, "yeah, you should work with us," I can say. "This is what we can do for your business."

Then I head back into the office toward the end of the day, make more contacts, check voicemail, email and reporting on the status of various accounts and ads. We have deadlines for month, so at some points during the month I'm making sure proofs are out in time. We actually get to see a pre-run of the paper before mass production, which means we are editing every line, every inch of it.

A lot of my responsibility is follow-up work, making sure our accounts are happy, building solid book of businesses. We handle accounts from inception of the ad to placement to printing.

What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? Favorite gadget?

When I originally entered the advertising world, I did not have a computer. They thought most of my job should be getting out and meeting with clients, not sitting in front of the computer. Everything was done with sticky notes and file folders. Now, I can't imagine what it would be like to work that way. I love the e-mail, the cell phone. I can go out and call on customers, yet still be accessible.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

The finished product. I love it when the magazine comes out. Maybe it's a pride thing, because on the masthead on the inside front cover, I'm at the top of the list. But it's a good product, and it's nice to see it completed.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job? What causes you the most anxiety?

I think it's the 80/20 rule you have anywhere: that is where 80 percent of your business and money comes from 20 percent of your clients, but meanwhile the other 80 percent of the clients take up so much of your time. It's all about balancing. Sometimes you have a less-expensive add, $44, and not that you don't got the extra mile for that ad, but sometimes it take three man hour days to complete, whereas the full page ad comes in from another client's agency camera ready.

We have a lot of niche publications, too, like our Guide to Life after High School in New Hampshire; we do other specialty publications, and we're also the publications centers for other papers and vendors, who come to us to get published. It's all about managing your time, deciding "how much do I dedicate to this project."

You have consistently been recognized as a top performer throughout your career in advertising. What is your personal key to success?

My personal key is just that I've never been uncomfortable talking to anybody; whether it is the CEO of Coca Cola or Dolly of Dolly's Uptown Pony Rides. Everyone is just person, so it's a matter of being comfortable on the marketing calls. Everyone is human.

What do you consider your greatest achievements in advertising sales thus far? Biggest setback?

August is always our largest edition of Parenting, because it's our back to school edition. Every year, the advertising goal is set at a percentage over last year. At the same time, for years, newspaper advertising and print in general has been falling off as the Internet has grown. So, for a 13-year-old publication to have best year ever and to come at 200% above a goal is huge; while other people are bleeding, we're doing pretty good. That's the rewarding part.

My biggest setback probably was back when I was working at Portsmouth Herald newspaper. I was working there right as the economy was cracking. It was tough in that environment, working an existing category, and saturating your resources; people were afraid to spend, it was around the time of 9-11, so people were in the "repackage yourself, re-pitch yourself" mode. It was a difficult time. Some of it is economy driven; there were a lot of business closing up, going away, plus a lot of our non-profits had fallout, where donations went down.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

My personal goal is to own my own publication at some point; I'll settle for being publisher of one of the Telegraph subsidiaries. But I'd like start my own publication, and operate a New Hampshire-based magazine focusing on the children, not the parents. We don't really have anything that hits the needs of the 5-to-15 year olds.

You are a member of professional advertising organizations including the Northeast Classified Advertising Managers Association and Parenting Publications of America. How is such membership important to your career?

The biggest thing is that you get to sit down and bounce things off of each other in a non-competitive environment. We all have different experiences but common issues, things like what is doing to our classifieds, e-bay to our goods ads. We bounce ideas around, talk about campaigns, what works, how to support it.

Networking is also important, though in New Hampshire, there are only four dailies in the whole state. It seems that everybody that I work with here, at some point, I've worked with somewhere else. There is really no room to burn bridges in a small market!

Who has served as the biggest inspirations for your career?

My first hiring manager in print was Derek Wood, he was a big inspiration. He was in his late 60s and started working in the newspaper industry at the age of 5. He used to thread the press in England and his hands were mangled, that's what they used the kids for. He was funny and positive - he had seen the industry evolve through so many ages.

Is it important to be passionate about advertising in order to be successful on a professional level? A personal level?

I think it is. You can't help anybody be successful if you just don't care about what you're doing. You're not helping your customer, you're not helping you're company, you're not helping yourself. You really have to be wholehearted about what we do to be successful.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your education in the field of advertising. What did you like and dislike about your education?

The biggest thing for me was in order to be successful in advertising, is that you need to be able to communicate. You need to know how to think, you need to know how to present and you need to know how to write. Those were was the core things I brought away from my education, plus general business sense from my marketing and other classes.

