From Printing Presses to Lecture Halls: Kourtny Shaw's Journey to Director of Marketing at Southwestern Illinois College

April 17, 2024

Kourtny Shaw is a digital marketing powerhouse whose career criss-crossed numerous sectors. With a BA in marketing and communication from Boston University and an MA in new media and digital production from Webster University, Kourtny has built an impressive skillset which underpins her extensive in-the-field experience.

Her professional journey kicked off at Mark Andy Inc. where she was a marketing specialist. Later, she dove deeper into the digital realm and took up a position as digital marketing analyst at CCA Global Partners. Kourtny further honed her tech-centric marketing expertise at 3Cloud, an IT consulting company. Alongside her corporate roles, she's made waves as a senior-level consultant for Right Side Up, a marketplace for freelance marketing talent.

Currently, Kourtny holds a pivotal role in academia as the Director of Public Information, Communications, and Marketing at Southwestern Illinois College. With over a decade of experience driving omnichannel marketing efforts for local brands, national franchises, and global manufacturing brands, Kourtny brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to every endeavor.

Beyond her professional achievements, Kourtny is a proud mom to a 4-year-old daughter and four dogs. She enjoys reading and spending time outdoors with her family.

Check out our conversation with Kourtny here:

Q: What led you to pursue a career in marketing after initially considering journalism?

A: I originally wanted to go into journalism, but after speaking with people in the program who advised against it saying journalism was dying, I decided to explore other options. Marketing seemed like a natural fit because I've always been creative and good at balancing the analytical and fun sides. I was drawn to marketing campaigns that stood out, like Samsung's "It's not just a galaxy" campaign, which I found to be evergreen and impressive in its ability to touch all of their product lines.

Q: What strategies did you employ in your job search early in your career?

A: Before landing my role at Mark Andy, I worked at a local swim school doing basic marketing like social media, guerilla marketing, and creating flyers. It was challenging because I had to learn a lot on my own, but it helped build my confidence in putting together campaigns and hitting the "go" button, even if I was unsure.

When actively job searching, I was on Indeed and LinkedIn almost every day, applying and interviewing for things I wasn't necessarily qualified for. I just kept going through the process until something stuck. Working with recruiters was easier because of the human connection - you're not just another piece of paperwork in a pool.

Q: How did your experience at Mark Andy shape your digital marketing skills?

A: At Mark Andy, a global manufacturing brand for printing presses, I did a lot of sales enablement, trade shows, and events. It sounds boring, but seeing the creativity behind label making for products you see every day in the grocery store was kind of cool.

That's also when we started seeing a huge shift towards digital marketing. You either had to get on board or get out. The VP of Marketing there was really good at empowering the team to be creative, take ownership of product lines, and put together robust marketing campaigns. A lot of it was finding resources, looking at what competitors were doing, and seeing what marketing agencies were putting out there.

Q: What key skills did you develop in your roles at CCA Global Partners and 3Cloud?

A: At CCA Global Partners, I really dove into the analytical side of digital marketing. I worked heavily with SEO, analytics, paid search - things I had only briefly touched before. I had to learn very quickly how to navigate tools in the Google Marketing Suite and Adobe. That's really where my career took off, getting deep into the tech side of marketing.

3Cloud, being an IT consulting company, further reinforced my tech-centric marketing skills. Working in that environment, you have to be able to hold your own in technical conversations and understand how marketing intersects with and supports the tech side of the business.

Q: What factors do you consider when deciding between agency-side and brand-side marketing roles?

A: I'm a corporate/brand side person all the way. On the agency side, you have so much going on and so many clients to juggle. I've done both in my consulting work. I just think it's easier to fully wrap your head around one succinct brand than to have multiple things going at the same time, especially with the fast pace when you're young and learning. Some people do better with the slower, singular focus.

The downside of brand-side is you don't get to experiment with multiple brands and companies like you would at an agency. So it depends on what pace you want and what kind of variety you're looking for in your work. Agency-side can be great for exposure early in your career, but long-term, many marketers prefer the depth of focus on the brand side.

Q: What are the unique challenges of marketing in higher education, particularly for a community college?

A: Higher ed marketing is interesting because you're dealing with a very long sales cycle. You're not just trying to get a student to enroll, but to stay engaged and successful through graduation, which could be a 2-4 year journey. Measuring the impact of your marketing efforts over that long of a time horizon is challenging.

Community colleges face additional hurdles because we're often competing with the allure of 4-year schools. We have to work extra hard to communicate our value proposition - the combination of quality education, affordability, flexibility, and community impact that community colleges offer. It's not just about getting students in the door, but making sure they understand how starting at a community college can be a smart path to their long-term goals.

Q: How are you approaching the evolution of Southwestern Illinois College's brand to resonate with today's prospective students?

A: It's really a challenge because you have many people who have been with the school for a long time and want to stay traditional. But they're also recognizing, and I'm helping them see, that we need to push forward to stay top of mind with students. Gen Z and those that follow are very media-centric. It's a different game and we have to stay up to date or we'll get lost.

What sold me on the role was their willingness to find someone to take them in a new direction. The person I replaced was a PR and communications person, not a digital marketer. The fact that digital marketing expertise was what they were looking for showed they had the right mindset.

The pain points we're working through now are getting buy-in and pushing past the fear of change. It's about assuring them that I've got this, we're going to do great things, and if it doesn't work, it's not the end of the world. Building that trust is key.

Q: How do you approach building trust and buy-in for digital transformation in a risk-averse organization?

A: Building trust and getting buy-in for digital transformation in a risk-averse organization like higher ed requires a balance of vision and pragmatism. You have to paint a compelling picture of where digital marketing can take the organization in terms of reach, engagement, and ultimately enrollment and student success. But you also have to meet stakeholders where they are and bring them along on the journey.

It's important to start with small, measurable wins to demonstrate the value of digital marketing and build confidence. As you rack up successes, you can gradually push for bigger changes. Constant communication and education are also key - the more you can demystify digital marketing and tie it to the organization's goals, the more buy-in you'll get.

Ultimately, it's about building relationships and showing that you're in it together. When stakeholders see that you're not just chasing shiny objects but are strategically using digital to drive meaningful results, that's when you really start to gain traction.

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