The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation – Challenge Accepted

July 26, 2016 by


“Who is Pearl S. Buck?”  That was nearly everyone’s response to me when I mentioned that I’m doing my capstone for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation.

West Virginia University (WVU) gave us Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduates a unique choice between two clients for our final capstone course this particular semester: choose-your-own client or the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation.

Now, I’ve heard of Pearl S. Buck before.  Back in middle school, I read her Pulitzer prize winning novel, “The Good Earth,” with my entire class.  So when I started getting blank stares from friends and family when I mentioned Buck’s name, I was slightly baffled. I realized that I would have a challenge ahead of me.

As a former Peace Corps volunteer and nonprofit employee, I knew how challenging it could be for small, local nonprofits to get the resources they need to sustain themselves.  Choosing the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation capstone course seemed like an amazing opportunity for me to utilize my experience and knowledge of IMC to make a direct impact on a struggling nonprofit.  Plus, I thought that the course would be a slightly easier because the client already had clear goals they wanted us to accomplish. Let me tell you, this course was far from easy.

The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation had some unique challenges that called for some creative marketing solutions. For example, the Foundation wanted to bring more visitors to the Birthplace, however, the Birthplace was located in a town with no restaurants, hotels or decent cellphone service.  Couple that with the fact that almost everyone I talked to hasn’t heard of Pearl S. Buck…and, oh yeah, you only have a $15,000 budget. Ladies and gentlemen, I now present you with your most challenging client!

Surprisingly, even after learning about all of these obstacles, I didn’t find myself stuck in a rut dreading the course. Instead, the challenges motivated me to find practical solutions that the Foundation could use in order to achieve their goals.

I spent a good twenty hours per week for eight weeks developing my IMC plan for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation while working full time as a communications consultant. I learned everything there was to know about Pearl S. Buck, the Birthplace Foundation, the tourist industry in West Virginia, the Foundation’s “competitors”, you name it.  While it was one of the hardest and most stressful points in my life (coming up second to my two-year stint with the Peace Corps), I learned two things:

  1. Challenges drive creativity, and
  2. Sometimes, all you need to do is apply common solutions to different problems.

For some of their goals, all the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation needed was a trifold brochure and more robust content on their social media platforms.  For others, it seemed that they could really benefit from strengthening partnerships they already had with specific organizations. Not everyone needs an app or interactive, mind-blowing website to be a successful.  If the WVU IMC graduate program has taught me anything, it’s that you need to put the right messages in front of the right audience at the right time in the right place.

More than one hundred pages later, I am finally finished with my IMC plan for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and have been invited to present my plan to the Foundation’s board members in the beginning of August.  The entire course has been a tough, yet wonderful learning experience that will, hopefully, help the Birthplace grow into a tourist hot-spot.  I can’t wait to go visit it one day.


Genevieve Williams is a recent graduate of the WVU IMC master’s program with a BFA in Advertising Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Her two-year Peace Corps service as an Education volunteer in Rwanda and experience working as the Marketing and Communications Specialist for the nonprofit, ForKids, has helped her develop a unique perspective that she carries with her into the marketing and communications field.  Genevieve currently works as a Communications Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton out of Norfolk, VA, creating graphics, video, press releases and social media content for her corporate clients.



The Cross-Cutting Intangible We All Need To Master: Improving People Skills

July 18, 2016 by


How we are treated by others is an intangible we all notice and remember. Those of us who teach and learn in the WVU IMC program should strive to set the bar higher with our people skills and integrate this valuable philosophy into all of our courses – both personally and professionally.

I was reminded this week of the importance people play in communications and advocacy by some colleagues in the profession. I host the monthly in-person meetings of the PRSA-National Capital Chapter Professional Development Committee at our downtown Washington, D.C. Asher Agency office. A dozen of us from all walks of life in PR were brainstorming topics for upcoming panel discussions we host, and an enlightened colleague suggested a session on how to improve relationships and marketing/communications objectives by honing our people skills. This is something that has been at the top of my mind for a long time, and I quickly seconded the idea.

The response was unanimous from the group, which included both women and men, young and old, as well as junior account executives and senior vice presidents. I was more than heartened to have my colleagues confirm the need to elevate people above technology, data and dollars.

