Hillary Heinz – Marketing Strategy Director, The Nerdery
For Hillary Heinz, a designer-turned-marketing strategist, iteration and evolution have been just as much a part of her career path as an approach to the design process. Hillary, a design major with an emphasis in advertising, found design to be a powerful tool for communication, but her real passion is the strategy that underlies good design.
“My interest in the field of communication has never been in question,” Hillary explained. “From a young age I’ve always admired good communication. I dabbled in film with friends. I even wrote a speech when I was running for class president that was all rhyming words.” Unsurprisingly, Hillary won that race for class president.
However, it wasn’t always easy to find ways to connect design to the realm of strategy. “When I was a student at the University of Minnesota they didn’t intertwine designers with tech or even with writers all that often so I just went about that myself,” Hillary added. “I joined [the University of Minnesota’s] National Student Advertising Competition, and it was really fun to connect with that world. It took until my senior year when we had a class with Rachel Huff, a former VP of branding at Larsen, and her class introduced us to design campaigns. She focused less on typography and more on campaign strategy, really thinking beyond design [aesthetics] about drawing as a communication tool.”
A broad range of internships also helped Hillary see the full scope of roles in the marketing and advertising world while giving her experience in a wide variety of mediums. “One of my first internships was a promotions role for [Clear Channel] Radio,” Hillary noted. “I worked for the Minnesota Daily and the Downtown Journal and Southwest Journal. I also interned for the Carlson Business School at the University of Minnesota, and then I did a design internship at Fast Horse.”
These opportunities, in turn, helped her clarify her career ambitions. “Fast Horse was a great experience,” Hillary elaborated. “The founder and VP of the agency had been a senior executive at Weber Shandwick so it was really great to see that angle of the industry. It was fun to see how they’d pitch a story and then witness the craft behind PR and event planning. I realized that design is just a portion of the process. By the time I’d get a creative brief the fun work [of strategy] had already been done, and it was too late to ask too many questions. So I knew I wanted to get into strategy.”
So when given the chance to join The Nerdery’s marketing team, she jumped at the opportunity. “When I started at The Nerdery in 2011 we had 60 employees and today we have about 475 employees so it’s been a rapid ride,” Hillary noted. “Initially, one of our important business problems was recruiting enough tech talent [to keep pace with the company’s rapid growth]. One of my favorite campaigns was 100 Nerds in 100 Days. It was a telathon-style recruitment drive, so it was a lot of fun. Now our focus is more on lead generation, supporting the sales team via inbound marketing campaigns.”
But a new role and a broader focus haven’t completely shut Hillary out of the creative world. “We have a collaborative approach, and I still work with the designers,” she explained. “And our team uses [content platforms like] Tumblr and Pinterest to share inspiration so I don’t miss design.”
Ultimately, Hillary found that career growth and evolution is a product of inquisitiveness and hustle. “It’s important to see all sides of the business and [to see] the different formations advertising and marketing teams can take,” she elaborated. “Understand what’s important to you in your career. I learned along the way that you should never settle, and it’s really important to put yourself among A-level players. It’s valuable to work with people you admire and that are better than you are. And when you find those A-players, never stop asking questions.”
Follow Hillary on Twitter: @hillaryheinz
See Hillary’s Work: HillaryHeinz.com