As a student, I enjoyed that I had the traditional college, 4-yr liberal arts school, experience. I think needed that time to develop socially and educationally, to use the four years to get my head on straight, so I didn't go out and look like a donkey. But in retrospect, I wish I could have concentrated more on the skills I wanted to use, vs. some of the classes I took. I might have done better at a career-focused school, where I could have had internships lined up, etc.

How has your education benefited your career in the field of advertising?

In a lot of ways, it's given me the groundwork to communicate and present myself to so that I can actually go out and get that job. Another thing is the network I developed. It's not only the education, but the connections that you make. For instance, my counterpart in advertising on the newspaper side of the business was my roommate in college.

I worked for the school newspaper, I was a columnist and I was the editor; everyone who worked for the paper sold ads. Most of the support I got was from my advertising and marketing and business classes. That's what you really learn things like how to brand yourself, why to brand yourself, how to choose what to advertise and knowing your target audience.

How did you find a school?

By talking to my high school guidance counselor. I grew up not far from the University of New Hampshire, and I thought that was where I was going to go, because everybody went there. They had communications program, but they didn't have a journalism program. If I would have gone there, it would have been sort of a hybrid independent study-type program. I had to stay in state because I am one of a million children, for affordability.

At Keene State, I loved the size of the journalism program, plus it was far enough from home, but close enough I could go home for the weekend and do laundry, get groceries from my parents, you know!

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing an advertising program?

I think another is not just the program, but if its offers career placement after you graduate. The faculty is important, look at the journalism professors and advisors: Who teaches? Have they been recognized? You don't necessarily need your degree to be successful to work in the field, but if you get your degree with all instructors who have taught for 20 years, rather than working in the field, it makes a huge difference.

Are there different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in a certain area?

The word advertising is too general - not even the media, it depends on what aspect are you looking at; being a graphic designer, managing accounts, marketing strategy; there are so many pieces within that word.

If you're artistic, but you don't have lots of people skills, you don't want to deal with the public, so you should look into the graphics, web design end of the business.

If you are a people person, work toward the marketing and account management end of the business; whether you are at a newspaper, ad agency, radio or Internet. You need to be able to be the face on the business or the production end of the business. If you want to be on the front end, you need to have an artistic eye, an artistic sense, creative, but be comfortable letting others deliver. You can't do it all, but you need to know enough to be dangerous, such as the basics of design, the software, formatting, etc.

How can prospective advertising students assess their skill and aptitude?

Grab a magazine, a newspaper or a web site, and see what captures your eye. The best way to be good at advertising is to be a consumer, and to see what appeals to you, and look through those eyes, not from the other way, but as a consumer looking in.

What can students applying to advertising programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?

If you've got any artwork you've done yourself, any research, or examples of any publications you've worked on, that will help. I'd suggest you get involved in your high school newspaper, your yearbook and your school website.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs?

At UNH, the Whittemore School of Business and Economics is rated as No 7 in the country, it has a great reputation. In my area; we're 45 miles out of Boston and all of the top-ranked schools there, and close to Ithaca N.Y.; there are so many great schools within a hundred miles.

Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?

Yes and no. As someone who hires and interviews recent graduates all the time, the most important thing I see is to know that the degree helps, but it is more important how well written their resume is, how motivated they are, and how they solicit you in terms of calling and following up.

A well-written resume that shows not only your degree, but also your actual work experience; it doesn't necessarily need to be in the field, long-term work experience shows a high work ethic, and that's always attractive. I would rather see somebody who worked at the pharmacy as a cashier for their four years of college, rather than a multiple short term jobs that were kind of related to the degree that they kind of worked at. The degree combined with the work ethic will result in a job.

What do you know today, that in retrospect, you wish you knew before you pursued your education and career in the field of advertising?

I wish I had stayed in school and gone through for my master's degree in marketing while I had still the discipline. A good business background is so important, no matter what your major is. Whether you are working for a newspaper or a magazine or whether you are teaching, you are providing a service. The more well-versed you are in business, the more successful you will be.

What further advice can you offer to prospective students thinking about an education and career in advertising and marketing?

The biggest thing is to always be aware of what the next media is. We concentrate on ad design in print and TV and radio. But so many people get their information from the Internet right now, and it's important to think about what that is going to look like in five years. I'd suggest students embrace the new technology, and try to think of where it is going to be in the future, so that what you are doing can be supportive of instead of hurt by the next wave.

Industry Information & Trends

On a basic level, what skills do a successful career in advertising and marketing demand?

From the ad management end, you need great communication skills, you need a good understanding of design and marketing in terms of branding and repetition and how to create a marketing plan.

