Our next interviewee for our ongoing blog series featuring higher education leaders is Professor Donna Wertalik from Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Professor Wertalik holds a Master of Science in Marketing and a Graduate Certification in Social Media and Data Analysis. She has years of industry experience and is the recipient of many National Telly Awards, VSMPR Awards and other impressive recognitions.
In our interview, Professor Wertalik discusses how she entered this profession, her role in the marketing industry in and outside of Virginia Tech, and her insights on where marketing is heading.
1. How long have you been teaching marketing?
I have been in marketing for twenty-six years, earning my undergrad at FDU in New Jersey and my master’s at Southern New Hampshire University. The “spark” was a professor in a marketing class, “Prof. Randy,” who presented the material and concepts in such an engaging manner. It hit me that I could combine what I truly loved and what I was pretty skilled at.
2. What is your favorite course to teach and why?
My favorite courses to teach are upper level social media and data analytics, as well as MBA level. The latest brands and information, all backed by data insights, constantly informs education and propels us forward.
3. Tell me a little bit about yourself (education background, any other relevant work experience). What types of organizations are you involved in?
I am a NY’er (NU YAWKA), and after UG, worked for Nestle and was the highest sales rep after three months when I took over an abandoned territory of 300+ stores. Working for Nestle provided me major insights on Big Brands. But, the spark hit again and I began to look at labels and packaging and wondered who handled that and how I could get involved.
That led me to my first advertising position for an in-house healthcare firm. The team was small and I wore multiple hats, but “cut my teeth” as they say, and learned every part of the advertising business. My career then moved to healthcare and I was part of the team that launched the first DTC (direct to consumer) for Claritin at the time.
My favorite role was when I was a VP, Account Supervisor at The Quantum Group (now Ogilvy Commonheath) and worked on some of the world’s largest brands, including DOVE Real Beauty. That opportunity continues to stay with me today.
So, perhaps you are wondering… how did I go from New York to Blacksburg, Virginia at Virginia Tech? Well, I call them pause moments in my life and 9/11 was one of those. A few years after 9/11, my husband, my 2-year-old and I went down to Blacksburg for an opportunity for my husband. I continued to work with Ogilvy virtually for the next two years. After that, I started my own advertising firm (Speak Advertising – A Voice for Every Brand) and began to lecture at VT. I had an amazing boss who encouraged me to go back to get my master’s, which led to the last eleven years at VT, which have been extraordinary.
As it relates to digital, I founded the first interdisciplinary student-run, faculty-led organization in 2010, called Prism. We are now funded with $100k and work with real world clients and have won national and international awards. In addition, we have a 100% placement of our seniors and 95% for internships. We recruit and usually have 200 students apply and only take 20.
You can visit our Prism website and learn about the organization and our recent interview from the New York Times about the organization and its “influence” on and offline.
4. Where do you feel the future of marketing, particularly digital, is heading?
Finally, as it relates to the digital space and beyond, all things are relative, but we are in a time-poor society where relevance and timeliness are critical. The current state and future of marketing continues to excite me.
In class, we discuss data and how we are tracked before we are born. Consider the multi-million points of data. We are tracked visually, virtually and through our voice and other behaviors. Voice analytics is a huge growing area with the arrival of home devices, and this will only continue to weave into the normal consumer’s world. I think we still have a long way to go with VR and how much this could impact every industry. Consider a hotel in New York and a VR set left on your bed so you can visit their property in Hawaii – Marriott actually did this – and so much more is to come, smell, feel and experience through VR. Gaming is also an exploding area.
I weave so much into class and have been working on setting up Siri or Alexa in my class to teach to the students. The Gen A group are ones to watch because by 2050 they will be the largest population. Watching the younger minds and how they work interdisciplinary educates us on the future and the need to be agile and inclusive.