We live in a world of persuasion and passion, and person-to-person communications from a trusted source – or word of mouth marketing — is hard to beat.

When we think about the importance of people and how we act toward our colleagues and strangers each day, we are reminded that we can and should do a better job with our people skills and offer comfortable scenarios for communicating more effectively.

Recently I needed to update a list of Congressional staffers who handle health and nutrition and I ran into a brick wall.  When you call a U.S. Senator these days, you get a recording of the Senator (the system is paid for with taxpayer dollars) thanking you for calling to share your viewpoint. It is nearly impossible to get through to a staff person; instead, they want you to leave a message and go away.  Luckily, the U.S. House members still have a person answering their phones and responding to specific questions related to Congressional business.

I hear more and more stories of bosses who write an email to say thank you, good work or offering feedback to a team member two doors away in the office. How much more effective if would be for that leader to get out of his chair to personally visit with his colleague and offer constructive feedback. And, maybe take time to ask about the new home, well-being of their children or about hobbies.

I love how technology has significantly improved communications and advocacy effectiveness and outcomes. But I also need to be reminded of the value in conveying information in person, writing a personal note, sending a thoughtful gift to mark a special occasion and joining people for breakfast, coffee, lunch or a drink after work.

Both personally and professionally, we all need to remember people are at the heart of our true success.

The one intangible we all need to master is improving our people skills!

Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C. office of the Asher Agency ( and teaches Public Affairs IMC 638 in West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.

Connect with Mike at>; @hillrat1156 or on LinkedIn.

Unexpected, Difficult, Rewarding

July 12, 2016 by


In three words I can describe my Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC 610) experience: unexpected, difficult and rewarding.


I never imagined myself enrolled in an online graduate program. I am a personable and engaged student that loves face-to-face interaction with my professors and colleagues, and I did not think an online program could provide me with a satisfying experience. IMC 610 showed me that I was wrong.

My IMC 610 class was extremely responsive; students created insightful posts, challenged their classmates with intriguing replies and provided diverse perspectives on questions posed. In an odd way, through my classmates’ posts, I got to know each of them on a deeper level by understanding their points of view, interests and prior experiences. Honestly, by the end of the course, it felt as though I got to know my classmates better than I would have in a traditional setting.


IMC 610 challenged me in ways that I have never been challenged before. Not only did I have to learn to manage my time effectively in order to complete my discussion posts, responses, papers and readings, but I also had to learn how to “think for myself.” I know that sounds stupid, but here is what I mean…

In this class, I learned how to interpret materials, develop opinions on them and reinforce my opinions with supplementary materials, validating my arguments. This required a lot of introspective thought, something with which I was not extremely familiar. Although this was difficult at times, it helped me learn more about both integrated marketing communications and myself as a communicator.


I have to say, the rewarding feeling that accompanied submitting my final project and completing IMC 610 was phenomenal, but this was not the only time during the term in which I felt fulfilled.

After each assignment, my professor offered constructive criticism. It was really great to hear that I was understanding the week’s material and applying it in a productive way, but it was even better to hear her suggestions and apply them to better my campaign. By the end of the course, I had completed an entire integrated marketing plan; something I never thought I would be able to do, and something I never would have been able to do without the help of my instructor.

Overall, my first graduate-level class was fulfilling, surprising and difficult to say the least. The quality of learning was insurmountable and the “classroom” interaction was superb. I can honestly say that I cannot wait to see what adventures future courses hold; keeping in mind that WVU’s IMC program is not for the faint of heart.

WVU IMC June Monthly E-News

June 29, 2016 by


WVU IMC Friends and Family,

Every month we pull together IMC program news and deliver it to your inbox. Below is the June 2016 edition.

If you have news that you’d like to share, please send it to Ally Kennedy at

Program News

Student/Graduate News

  • Melissa Glass (’14) is now a consultant on the integrated marketing team at AARP in Washington, DC.
  • Mel Moraes (’14) accepted a position in digital marketing with UPMC.
  • Kimberly Conrad (’11) accepted a position as assistant professor marketing at WV Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, WV. This is her first fulltime teaching position.
  • Holly Barringer (‘12) accepted the position of marketing manager, global experiences and events at National Geographic.