From the design aspect, you need to know the state-of-the art programs, like Adobe and In Design; you need to know how to create a PDF; you need to know Quark. Basically you need to know the technical aspects, and also be comfortable in changing things up. A good ad isn't the ad that looks like a good ad; a good ad is something that looks like nothing else.

What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students who specialize in advertising sales and marketing?

There are so many areas. Looking internally here, we have entry level as a graphic artist, junior media buyer, or an account manager. An account manager at the paper or ad agency level is the person that talks to Coca-Cola and lays out a plan for them; the media buyer then seeks out ad purchases from the newspaper, TV, etc. From that, you can work your way up to getting more creative, getting more into a management role, developing territories, etc.

What is the current advertising job market like? What areas will emerge as hot advertising specialties over the next five years?

Right now, all newspapers are creating new media. What used to be one webmaster is now an entire department called new media, and it's all about making sure the publication or TV station is supported by a web site that complements rather than takes away from the actual product. For instance, we'll have stories on our web site that aren't in the publication, and some that refer back and forth between the mediums, so that you're hitting different generations. The Internet is hitting the younger generation; the average newspaper reader is the 55-year-old male, so using the web site can embrace all potential audiences.

What are the best ways to get a job in the advertising field? How available are internships?

Internships at local newspapers, either paid internships or for-credit internships, are readily available. Internships are very important, because of the connections you make. Not only for future network, but it allows you to test drive a career before you jump in. You might not know if you want to be a graphic artist or an account manager or a buyer. As an intern, you get to learn with no expectations.

What is the average salary for your field? What type of compensation structure should a recent advertising program graduate expect? What are people at the top of the profession paid?

In New Hampshire, where we have no sales tax or income tax and we have relatively low real-estate costs, the dollar goes a little further here. Here, the average entry level account manager or graphic artist would be in the $35,000 range; the account manger should average to $1,500 to $2,000 per month, with bonuses they can be making $50-55,000 within the first two years in field. Then obviously, as they take on larger territories, special projects, or become regional mangers, the salary goes up. We can design all we want, but if we sell that design, it trickles down to everybody at the question. Publishers, at the top, can expect to make around $120,000.

What are some of the trends that you see which could help advertising students plan for the future?

Trends would be getting up to speed and being aware of what you are looking at when you are on the Internet. Pay attention to your ads, the banner ads, and read your spam. These are all kamikaze marketing schemes. Be aware of what you're disregarding.

Do advertising professionals typically use specialized computer programs? If so, how important is it for graduating students to be well-versed with these programs?

MSOffice, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook; you need to be able to use Outlook planner, Excel to manage accounts and commissions, and you need to be able to create presentations and letters and documents for your customers. It's also important to just have a basic familiarity with the Internet, how to find information, to dig up information on people who are potential advertisers.

Has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?

The big thing is that in advertising, you can look at it as a threat or you can embrace it and use it to figure out how to complement what you're doing. With the publications here, the Internet is designed to complement the paper, enhance circulation, to drive readers from the paper to site. The Internet enhances the speed in which you can get information out to people, and increase the scope of the paper, which has typically been reaching only your older audience.

What are some of the top challenges in facing advertising professionals over the next decade?

There are so many. The big thing is there are so many different avenues to get your message out: direct mail, internet, newspapers, circular, TV, radio, there are so many options. The challenge is making sure people perceive the value in the printed word, in the web site, and making sure you are putting products out there that are adding to the value, not just adding to noise.

What are some common myths about your profession?

I think it is that people who go into it think its entry level. Really, people are lifers, either publishing is in your blood or not. You know right away whether or not you are cut out for a daily paper.

Best advertising sales tip for a novice?

Be a shopper. Think about what appeals to you, and don't be afraid to give advice based on what your findings are. When you are in business, you're thinking about how to run your business instead of thinking about the people who are on the outside of it who are you potential consumers. You've removed yourself too far from the front lines. Be real, be yourself and be honest about appeals to you .

What other career advice can you offer advertising school graduates who want to stand out from the crowd?

To be successful in advertising, you need to be able to take multiple approaches, and that includes with getting a job. Whether it's walking in and shaking a hand, making a call, sending a resume, mailing a resume, a full court press always works. A little bit of everything will get someone to bite, vs. doing the same thing over and over again.

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the world of advertising that would be interesting or helpful to students?

The biggest thing is marketing and advertising is the whole "if the tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really happen?" That's the whole thing about advertising. If you do all of these great things, and offer all these great products, but nobody sees it, it didn't happen.

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