Alumni profile: Chelsea Coleman ’12, advertising strategist

Chelsea Coleman

Like many UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) advertising majors, Chelsea Coleman (BA ’12) was so enthused by her student networking trip to New York City that she moved there right away.

She began her Big Apple ad career as a community manager at the agency Code and Theory. Fast forward seven years later, and Coleman is an associate strategy director at the New York-based ad agency Annex88. Along the way, she has also built a strong network through Flock, the up-and-coming community for SOJC women graduates.

We sat down with Coleman to find out her secrets for success in the advertising capital of the world.  

When did you know you wanted to study advertising? Was there a class, group, mentor or experience that cemented your interest in the field?

Advertising came of interest to me through mainstream portrayals of “advertising execs” in movies like “What Women Want” and on TV shows like “Mad Men.” I was fascinated by the idea that a real-life job could be to understand people and the context around their decisions. To be able to mesh commerce, art and psychology remains the most interesting part of the business.  

Did any SOJC faculty members make a difference in your life and career?

Yes, quite a few. Dave Koranda and Deb Morrison really guided and inspired me. On Ad Team, Dave taught the technical skills of what goes into a full campaign pitch and pushed me to think differently to solve clients’ problems. Deb taught me the difference between “good work,” “great work” and work that you wish you had made.

What skills did you learn at the SOJC that helped prepare you for the advertising industry?

The SOJC did a really good job of teaching theory and practice. Holistically, the program instilled the importance of storytelling and how an effective story can move and inspire. On a more granular level, the school taught me technical skills like writing, design, editing and videography. I use these things on a day-to-day basis in my career.

How did engaging in Allen Hall Advertising prepare you for your career?

Working in AHA provided me with real-world experience. Most student projects are insulated in their respective disciplines, but AHA forces and encourages you to work with creative, account, strategy and project management people. It was my first introduction to how an account functions and operates.

What do you think are the primary strengths of the SOJC and its advertising sequence?

The SOJC inspires you to dream big, and then they teach you how to make your vision a reality. A lot of places will only do one or the other, but the SOJC advertising program places importance on both. They teach you what it means to create an idea and then grow, nurture, kill, re-write, workshop, kill again, refine, refine, refine and ultimately produce it. That rigor and vision is not something you traditionally find in BA or portfolio school programs.  

What does it mean to be a strategist? Have the job requirements changed from your time at Code and Theory to Annex88? What strategic skills have you acquired throughout your career?

Being a strategist is all about connecting the consumer to the brand or product. In order to do so, you need to deeply understand what the consumer wants and what makes them tick. At the same time, you’ve got to figure out how everything exists within culture. It sounds ethereal and fluffy, but there’s a lot of data, observations and analysis that go into figuring it out.

In my opinion, some of the most important skills to have as a strategist are connecting the dots and persuasion. Connecting the dots is your ability to evaluate different inputs — quantitative or qualitative — to uncover insights that inspire the creative team. Persuasion is all about your influence on the team. You must be able convince your boss, the creatives and the client that what you think is right.

What are some of the more challenging aspects of your job? And what are some of the most rewarding elements?

As I advanced in my career, I’ve taken on more responsibility in growing my team and helping them develop professionally. While I would consider that one of the most rewarding aspects, it is also quite challenging. It requires a unique balance of teaching, patience, discovering new opportunities, turning failures into learning moments, celebrating accomplishments, tough love and holding everyone (including myself) accountable.

I think managing a team is an experience and a skillset that a lot of people take for granted. A good leader/mentor/teacher is hard to find, and I try every day to be one that my team looks up to.

Describe a typical day as an account strategy director at Annex88.

Every day is different. The clients I work for now see us as partners and not just as vendors, so that means we’re in constant communication about big things and small things. The big things look like: how do we establish our place in culture, what is our point of view on sustainability initiatives, what is the communication rollout of this campaign, etc.

On the other hand, the small things look like: should this video be :10 or :14 seconds, or how can we simplify this strategy. It feels good to be in close lockstep like that, because it means they trust us, and ultimately we have a voice to help influence business decisions and larger brand initiatives.

Most days are filled with meetings. I do enjoy when it’s busy, but I also cherish the slower days that provide me the time to get caught up, dig in to research, read and think.

How has advertising changed during your time in the industry? Where do you think it’s heading?

In the seven years since I graduated, the industry has gone through some major growing pains.

In 2012, the economy was still in the recovery phase and hot on “real-time marketing” (a.k.a jumping on every trending topic or “social holiday” and tweeting their take on it). Brands were looking for specialty agencies that were good at one thing, whether it be social media, PR, experiential, etc. Now we’re seeing brands consolidate and look for agency partners that either manage all touch points, or just create their own in-house teams. This shift has led to a rise in consultants or people/agencies hired to develop a deep understanding of the client’s business or consumer.

Do you have any advice for current advertising majors?

Don’t limit yourself to just advertising classes during your time at Oregon. The most interesting people I work with took classes or minored in topics like film studies, mathematics, comparative literature and graphic design. Those outside influences broaden your spectrum of inspiration and reference, thus making your work better. Good ads aren’t influenced by other ads, but by art, music and culture. Immerse yourself in all of it!

How do you give back to the SOJC, and why did you feel it was important to do so?

This year I started a community for women who have graduated from the SOJC called Flock. Being a few years into my career, I often thought about how great it would’ve been to move here and have a mentor or someone to talk to. It would’ve made such a difference to have someone in my life to give me advice on how to negotiate my first salary, where to live, how to handle office dynamics and much more. Although there’s a strong SOJC alumni community in New York, creating a group specifically for women was what I and so many others felt was needed. Flock believes that when you shine, others around you do too.

Flock exists as a digital group available to anyone via the blogTwitter, and Instagram, and we also put together in-person meetups in NYC. In 2020, we’re hoping to get more “chapters” established so we can have more events and meetups in other major cities like Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  

We’ve got a lot of exciting things in the works! I’m so grateful for the experience I had at Oregon and the SOJC. I believe in the program and the people, and with the creation of Flock, I hope to create a community that helps other women from the SOJC succeed.

Story by Becky Hoag and Kyra Hanson

Becky Hoag is a senior double-majoring in journalism and environmental science (with a marine focus). She has worked as an intern at the KQED science desk in San Francisco, producing content for the new program about climate change, “This Moment on Earth.” She was a science writer for The Daily Emerald and web designer/researcher for marine conservation outreach organization Ocean Everblue. Now she wants to become an environmental/scientific journalist. You can view her work at

Kyra Hanson is a senior majoring in public relations in the SOJC. She is an account executive for Allen Hall Public Relations and vice president of the UO chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). After graduating, she plans to pursue a career in strategic communication with a focus on the health sector. In her spare time, you can find her exploring with her pit bull Juni or frequenting coffee shops around town.