By Mikinzie Stuart
Shelly Armstrong’s work wardrobe typically matches her colorful personality. But it is that colorful and dynamic essence that has been the reason for Shelly’s success. Her love of cats—a creature of keen senses, independence, and known to be quick on its feet—is no surprise either. Her ability to do a little bit of everything and talk to almost anyone gave her a one-way ticket to the hectic world she lives in today.
What She Does
As Associate Vice President of Marketing, Shelly is the chief spokesperson for crisis communication for Ferris State University. She oversees several marketing departments including multimedia and web development, photo services, news services, marketing and communications, and alumni and advancement. She also manages annual branding campaign for the university, which involves coordinating, planning, and budgeting with Ferris’ outside advertising agency. Shelly says she “makes sure everyone is on the same page” in order to maintain consistency in image and communication.
What She’s Currently Working On (fall 2009)
- President’s listening tour
- 125th Anniversary promotions
- University’s economic impact and strengths study
- Mlive.com Brand Campaign
- Focused Communication for Off-campus sites
- Tech Tour
- Grand Rapids Chamber for Advertising and Outreach projects
- Great Lakes scholarship promotions and coordination in Chicago
Where She was Educated
- Parkland Junior College in Champaign, Illinois: associate’s degree in Journalism
- Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston, Illinois: bachelor’s degree in Journalism with focus on Public Relations (PR), and a master’s degree in Education with a concentration in College Student Personnel
Her Professional Pathway
When she was growing up, Shelly’s dad was a journalist and in the newspaper business. She started writing for her high school newspaper and enjoyed it, so she stuck with it. “I enjoyed every aspect of meeting people and finding out about their lives,” Shelly said. She found writing rewarding and decided to make it her career. Later in her life, she worked at a weekly newspaper as an editor and ad manager. She then took a break from the news industry for a stint doing hotel sales work.
Shelly decided she wanted to work in higher education as a publication information specialist and went to graduate school at EIU. She was hired as the director of media relations and then went on to become the director of media relations and publications at EIU.
Shelly found opportunity in Michigan and was hired at Ferris State University as the Associate Vice President of Marketing. She served as Interim Vice President of University Advancement and Marketing (UAM), making her responsible for more departments at the university, while the university searched for a viable candidate. When the university hired the new Vice President of UAM, Shelly went back to her previous position.
How PR is Different from Journalism
“I like the diversity of work in PR,” Shelly said. “The day is never typical. As a journalist you’re turning out story after story whereas PR is so much more varied and interesting.”
She says her position involves a lot of multitasking and gets crazy sometimes: “You have to be very good at time management, work well under pressure and deadlines, be organized and flexible, be able to juggle multiple things at a time, and understand the politics of an organization.“
“As a news reporter, you report the good, the bad, and the ugly. When you move over into PR, your job is to put a good face on the organization; be a self-promoter,” she said.
Though some people find it hard to make this transition, Shelly found it easy to provide information of value to constituents. She claims it became a little more difficult when the field became more about marketing: putting together campaigns, branding, integrated marketing. However, she adapted and learned the marketing aspect of the job. “I had to grow into the marketing role and piece it together along the way,” she commented.
Shelly made the transition from a writing-based position to one that required more managerial duties. She says being higher up means a higher level of responsibility. She still writes some things such as a board resolution, ad copy, or press release, but does not write to the great extent that she did when first starting out. “I miss that aspect of the job,” said Shelly.
Aside from having a difficult boss while she worked at EIU, Shelly has had to deal with a few obstacles in her career at Ferris. She came to Ferris with the expectations of a job where she would manage both the Advancement and Marketing departments as Associate Vice President. However, right before she began her position, the duties of the position were split as a result of reorganization, making her responsible for the Marketing department.
How Technology has Affected Technical Writing
Technology has turned everything in Shelly’s life 360 degrees. “Social media and texting changed the way we look at crisis communication. Everything is very on demand; now people expect an immediate response when something happens. I have to be connected to my Blackberry 24/7,” she said.
Shelly finds some disadvantages to our technological world. She thinks technology has created greater challenges for time management and loses the personal aspect that one gets in a face-to-face conversation.
She also thinks advances in technology puts added pressure on professionals in terms of accessibility: “I’m expected to be at a computer or Blackberry all day long and to check work emails on weekends. One day I took the day off and didn’t check any emails; sometimes you just need to shut it off,” she exclaimed.
Though it poses some challenges, Shelly says technological advances, such as email, are convenient for multitasking since it is less interruptive—an aspect that is vital to her career. “Most of my communication is via email; everything is online now. I can’t even count how many emails I get in one day. The Web is THE major communication tool,” said Shelly.
A Word of Advice
Shelly‘s advice to recent graduates is that “the number one skill is writing; you have to be able to write. I had to write to get to where I am today.”
A Day in the Life
Shelly says she never has a “typical day” in her 8-hour workday.
However, one thing that remains typical is having a lot of meetings: touching base with administrative assistants, one-on-one 30-minute meetings with approximately five staff members, advisory board meetings, emergency prep meetings, Ferris Magazine meetings, training meetings, other staff meetings, and other types of meetings mixed in through the week. She spends a lot of time checking on the statuses of progress on projects.
Typically, Shelly has only two hours of desk time a day for emails, budgeting, media planning, proofreading publications, and occasionally doing a bit of writing of her own. She tries to carve out a couple hours for work on projects where she is “directly responsible.” Four hours of desk time is what she considers a “good open day.”