When Maria Zhekova moved to the United States from Bulgaria, she hoped to work in a bigger economic market. And she got just that at Boston University. After graduating from COM in 2006 with a Master of Science in public relations and communication research, she turned her internship with Kantar Millward Brown Analytics into a full-time job.
What was your academic experience like at Boston University?
Maria Zhekova: When I originally came to BU, I planned on getting my master’s in public relations. I previously held a public relations job after completing my undergrad at Sofia University in English studies. However, once I began taking graduate classes, Dr. Michael Elasmar moved me in the direction of research and told me that is where I should look for jobs. He helped me get an internship with Kantar Millward Brown Analytics, and I was their first intern at the time. Obviously, I had a great experience and here I am today – 12 years later.
Wow, it seems like you must have been quite busy. Did you have time for extracurricular activities?
MZ: As I took classes, I was a teaching assistant for COM101 and PR101 for multiple semesters. This kept me very busy because we had a class for the TAs and also had to go to the regular lecture. And once a week, we taught our own discussion sections. Doing this along with taking class and going to my internship kept me very busy.
After graduating, how was the process of moving from intern to full-time employee for you?
MZ: Millward Brown is a great company to grow a career. I started at a junior level and within 5-6 years I became a partner. They have a good career trajectory and taught me how to interact with clients and manage my own accounts.
What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis?
MZ: On a daily basis, I promote company wide initiatives through client and team interactions. I meet with clients and discuss solutions to their problems and [talk about] how we can positively impact their business. It is important to me that I extract meaningful data for our clients. I also manage my own team in the office and help them with whatever questions they have. I am also a part of the People Team, which is a program dedicated to developing our employees as people and their careers.
It sounds like you are involved with a lot in the company! What would you say is the coolest part about your job?
MZ: Working here would be nothing without the great people. The office has many motivated, highly energetic employees. Everyone is hungry to learn and bring in great ideas. I also like how collaborative the environment is because it helps me thrive and keeps me leveled. Another cool thing I do is help run the program for our interns. I feel like I can connect to them, since I was in their shoes before.
You mentioned collaboration. Does Millward Brown also collaborate with other companies at Kantar?
MZ: Yes! We have an initiative called “Kantar First” that encourages collaboration across all of our different sister companies. And if clients are looking for a particular solution, we may reach out to our sister companies to hear what they could do or how we can all work together.
How do you use skills learned at COM at work?
MZ: BU taught me a lot, and I use those skills every day. Dr. Elasmar did a fantastic job laying my foundational understanding, and the master’s program was very practical with lots of business case studies that gave me real world context. I also enjoyed the writing classes at BU and find my writing skills extremely helpful on the job. I even won one of the PR writing competitions when I was at BU. To me, writing is probably one of the best skills you can have for research because it allows you to communicate your plans and data to the client in a clear way.
What career aspirations do you still hope to fulfill?
MZ: My next step on the Millward Brown track is for me to become a managing partner. I look forward to this because it will allow me a chance to bring in more business and collaborate with more members across the company. As a more fun side aspiration, I have always wanted to write a movie script!
That sounds like a lot of fun. Do you know what it would be about?
MZ: No, I do not have a solid plot yet, but I am collecting ideas. I think it all goes back to my passion for writing. And I am excited about writing in a creative way.
Do you have any advice for graduating COM seniors?
MZ: Oh, yes. A couple of things. As the world progresses technologically, clients will expect more of you. Data is collected in real time, and there is not always time to stop and think. This brings on pressure and excitement. However, remember to just breathe–and do not worry about getting caught up in all the data out there. It is more important to collect meaningful data that will help clients. I also encourage you to be bold. Going above and beyond and always asking that question on your mind is really important. Do not be afraid to go after your dreams.
Mae Davis, Staff Writer
Mae Davis is a Senior in the College of Communication studying Advertising with a minor in Business Administration. She is passionate about serving others through creative solutions. In her free time, you can find her trying new restaurants, shopping, and exploring hidden areas of Boston.