As many of my readers know, I’m a big proponent of Marketing as Service, an approach that seeks to replace polluting ads & messages with marketing that delivers genuine value.  Marketing as Service is categorized as a Noble Pursuit in my upcoming book, The CMO’s Periodic Table and is represented by my interview with John Hayes of American Express. AmEx, by the way, has been taking this approach for years, providing small business with advice and support via a variety programs including Small Business Saturday, Open Forum and Membership Rewards.

Missy Walker, Vice President of Brand Strategies and Communications for Strayer University
Missy Walker, Vice President of Brand Strategies and Communications for Strayer University

At this point it would be fair to ask, “why are you telling me all of this Drew if not just to plug your book–again?” Well, the answer will soon be apparent as you read my interview with Missy Walker, Vice President of Brand Strategies and Communications for Strayer University.  Now in her second year at Strayer, Missy is helping the world, including Webster’s Dictionary redefine the meaning of Success, an effort that I absolutely define as Marketing as Service.  In addition to being a newsworthy idea, the program included events and even coaching services. This effort also earned Missy recognition by The CMO Club as a Rising Star at this year’s CMO Awards. Read on to find out how she got this program off the ground and more…

Drew: Can you talk about one of your marketing initiatives in 2015 that you are proudest of? 

One of the many 2015 marketing initiatives that I’m most proud of is The Success Project, a long-term initiative aimed at breaking down the perceived barriers that keep individuals from succeeding in their personal and professional lives. This is a unique campaign in a category that is riddled with cookie-cutter marketing efforts. As part of this campaign, we partnered with Steve Harvey to launch our Success Coaches and hold a Success Summit, which we produced as content for TV and our social channels; and partnered with Rainn Wilson’s company Soul Pancake to produce two inspiring video series exploring people’s views around success and what it means to them.

Additionally, we found through a commissioned survey that 90 percent of Americans define success as being happy and having a strong support network, which differs greatly from the definition in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, which focuses instead on fame and wealth as measures of success. So we’ve launched a national petition to get Merriam Webster to change their definition of success to better align with American’s values.  The results have been amazing, both in the conversations we’ve started and engagements with the brand, as well as the impact of The Success Project on all key brand metrics we track.

Drew: You’ve achieved quite a bit in a short period of time. To what do you attribute your success thus far?

I attribute my success to loving what I do, having a positive can-do attitude and a great support network. I am not the type of person who says “we can’t do that,” I will always try to find a way to do something that I think is right for the business and right for our students. I am also blessed with a supportive boss and high-performing team at the office, as well as a great husband and supportive family who take care of things on the home front when times get crazy at work.

Drew: If you were addressing a bevy of marketers at the beginning of their careers, what advice would you give them to help them reach the CMO position? 

Take your time in the early stages of your career learning the ropes. Spend time learning from those around you – both in your office and in your field. Don’t say no to any opportunities that come your way.  Learn about your customers. Talk to them. Walk a mile in their shoes and really try to understand what motivates them to choose your product above all others. Learn to love them and be their champion – even if they are nothing like you or anyone you know. Use your own product. Working to cultivate this deep understanding is one of the most important parts of your job as a marketer.

Drew: Do you have a mentor or is there a person in your career that has been particularly helpful? How important is having a mentor?

Mentors are incredibly important and I have had many invaluable mentors at different stages throughout my career. One of my first mentors allowed me to spread my wings and try out things that were uncomfortable for me as a person or a young professional. She let me make mistakes at times, but was always there to support me and teach me how to improve the next time. She really never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself at times.

Drew: As you look back on your career, what was the biggest risk you took that worked and what emboldened you to take that risk?

I’ve spent the majority of my career as a client working for large, established tech companies such as Aol and Sprint. Switching to the for-profit higher education space felt like a huge risk at the time,as many bad actors had been revealed. I decided to take the risk because of the incredible leaders I met in my initial discussions at Strayer and the sense I got that Strayer really was trying to change higher education for the better.  Making that leap was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I’ve been able to witness first-hand that Strayer is a good actor in the space with remarkable people who work tirelessly to innovate higher education to better serve our students and continue to change their lives. We work to make a difference for people in ways no previous industry I’ve worked in really has. It’s amazing to be a part of it all.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?

Strayer University is unique among other for-profit institutions. We are constantly seeking out ways to innovate the learning experience to create successful graduates that are ready to compete and thrive in the workplace. Our leaders are lifelong learners who are deeply invested in uncovering how people learn and how we can teach important skills that other institutions don’t – like grit, persistence and curiosity. Our biggest challenge in 2016 will be cutting through the noise in our space to be able to showcase our truly innovative culture and how it benefits our students.

This interview originally appeared on The Drew Blog