Faculty News

Blog Entries

Get to Know the Online and Offline Makeup of the IMC@WVU Community

June 28, 2016 by


On the West Virginia University campus current students, faculty, and graduates of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program gathered at the new state-of-the-art Media Innovation Center at Evansdale Crossing to network, learn and discuss the latest integrated marketing communication strategies and trends.  Each year, the conference continues to provide attendees unparalleled access to thought leaders and influencers. I have attended many professional development events and the conversations generally end at the close of each session. At INTEGRATE the speakers encourage attendees to ask questions after their presentations and the dialogue even continues during periods of transition. I met the first speaker Geno Church, Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer Brains on Fire ad agency, on the shuttle ride to the campus. You generally would not get this kind of access to the presenters at other industry events. It would be apparent to any outside observer attending this event or following the #INTEGRATE16 hashtag that this community is engaged, passionate and focused on helping others reach their professional development goals. Many graduate programs end after you walk across the stage. With IMC, you join a community when you become a graduate student in this program.


It would make sense that if you want to join a community you would probably start with researching the market. One way to understand the social makeup of a community is to find out about the existing members interests and passions. What naturally occurring tribes do you think exist within the WVU IMC online community (@wvuimc)? The data presented in the audience visualization was run over a month long period (04/25/16 – 05/25/16) using the Affinio – Marketing Intelligence Platform.


The interests and passions (shown above) segment this community into eight distinct tribes: Digital Strategists, News + Entertainment, Public Relations, General, Integrated Marketing, WVU Community, Mountaineers, Virginia.

For example, how does the PR tribe self-describe on Twitter and where are they located?




Even though this program is entirely taught online, you might be surprised by how close you are geographically connected to another fellow student, alumni or faculty of the program. Take a look at this interactive Google map below to check out the locations of individuals affiliated with this community.


To learn more about marketing intelligence that leverages the social graph please connect with the Affinio team.

How could you use this type of audience data in your next marketing campaign?

Navigating today’s KIND of media environment

June 16, 2016 by


Today’s media environment is rapidly changing. At the rate that technology is advancing, today’s channel of choice could be tomorrow’s old news. This is both exciting and nerve-wrecking for marketing communications professionals.

Opportunities to reach target audience members are growing; however, if we are not prepared to navigate a continually adapting media environment, our efforts will most likely fall flat. Joe Cohen, Senior vice president of Communications for KIND Healthy Snacks addressed this topic, as well as many others, in his session at #INTEGRATE16.

During his session, Cohen discussed six points in relation to today’s media environment.

  1. Increased segmentation and competition: As more media channels emerge, each must become more specialized in order to retain an audience. This also means there is more competition among media for consumers’ attention.
  2. News in real time, all of the time: Social media, social media, social media. Social media makes news instantaneous. As marketing communications professionals, we must embrace and utilize this to the best of our abilities.
  3. Clickbait headlines: Marketing communications professionals must “fight” for the attention of consumers. One way to win over consumer attention is through eye-catching, intriguing headlines.
  4. Decline of print media: Consumers are now relying more on digital media, instead of print media, as sources of information. We must adapt to this change in order to continue reaching our audiences.
  5. Citizen journalism: Today, anyone can be a journalist; anyone can be considered an “expert.” No degree or prior experience is needed.
  6. The rise of the influencers: As a continuation of the previous point, marketing professionals must realize that everyday individuals are not only becoming the world’s journalists and “experts,” but they are becoming some of the most powerful influencers. These influencers can make or break products and brands.

According to Cohen, understanding and remembering these six points will help you navigate today’s media environment. I believe that it will also help you prepare for the changes to come.

Yesterday it was newspapers, today its social media. What’s next? Although we have our suspicions, no one can ever be sure; however, if we keep an open mind and embrace media adaptations as they occur, marketing communications will continue to be an integral and influential part of today’s world.

Consumer Insights and Content Creation

June 15, 2016 by


Whether or not you admit your HGTV, Food Network or Travel Channel obsession, Julie Link and Greg Stroud know exactly why you’re hooked: they’re the ones gathering consumer insights in order to make marketing decisions and create content. Their job is certainly no easy task.

