Elon alumni lead panel discussion on media analytics

Elon University graduates Nicole Tolbert ’03 and Ryan Sweeney ’10 discussed their early career paths, how they established themselves in their respective fields, and the changing climate in media analytics. 

Nicole Tolbert ’03, director of digital strategy at Pace, was one of two Elon University alumni to participate in the School of Communications Career Office’s “Media Analytics: Career Options and Insights” discussion.
​The School of Communications Career Office hosted an Oct. 14 alumni panel on media analytics, inviting Nicole Tolbert ’03 and Ryan Sweeney ’10 to share their professional insights with students interested in the collection and analysis of data.

The event, titled “Media Analytics: Career Options and Insights,” tackled an array of topics, including advice on what job postings graduates should pursue, what to expect during a job interview, and what attributes employers find attractive. A photo gallery from the panel discussion is available on the School of Communications’ Flickr page.

As the director of digital strategy at Pace, a leading marketing agency based in Greensboro, Tolbert helps brands – both e-commerce and content focused – figure out how to create compelling stories, then activate and disseminate the content.

Tolbert said she enjoys working for Pace because it allows her to collaborate with several prominent brands, providing her access to large amounts of data and budgets that allow her to understand and see the full impact of their digital strategies.

A former economics major at Elon, Tolbert noted she’s almost entirely self-taught in terms of analytics and digital strategy, learning while on the job. “I remember I went to Barnes & Noble and got ‘Web marketing for dummies,’” she recalled early in her career. “But I started to learn a little more about how everything worked.”

Tolbert explained that intuition not hard skills are the most important attribute entering the analytics field. “The big thing is that anybody can learn how to use a tool or learn how to pull and aggregate data,” she said. “The hard thing is to use rationale and logic to determine what to do with that.”

Ryan Sweeney ’10, director of metrics and analytics at Ignite Social Media, said he didn’t realize his interest in analytics until his senior year at Elon.
​Today, Sweeney is the director of metrics and analytics at Ignite Social Media, a social media marketing firm in Cary, but it’s far from where he pictured himself entering his senior year at Elon.

The strategic communications major planned to work in the music industry, and had served as the general manager of WSOE, Elon’s student radio station. In winter 2010, Sweeney changed course after volunteering with the Imagining the Internet Center and helping prep for the FutureWeb conference and the global WWW2010 conference, a premiere international convention on Web research.

“The conference and experience got me interested in media research,” Sweeney said. With direction from the Career Office, he eventually applied to and landed a position with Ignite.

In his role, Sweeney deals primarily with social data, putting together reports for clients in regards to how content is performing on social media platforms and assisting with their sweepstakes and giveaway programs.

In the five years since he “wandered into analytics,” Sweeney said he’s learned as he went, watching the industry develop exponentially in the process.

“Elon gave me the skills I needed to learn coming out of school. It taught me how to teach myself,” he said.

In their roles, Sweeney and Tolbert agree that it’s vital to be passionate, articulate and willing to stand behind what the data is telling you.

“You might be a dissenting voice in the room, but if you have a strong pile of data to stand on, then you will be the right voice. And that is a very powerful tool, especially when we are talking about changing business decisions,” Sweeney said.

The Oct. 14 event was one of three alumni panels planned by the Career Office during the fall 2015 semester. In September, Beth Stevenson ’05, managing supervisor at FleishmanHillard, and Marianne Gissane, talent coordinator at McKinney, discussed “ePortfolios: Building Your Brand, Showcasing Your Skills.”

The fall panel series concludes on Wednesday, Nov. 11, with an event titled “Los Angeles: Relocating After Graduation.” Tim Johnson ’09, a producer, director and editor in Los Angeles, and Raj Rawal ’12, assistant coordinator for Blackbox TV, will lead the conversation. It is slated to begin at 7 p.m. in the McEwen Communications Building, room 213.

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