Odds are that if you’ve ever attended a General Assembly event, Alexandra Howley was the individual who organized it. Howley's path to her current role started at the American Red Cross, Constant Contact, and then City Awake. At each step along the way, she learned timeless marketing strategies that she explains in this new Boston Content interview.
TODD STEWART: YOU WERE IN SALES INITIALLY, WHY DID YOU WANT TO SWITCH TO MARKETING?
Alexandra Howley: My sales role at Constant Contact was pretty unique. For people who aren’t familiar, Constant Contact is an email marketing platform designed for small businesses to stay connected to their customers. I worked on a team where the customer lifecycle was much longer than a direct sales role.
Through the partnership I worked on, customers would get three-month unlimited trial accounts and my role was to spend three months educating them on how to use it to market their business. Coming into this position, I was not very interested in sales, but loved having the extra time to work with customers to train them on the platform and teach them about effective content strategies.
I never wanted to force sales. I wanted to empower my customers to build out holistic marketing strategies for their businesses. I would even tell them I would teach them everything I could about content, social and events, and, if they took that and went to a competitor, that was fine. Luckily, I had a manager and team lead that supported me and my unconventional approach.
Six months into the role, I was itching to transition into marketing full-time. I hated not seeing strategies through to the end. That said, I strongly believe working in sales is an important experience to have, especially if you are interested in marketing. It teaches you empathy for the customer and also gives you the full scope of the business and how teams work together.
TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR PATH TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW.
During my last six months or so at Constant Contact, I had this insatiable need to do more. At the time, there was a lot of room for improvement on the account I worked on, so I was always looking for new ways to help increase conversion. Whether that was improving Salesforce views, learning HTML for customization, or working on process improvement with the partner, I was always doing more.
During this time I also took on a side project running marketing efforts for a volunteer-run organization called City Awake, which has since become a program of the Boston Chamber of Commerce. It's through City Awake that I was exposed to General Assembly. I fell in love immediately with the mission of GA. When I was ready for something new, the stars happened to align, and my dream job had just opened up on the Boston team. I applied, and a week later I was signing my offer letter.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR GENERAL ASSEMBLY?
My title is local marketing producer, which basically means I run any and all local marketing initiatives for General Assembly Boston. This can range quite a bit, but our primary channel locally is event marketing. In the past year, I have run somewhere between 100 to150 events.
HOW HAS MARKETING FOR GA HELPed DEVELOP YOUR MARKETING SKILLS?
Everything moves fast at GA. It has pushed me to learn agility in a way I never needed to.
To work at GA, you need to be willing to learn all of the time. In day one of our immersive courses, we teach new students the importance of having a “Growth Mindset.” Being such a lean team locally, this growth mindset is especially important for us as employees as well. At least once a week, I will have no idea how to do something I am working on, but not only is it my job to do it, it is my job to learn how to do it (and learn to do it well). I honestly think I would be bored any other way.
CAN YOU TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR DAY-TO-DAY FROM WHEN YOU GET INTO WORK TO WHEN YOU LEAVE?
This ranges pretty drastically day to day, but I am always working on the following:
- Analyzing what event content is more successful and planning out future programming
- Recruiting new industry experts and thought leaders to speak at GA
- Developing local content for social channels
- Connecting or re-engaging with partners
- Diagnosing what course launches need more leads generated and building strategies to boost enrollment
HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR MARKETING CAMPAIGNS?
We look at audience growth and engagement. The initiatives I work on primarily are very top of the funnel. My KPIs are:
- Event RSVPs
- New email acquisition, meaning they are new to our mailing list when signing up for an event
- First-time activation: So people who are on our mailing list, but are signing up for something for the first time
- Social media engagement
WHAT ABOUT YOUR MORNING. WHAT DO YOU DO BEFORE WORK?
Morning is relative for me. I work late running events two to three nights a week, so a typical morning is me answering emails and drinking French press coffee in my apartment until about 10 a.m. Then I will head to the office for meetings and to prep for evening events.
HOW DO YOU STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH MARKETING TRENDS?
Many of our events are around skill building and career development in the areas of web development, design, marketing, product management and data. That means I am constantly surrounded by experts in these industries I am fortunate enough to learn from. I also take our classes and workshops whenever I can (shameless plug).
WHAT SKILLS DO YOU THINK MOST MARKETERS DON'T HAVE THAT THEY NEED?
At GA, we often talk about “using every piece of the buffalo." I think a lot of marketing teams can be a bit compartmentalized and, for me, understanding how all parts of the business work together make me so much more effective at my job.
FOR PEOPLE LOOKING TO GET INTO MARKETING, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THEM?
A few things, and these apply to all career:
- Don’t just talk about it, start doing it. And don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. There are always going to be people that will take a chance on you and teach you things if you show them you are motivated. I wasn’t in a marketing role at Constant Contact, but I made sure I was efficient in my day to day tasks so that I had time to do projects outside of the scope of my role. There is a misconception that you have to change jobs in order to learn and grow. You will eventually hit a ceiling, but most companies have room for intrapreneurship.
- Be solution oriented. The most successful people I know don't go to management and say, “This is a problem.” They find a solution and present it. If you are the type of person that gets frustrated when leadership overlooks problems you bring to them, you have to realize that they probably have 30 other things they are trying to solve for. If you want to be a valuable member of the team, help them find these solutions and build a plan to implement them.
- Don’t be insecure about your past experience. I got a pretty late start to what I would define as my “career.” I graduated college with a degree in political science. I had no idea what I was qualified to do, and fumbled around quite a bit for the first couple of years post college. During this time, I was working for a high-end country club as a server cart girl and catering specialist. In my free time, I volunteered for a few different organizations, hoping to get my foot in the door.
As I would interview for jobs, I always found myself overcompensating with the volunteer experience. When an interviewer would try to get more granular about my day to day at the country club, I would be vague and ambiguous in order to conceal the fact I was working in hospitality. But I wasn’t fooling anyone. Instead of showing a lack of skills, I was showing a lack of confidence, which is much less appealing to a hiring manager.
Now, in talking about my career path, I always make a point of acknowledging how valuable my experience in hospitality is. The skills you learn in hospitality can not be taught anywhere else, and I think of them as a differentiator that make me really strong in my current job.