At HGTV and DIY Network, Greg is the Former Vice-President of Programming Integration and Julie is the Director of Research and Consumer Insights. As they found out, when you’re company is not hitting its mark, sometimes a complete rebranding is necessary to fix the problem.

How do you go about rebranding? Simple – by watching trends, commercials and, most importantly, the target audience you are trying to reach.

In order to really connect with your consumers, Julie and Greg suggest “learning in the moment” and immersing yourself. By going “all in” among the audience you wish to reach, you’ll not only know your customers/viewers, but you will:

  • know their style,
  • give them a reason to participate and
  • have a story to tell.

Once you know your consumers and have developed a creative way to reach them, you must pitch your idea to your team. By getting your hands dirty so to speak, you will be able to develop materials that help your team better understand what your idea is all about. It will also allow you to present information in an innovative and engaging way that allows your team to actively participate in the creative process.

Julie and Greg suggest presenting information to your team as if you are presenting it to an external client. By making your target audience the driving force behind the campaign, and introducing an element of fun into the mix, your ideas will resonate with the team and satisfy your target audience.

Building the right kind of audience to attract national advertisers is also crucial, because a lot of companies make a majority of their money from advertising sales. This means watching trends and noticing consumer characteristics and patterns that correlate with these trends.

The question then becomes whether people are buying products in response to trends or are trends emerging in response to influencers in the market? As Julie and Greg point out, a trend is often not a material object but a popular idea that it represents. People become attached to brands/companies/products because of the ideals and experiences they represent.

Thus, perhaps the best consumer insights come from when you become part of the target audience you’re trying to reach.

Keeping Consumers “Lovin’ It!”

June 15, 2016 by


I have seen the McDonald’s menu grow and change dozens of times. When I visit McDonald’s while traveling, there are always differences in the restaurants’ menus. I never really understood these changes and differences until attending #INTEGRATE16.

While at #INTEGRATE16, I attended a session featuring Mel Windley, James Nice and Jeff Monfort. Windley is the Executive Vice President of Fahlgren Mortine, working primarily on accounts for the McDonald’s Corporation. Nice is a Marketing Manager for the McDonald’s Corporation in the Ohio Region, and finally, Monfort is a McDonald’s franchisee who owns six restaurants in the Ohio Region. Together, these men discussed McDonald’s successes, attributing its victories to teamwork and audience insight.

The success of any business depends on its ability to serve its customers. McDonald’s uses audience insights from local, regional, national and global markets to ensure consumer satisfaction. The #INTEGRATE16 trio explained that in order to satisfy as many customers as possible, McDonald’s must consider what is right for the brand and the consumer in a particular marketplace; that’s why campaigns like “Nocturnivore,” and “#Macithappen,” are only seen by subsets of the company’s global market.

In order for regional campaigns to prosper, and McDonald’s restaurants to flourish, teamwork is essential. Windley, Nice and Monfort describe it as the “three-legged stool,” through which the brand, the operators and the suppliers/partners (the legs) must support the consumers (the seat). Without proper teamwork, and each leg polishing it’s part of the company’s iconic golden arches, the consumer would be dissatisfied.

Based on its consumers’ desires, McDonald’s now offers breakfast all day. It has developed new menu items and enhanced its current offerings. It has even implemented different menus in different locations. But, what’s next?—That is up to you, the consumer.

Getting the Wind Behind Your Sails: Pirate Ships and Propelling Brands

June 9, 2016 by


Although officially titled a Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer at the company Brains on Fire, Geno Church considers himself more of a “WOM (word of mouth) Cupid” and a “pathfinder” for his company’s clients. After attending his session entitled Welcome to a Brave New World, it’s not hard to see why: he’s charismatic, passionate, hilarious and innovative.

Throughout his session, Geno artfully equates the aspects of marketing to piratehood. He says that by being engaged in stories, we help things live on through mythology, symbolism and sharing. Effective marketing has to tell a relatable story that is better than all of the other stories, otherwise it won’t win over consumers. For word of mouth marketing, companies have to start with people first, as they are the center of any successful WOM campaign. Geno states that to really draw in and engage consumers, you have to “help them be what they want to be” and make their purpose your purpose. To really identify with the customer, it is important to take on their values and beliefs as your own.

