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South by South…Lex?

As music, film and business leaders flocked to the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, last week, business administration professor Amanda Bower was staging her own convergence of creative types on a smaller scale right here in Lexington. In an effort to introduce students to potential career paths in advertising, marketing and promotion, Bower called on five young alumni from major national firms to share their insights on jobs and trends in their industries with students.  Exchanging ideas for the panel on Twitter in the days leading up to the event, Colton Payne, of the Class of 2010, dubbed the meeting “South by SouthLex.”

Payne was the most recent graduate of the group. Now an account coordinator at The Martin Agency in Richmond, he was joined by colleagues and fellow alums Sarah Helms, of the Class of 2007, and Marty Tompkins, of the Class of 2004. Helms is an account executive at the prestigious advertising agency, while Tompkins is a recruiter.

Rounding out the group were Courtney Berry, of the Class of 2005, an account supervisor at the ad agency Euro RSCG Worldwide in New York, and Laura Hornbuckle, of the Class of 2007, a senior account executive at Edelman, a global public relations company, in Washington, D.C.

Bower’s courses in marketing communications and consumer insights have become a breeding ground for budding creatives, and not just in the C-School. Her annual Integrated Marketing Communications class, popularly known as “Ad Class,” takes the form of a simulated ad agency, with each student assigned the role of an agency employee. Students from across the College and Williams School have to apply for positions in the class, which presents its plans for a major national client in a national advertising competition. Last year’s client was State Farm Insurance. This year’s is J.C. Penney.

“Since I got here we’ve been working on developing opportunities for folks interested in advertising, both in terms of related classes and class experiences, changes in the business major, and tapping into resources that we have available as students head towards careers,” said Bower. “I’d done a more informal version of this panel a couple of years ago with Marty Tompkins. It taught people how to think about putting together a resume or cover letter or generally put themselves together for the marketplace. It also dispelled the myths. I wanted to do something like it again.  So when Laura Hornbuckle contacted me and offered to come chat with some students, I took advantage of it and pulled the whole thing together.”

The group spoke to a packed room in the Williams School, sharing their experiences in advertising and PR, as well as tips for the job search. The key take-aways? Be yourself, be prepared to graduate without a job offer in hand, and be prepared to pay your dues. Panelists spoke of the importance of internships, even post-graduate ones, as well as informational interviews and the need to move quickly when the right job presents itself.

As for the other big piece of advice from the panelists? Work the W&L network. All of the alums agreed that W&L is a breeding ground for creative talent, and that they work hard to help fellow graduates get a foot in the door.

“One of the biggest resources we’ve got is our alums, said Bower. “There is a real a golden rule philosophy–how do we help people the way we would like to be helped. Going into the ad or PR world isn’t the same as going into other fields. To have people from the industry, and from different sorts of shops and geographical regions, come in and give the students texture and speak both so realistically and enthusiastically is a real help to them. I hope they learned how to prepare for a career, start a career, and then be successful in it.”

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