How one advertising alum became a leadership mentor

portrait of Jacob Espinoza
Jacob Espinoza ’07 spent his time at the School of Journalism and Communication working at Allen Hall Advertising and building meaningful relationships with professors like Deb Morrison and Kelli Matthews. He believes the lessons learned from his experiences helped him obtain the successful career he has today as a leadership mentor and coach. Photos courtesy of Jacob Espinoza.

When leadership mentor Jacob Espinoza ’07 graduated from the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) with an advertising degree, he didn’t take the typical post-graduation route.

From pursuing a career as a rapper to starting his own consulting program, Espinoza had a vibrant journey he attributes to the lessons he learned in school. Joining Allen Hall Advertising and having long talks with advertising Professor Deb Morrison are just a few ways Espinoza gained the skills he uses every day to sustain his unconventional but successful career.

Espinoza says his favorite career opportunity has been the one he’s pursuing now, working as a content creator writing about leadership and being a leadership mentor. He’s passionate about his work and loves what he does but says that without the skills he learned from incredible faculty during his time at the SOJC, he’s not sure he would have accomplished the same goals.

I sat down with Espinoza to gain a little more insight into how he spent his time at the SOJC and how he still uses the lessons he learned in his career as the director of creator success at Workweek.

Q: What was your time like at the University of Oregon?

A: I went to community college for two years at Linn-Benton [Community College in Oregon]. I played basketball there and then transferred to the University of Oregon. Originally, I wanted to take a traditional journalism route, but I took an advertising class that made me fall in love with the potential there. So I switched majors to advertising. I got involved with Allen Hall Advertising, had a graphic design agency for a little bit after college, but then kind of took a nontraditional route to get where I am now.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about that graphic design agency?

A: While I was at the University of Oregon, I actually was pursuing a career as a rapper. So I knew a lot of artists, and I built a side business doing design work using a lot of the skills that I learned in the advertising program courses and some web development as well. This is when MySpace was big too, so I'm dating myself a little bit, but it was a long time ago. I was creating a lot of banners and things that people could use on MySpace.

Q: How did the advertising program at the SOJC impact your career journey?

A: I think it really gave me a lens that I used in how to brand myself as I stepped into corporate America. And then, about three years ago, I started really being aggressive, building an audience on Twitter. A lot of the skills and psychology that I learned in my advertising courses, even though I didn't go the traditional route of working for an agency, helped me differentiate myself as I built my career.

portrait of Jacob Espinoza
Although Jacob Espinoza ’07 dabbled in many different fields, including sales and rapping, he says his favorite career has been his current position working as a content creator and the director of creator success for Workweek. In this position, Espinoza gets to flex his advertising skills such as branding oneself and tapping into the psychology of others to find their interests and motivation.

Q: You say you “didn’t go the traditional route.” Could you explain more about your path?

A: As I was graduating, a lot of my friends were getting internships in New York and San Francisco. I actually got married right out of college, and we decided we wanted to live in Salem, Oregon, and there weren't as many opportunities. So I got a sales job for a bit, worked at T-Mobile as a call center representative, and then was fortunate enough to build a career in leadership at T-Mobile.

The last three years I had the title of a leadership consultant there, which helped me launch a career as a [leadership] coach. It was kind of a blend of what I learned in advertising, plus what I learned growing a career as a leader and a leadership consultant. I combined the two together to build an audience on Twitter, which has been the platform that I've had the most success with.

And with that, I actually ended up having an opportunity to work for Workweek as a creator. So now I have a leadership newsletter that gets sent out twice a week called Leader’s Lens. I also am their director of creator success.

Q: What do you do as a coach/leadership mentor?

A: I work with a lot of managers and business owners, and really my niche is helping them build effective relationships with their teams, keeping their top performers happy and making sure people understand what they're supposed to be doing. And a lot of times as a business owner, as a manager, you might understand, I feel like something's off, but it's hard to really put your finger on it because you're so in the mix. So I come in as an outside perspective and help them just get the feedback. Maybe the team isn't comfortable giving it to them directly or just helping them identify problems that are holding them back from being successful.

Q: Moving back to your time at the SOJC, did any faculty have an impact on you?

A: There are two professors I stayed in contact with the most who really had the biggest impact. One is Deb Morrison. She's always great at challenging me to think differently, but also being supportive as I was trying to think of different approaches to take for a specific assignment or a project and AHA. But then even after school, we still stay in touch on Twitter, and it's just awesome seeing the new groups come in. I had one of my cousins that actually went through the advertising program, and I think she graduated last year. It was so cool to see one of my family members go through the program as well.

Kelli Matthews is probably the other one. She’s somebody else that's just been incredible and was a great mentor. I consider her a friend now. So I've actually come back and done StrengthsFinder sessions with the PR group a couple of times as well over the last few years, so it's been fun.

Q: Do you have a fondest memory from your time at the SOJC?

A: I have a lot of really good memories. I think something that I realized coming back that I'm not sure if I took full advantage of or appreciated is just how gorgeous the campus is. It's just a beautiful place to be, especially on a sunny day. The buildings all look incredible. It’s just fun to walk around. I think it's just the creative energy that you get from being on campus that is a lot of fun and very contagious.

One experience, we went to New York for an advertising conference. It was just awesome being with the group and seeing our work showcased at this pretty prestigious conference. I know there are a few people that actually were able to land internships based off of their performance and networking at that event. So that was definitely a highlight, to go to New York with a group of friends and have some fun, but also have an educational component.

Q: Looking back at your time in college, do you think that there's anything you know now that you wish you'd known then?

A: I mean, I know a lot now that I didn't know then. I think just take advantage of every opportunity. Don't feel like the job you get right out of college is going to define your career. Know your worth.

But also remember that you still have a lot of time. Even if you don't have it all figured out right now, 23 or 24 might feel old, but it is not old at all. It is extremely young. You have a lot of time to figure out what you want to do and make changes in your life, to put yourself in a position to do something incredible.

So I think take advantage of the opportunities available, but also don't judge your opportunity based off your neighbor's opportunity. We all have our own paths and our own journeys that we go on. And I think the people in life I know that have been the most successful are the people that find value and are grateful for the opportunities they're presented with.

—By Jillian Gray, class of ’25

Jillian Gray is majoring in public relations with a minor in digital humanities. She works as an intern for the SOJC Communication Office’s social media and editorial teams. To connect with Gray, please visit her LinkedIn profile.