Geno continues by comparing the mythology of piratehood to the mythology of a brand: you must love the brand you’re working with in order to get consumers to love the brand and lifestyle associated with it. In this sense, if consumers love your brand and its stories, it will become a “shared ship;” consumers will not only jump on board but will encourage others to do the same. Eventually, with enough positive word of mouth marketing from everyday consumers who love your brand, your “shared ship” will become a “self-driven” ship. If not, your consumers will sense doubt and either mutiny or abandon the ship.

But how does all of this word-of-mouth marketing (or WOMMology, as Geno calls it) work? He says there are three parts:

  1. Functional
  2. Social
  3. Emotional

The functional part of WOMM serves as the nuts and bolts “stuff:” shared information and factual knowledge that helps consumers to gather more information and make decisions. It is vital as it is the centerpiece of WOMM. The second part, social, usually involves social signaling, or how a brand as well as consumers showcase their uniqueness. Last, but not least, is the emotional factor: if the brand does not elicit the correct, “balanced” emotional response, people will not talk about it. This means the marketing showcased has to provoke enough of a response, either good or bad, for people to want to bring it to another person’s attention. As Geno puts it: if someone thinks “This is okay”, they are pretty unlikely to talk about it on their own.

Just like pirates sailing on a ship, Geno encourages us both as Integrated Marketing professionals and consumers, to inspire and encourage exploration. He reminds us that just because customers buy something, that doesn’t mean their loyalty or trust in that brand is set in stone. And, just like a pirate raising his telescope to search for unchartered land or another ship to raid and take over, don’t be afraid to take risks and look beyond what is directly within plain sight.

Reflecting on #INTEGRATE16

June 8, 2016 by


As an undergraduate, I studied public relations. To supplement my classroom education and gain real-world experience, I joined the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Through this organization, I attended a variety of conferences from Portland, Oregon to Austin, Texas and everywhere in between. After attending seven conferences with PRSSA, I thought I had an idea of what INTEGRATE would be like, but I could not have been more wrong.

As a conference attendee, you see the finished product. It’s like going to the theater to see a movie; you do not witness or understand what goes on behind the scenes. Yes, throughout my undergraduate years, I helped plan meetings, activities and conferences, so I had an idea of the work required to plan and execute a successful event; however, I never planned anything of this magnitude.

I started work as a graduate assistant with the Reed College of Media and its Integrated Marketing Communications program just three weeks ago. Since my first day on the job, the word INTEGRATE was engrained into my memory. I was told it was “Beason season,” (Nicole Beason is the lead conference planner.) and that I would do nothing but live and breathe INTEGRATE until June 5, 2016.

Throughout my first two weeks as a graduate assistant, I helped with small conference tasks like alphabetizing name badges, assembling gift bags and picking up prizes. I also had an opportunity to help plan the social media challenge. Although I knew my role in planning the INTEGRATE conference was small, I began to feel some ownership in the event and a stake in its success.

As the first day of #INTEGRATE16 approached, I was excited, nervous, anxious; just a ball of emotion. I was excited to meet professors, graduates and fellow students. I was nervous to mess something up, and I was anxious for the conference to start. When day one of INTEGRATE commenced, I wanted to help in any and every way possible, and I was, happily, put to work.

Working an event, especially a conference the size of INTEGRATE, is extremely draining. Honestly, I did not realize the amount of planning that this conference required until I arrived at West Virginia University’s Media Innovation Center on June 3, 2016. Every detail of the event was planned, from where food was coming from to when speakers were arriving to what color chairs were to be placed in each row. Everyone in the office moved in harmony, like one well-oiled machine.

As a graduate assistant, I did my best to follow suit; however, every once in a while, I liked to step back and watch. From my observations, I learned the power of teamwork, the importance of preparation and the true purpose of coffee. Overall, my first-ever INTEGRATE conference was spectacular. The speakers were awesome! The attendees were great, and this all served as a comforting reinforcement that integrated marketing communications is the right career path for me.



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