Q & A with Professor & Former Political Director Karen Mascott

In an ever-evolving industry, Associate Professor of Advertising Karen Mascott is constantly adapting to the various challenges work and life throw at her. Having to teach three classes remotely, she continues to be inspired by her students. Prof. Mascott spoke with COMmunicator to share her career path as a seasoned political director and creative marketer at various agencies. 

Professor Karen Mascott | Photo Courtesy of Jaclyn Cimino

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer Suryadjaja: You were once a political director, what made you jump into a creative industry like marketing and advertising?

Karen Mascott: I like to joke that my career has fallen into three different acts. I was a political science major in college. I went to school in Syracuse and got a degree in political science and went to Washington to work for Congressman Markey. There are a lot of similarities between advertising, specifically for political campaigns. You still have a brand that you need to create a message for and find a way to deliver and convince people to vote for him.

I had always thought I would go off to law school and continue my career in politics, but I thought a business degree would be more versatile, so I went to Boston College and got my MBA. 

I thought I would go back into politics but when I got out, it was 2000. At the height of the internet bubble, the entire industry was created because of the internet. I thought, “I should give that a try and see what it’s all about.”

I was hired to work at Digitas and doing digital marketing and I really loved it. I leveraged political skills and my day-to-day work in advertising, but I enjoyed advertising because it allowed me to tap into my love for the creative side. More importantly, it allowed me to find creative solutions to solve business problems or objectives.

When I was working for Proctor and Gamble [at Digitas], we were developing digital strategies and digital platforms that were leveraged across the globe. That required us to travel internationally a lot, so after a very tough decision, I decided that I should take the time to stay at home with my kids. 

I had also gotten to be a guest lecturer from time to time at BU and really enjoyed that experience because it allows me to talk about my advertising experience, bring those real-world experiences to the classroom. When an opening came up, I naturally jumped on it, and here I am on my third act. I feel it is my responsibility to bring in real world experience in my teaching and I truly enjoy it since it allows me to stay connected with the industry while educating the future advertisers.

I also believe that you don’t need to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life today. Your career will take many twists and turns, and sometimes it’s good to try things out. 

JS: Any favorite projects you’ve worked on in the past?

KM: I would say that Proctor and Gamble was my favorite client. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to market to teen girls, particularly in a time in their life when they’re struggling with puberty and understanding their bodies. I think being able to guide young girls at their point of entry while making the campaign interactive is fun. 

JS: Switching gears to BU, you mentioned that you taught three classes this semester. How’s the shift to online teaching so far?

KM: Overall, I’m impressed by the students’ level of engagement and commitment to learning, which keeps me motivated. This is the time in the semester where group projects have stepped into high gear. I find that the breakout room function on Zoom has really been effective and the students like that. I do have a lot of students in different parts of the globe and different time zones, but I found a lot of them do set their alarms and come to the live class because they like engaging with their teammates. We’ve pivoted, but I missed the face to face. We’re also finding ways to continue to engage just like every other industry that’s facing this.

There’s so much that we’re seeing right now how brands have pivoted in light of COVID-19. Being able to learn how brands have modified their advertising, I think it is a life lesson.

JS: In your opinion, what makes a good marketer or advertiser?

 KM: You need to develop good insight, understand who your target audience is, and what motivates them. You need to understand how data help inform but you can’t simply rely on numbers since human element is more important. You need to be smart about how different media channels can be leveraged to solve different business objectives. You need to be media and tech-savvy. 

You also have to be culturally relevant and always curious about humans. Without having empathy for people and curiosity, you’re not going to reveal insights, and without good insights about consumers, you’re not going to have good advertising.

Jennifer Suryadjaja, Staff Writer

Jennifer is a senior majoring in Communication Studies from Indonesia. She combines her experience writing hard news and features with her multi-cultural background for a twist on stories. In her spare time, she brunches and tweets @JSuryadjaja. 

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