California dreaming shapes career path for biz/PR grad

Colleen Hickman

Degree: BBA Marketing; BA Journalism and Media Communication
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a fact: Hickman loves to cook. If she were not pursuing her current career goals, she would have studied at a culinary school to become a chef and open a classy restaurant.

Photo by Peter Jakubowski

Janel Hanrahan, UWM December 2010 Grad

Colleen Hickman needed creativity. So, she applied for an internship at one of the world’s top 10 advertising agencies in Los Angeles, where her colleagues rode around on scooters – indoors, brought their dogs to work, and lunched and brainstormed at the agency’s indoor park.

“You can’t be sitting in a tan cubical box when you want to be creative,” says Hickman, who enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar School of Business Marketing major and Business Scholars Program in 2006.

Just in case a double major in marketing and journalism isn’t enough to make Hickman stand out in a competitive job market, she’s got real-world experience to complement her academic accomplishments. 

Business school was a good fit for her, but fell short of her creative expectations. Hickman found a complementary degree alternative in the Journalism and Media Communication (JMC) Department. She pursued a double major in business and JMC, with an emphasis in advertising and public relations, and also enrolled in JMC’s Digital Arts and Culture (DAC) certificate program.

And just in case a double major in marketing and journalism isn’t enough to make Hickman stand out in a competitive job market, she’s got real-world experience to complement her academic accomplishments.

“I needed to get out of here,” says Hickman. In pursuit of an out-of-state internship in spring 2008, Hickman searched through advertisements in magazines and researched the companies that created her favorite advertisements.

“Here I am, a little sophomore with no work experience, emailing the HR person of these worldwide companies,” says Hickman. “One HR woman called me for a phone interview. The interview went well, but the woman said: ‘If you want to really secure your chances of getting this internship, an in-person interview would be ideal.’”

She flew to Los Angeles, interviewed and got the internship at TBWA\CHIAT\Day (TBWA). Ranked among the world’s top 10 advertising agencies and No. 24 on Fast Company Magazine’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” list, TBWA was an ambitious intern’s paradise, although the relocation was a costly one for Hickman.

“My living expenses each month in Los Angeles alone were $1,000 plus,” says Hickman. “I took out a private loan, as I decided this was an investment for me.”

It paid off. Hickman worked on the accounts management team for clients Energizer, Principal Financial Group, LeapFrog and Shutterfly.

“I learned so much about the industry during that summer,” says Hickman. “I was hooked.”

To save money, Hickman stayed in Milwaukee the following summer, and decided to pursue an internship with Thirsty Boy – a “digital outfitter” that creates traditional and social-media campaigns. Hickman’s clients included Rustico and the Ambassador Hotel.

“I went from a worldwide company to a local shop in the Third Ward,” says Hickman. “After being able to compare such different experiences, I knew I wanted to ultimately be somewhere doing something big.”

So in summer 2010, Hickman applied coast to coast for internships. She was offered an internship in Los Angeles at PMK*BNC, one of the largest public-relations entertainment agencies.

Hickman worked in the marketing department and was the firm’s first digital media intern. She worked events like the T-Mobile FIFA World Cup Live Viewing Event with special guest Mario Lopez and the Expedition Blue Planet Fundraiser, did celebrity outreach for Nike Jordan, conducted field research and held a leadership role in a presentation for Audi, and helped create an internal social media presentation.

Now she’ll spend her first post-college months saving money, and in a few months move to the West Coast, where she has work waiting for her.

“I’ve invested a lot financially into these internships,” says Hickman. “For those looking at internships, don’t be scared to go out of the box. It’s the experience you get that lands you a job.”