Alumni Profile: Nicole Lee ’20 found her home in advertising

Nicole Lee sits on the ground wearing a black blazer, shorts, and white sneakers
Photo courtesy of Nicole Lee.

To find her calling as an advertising professional, Nicole Lee ’20 just had to follow her heart. 

When the San Francisco Bay Area native first saw the University of Oregon campus, she fell in love. And after hearing a talk by members of Combined Culture, a creative collective made up of UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) students and alumni, she knew the SOJC would be her new academic home. 

A similar experience helped her find her career. During the SOJC’s annual NYC Experience trip to New York City, Lee presented a climate change plan to the United Nations Assembly — an experience that showed her how advertising skills can make a positive difference in the world.

On that same trip, she walked into global advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy’s lobby and instantly felt she was destined to work there.

“I was like, ‘This feels like home,’” Lee said.

Lee went on to major in advertising as an SOJC undergraduate, and then earned a graduate degree in the school’s Master’s in Advertising and Brand Responsibility program.

Just a year after her graduation as an SOJC double-Duck, she’s now a project manager at Wieden+Kennedy in New York working on one of their biggest accounts — McDonald’s.

What do you do in your role?

My day is working with every aspect of my team. That’s ranging from my creatives and my creative directors, the ad folks — really the full spectrum of an advertising agency. My team is about 50 people, so it’s a very large account to work on, especially for my first job straight out of college.

As you can imagine, McDonald’s is a beast of an account. I basically set the tone for some high-profile projects, sticking to key timelines, in Zoom meetings of course. I’m doing that hybrid role right now, working from home and in the office. I make sure I get everyone gathered and connect people on the day-to-day stuff to make sure each project runs smoothly from start to finish.

How did you land your current role? What steps did you take?

Fortunately, I kind of fell into project management coming out of college. I graduated during COVID-19, which was an eye-opening experience trying to get a full-time position, because the job market was pretty sparse. It was difficult to network virtually. No one knew what or how long this pandemic was and is going to be. So I just tried networking my butt off. I really tried to reach out to folks on a genuine human level, without asking for anything in return. I would pick their brains and ask what got them in their positions. I’d take little personal notes on how I could put myself in their shoes.

How do you feel the SOJC prepared you for life in your career?

I thank the SOJC pretty much every day because it provided me with amazing opportunities. I’m super thankful for all the professors I’ve been able to cross paths with. They really helped set the tone of what I wanted to accomplish after graduating.

I’m also thankful for Allen Hall Advertising for pushing me to do more challenging things. I’m so thankful to people like Deb Morrison, Dave Koranda, David Ewald, the list goes on. They helped push me and motivated me and gave me the right amount of courage to go forward. They always challenged me, and that’s what made me get to where I am today. Now I’m able to have more uncomfortable and challenging conversations with other people. I can test other people’s minds thanks to the support from the SOJC.

What class was your favorite in the SOJC?

Probably Curiosity with Koranda. Dave challenged us to always think outside the box. I really think that’s a core value to have when you’re going into advertising. That course really set the tone and challenged us to think differently.

When did you know you wanted to come to Oregon and join the SOJC?

Well, I started out as a business major. I couldn’t do math or any accounting, so I looked for another option. I found the SOJC through Ed Madison’s J100 class. We had some guest speakers. When Combined Culture started to speak, I was immediately drawn into what journalism was. I went home and did more research, did some deep diving and thinking. The next day I walked into Deb Morrison’s office and asked, “How can I excel? What can I do?” After that, it all just kind of blew up. I was hooked ever since.

Did you have any “moments of truth” or defining moments at UO?

It started in J100 for sure. The moment when I thought, “Yes, I really belong here,” was when Deb was recruiting students to do a United Nations Project. We went to the U.N. in 2019 during our New York trip. That was such an eye-opening experience. I was surrounded by hundreds of talented peers. That was really the moment that I was like, “Yeah, I belong in advertising.”We created a proposition on how to combat climate change based on a brief we were given. We were able to present it in front of the U.N. Assembly. It was such an amazing opportunity. I was humbled and honored to be there, really for the whole trip in general.

I actually got to step into my now current office in Wieden+Kennedy in 2019 and I was like, “This feels like home.”

Is there a specific professor who stands out most when you think back to UO?

I got to give it to Deb — Mama Deb as a lot of people call her. She really challenged me and pushed me. She pushed me to do internships, encouraged all my side-hustles and was always there to listen. I think she really accelerated the advertising program to what it is today. I’m really grateful for her.

Is there one thing you miss most about UO and the SOJC?

I miss Eugene almost every single day. I miss the game-day atmosphere. I miss being surrounded by fellow Ducks. The energy on campus. I miss the professors. I miss being in Allen Hall and the third floor for like 13 hours a day. I’m also jealous that you are now back on campus.

What advice do you have for SOJC students? If you could visit a J100 class, what would you say to them?

I would say to start networking now. It’s never too early or too late, but get started today. It’s a marathon. There are so many opportunities and professors there to help. Take advantage of all the opportunities that are around you. There are so many different organizations and clubs that you can be a part of. You can meet new people, explore new ideas, grow new skills and challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, be a better person and be a better storyteller. There is such a big network out there.

And remember, Ducks help Ducks. That starts with me, so reach out to me on Linkedin and I’ll hop on a call with you if I can help.

—By Johnny Media

Johnny Media is a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in sports business. This is Media’s first year writing for the SOJC Communication Office. He has previously written for The Commuter and is currently working as a student ambassador for the SOJC. He loves getting opportunities to highlight the amazing alumni who have come through Allen Hall. You can view more of his work on his personal blog.