Alumni Spotlight: Laine Higgins
Name: Laine Higgins
Major at UT: Advertising, Business Foundations
Graduation date: Spring 2012
Current Livelihood: Senior Consultant, Marketing Operations
What is your position at Vista Consulting Group and what does your role entail?
At Vista Consulting Group, we are the in-house consultants for Vista Equity Partners (VEP), a Private Equity firm focused on acquiring software companies. As consultants, we work to improve the 50 different companies that make up the portfolio through management and best practice. I’m a consulting analyst on the Business Analytics team specializing in Marketing and Sales.
How would you describe the company culture?
It is competitive, hardworking to an extreme, and not willing to slow down for any reason. It is a suit and tie company for perspective. We have fun but with all the professionalism you would expect from a Private Equity firm. As consultants, we are very much on the go – the office could be full on Monday and empty on Tuesday.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy working with the CMOs and marketing leaders throughout the portfolio most. They are talented, experienced, and at the forefront of the best marketing practices in the world. When I can say I’ve made a positive impact for any one of them I feel rewarded.
Were you in any organizations at The University of Texas at Austin and if so, what positions did you hold?
Yes, Texas Wranglers. I was Service Chair, Secretary, PR Chair, and Maplewood Chair.
How did UT impact your life and career? Did the Stan Richards School or any other organizations at UT help you with what you’re doing now?
UT opened me up to a world of experiences I had never before been through. The advertising school definitely guided me into the marketing work I do today. I did not, however, stick with advertising. I only spent one year working full time at an Ad firm after graduating from UT. Texas Wranglers easily had the biggest impact on me, much of my current work ethic, life outlook, and lifelong friends have come from the organization.
Which professors were the most memorable to you and why?
Dr. Murphy – excellent teaching style and an incredible passion for advertising.
Dr. Verduzco – One of the most engaging professors I’ve had to date. I have not had anyone make me like accounting as much as him.
Why did you choose to study advertising?
I liked the cross between business and creativity. I had several friends in the program and it felt like a good fit.
What do you love (or don’t love) about living in Austin?
I’ve lived in Austin my entire life, this town is great. I personally love the live music scene and constant activity. From a career standpoint, anyone interested in Tech has come to the right place.
What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
Currently, I am working to finish my MBA at Texas State this December. From there I plan to spend at least another year with Vista and look for career advancement internally. Long-term, I want to find a job that makes me happy and fits my personality. Not to say I have disliked my employers thus far, but I view much of my career so far as a ramp to the perfect occupation.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Music. My passion and hobby outside the office is to play live music, something I’ve been lucky enough to do since age 13.
What publications/sites/newsletters do you subscribe to and find are most helpful in your occupation?
What is the hardest part about your job?
The pressure that comes with working with executives from 50 different companies. There’s a high expectation to be met at Vista that keeps you on your toes, both in terms of physical and mental output.
What is the most interesting project you have worked on so far in your career?
In a former position at the IT software company, SolarWinds, I was placed on a small team of marketers responsible for building marketing programs from scratch for a suite of SaaS stand-alone acquisitions. It was great to be at the ground level and work with a variety of companies. It was more or less a precursor for my current position.
Where do you see the industry going?
Depends on what you’re asking. In my current role, I would say Private Equity will continue to grow as a fundamental component in tech. Vista has captured a remarkable piece of the market may others are catching up to. With the advent of Perennial Capital, Limited Partners are showing a greater willingness to invest in PE for longer lengths of time. If you mean software, all industries will be software companies on one way or another. It’s a bit naïve to call software a tech industry, it’s a delivery system that most industries are adopting. There won’t be “tech” companies, there will be companies running on tech.
What advice would you give to a current student in the Stan Richards School?
Get a realistic job preview of the kind of career you are looking for. My biggest grievance with the Ad school was how poorly we were set up to find jobs. Expectations for the kind of work and the salary an Ad Grad can look forward to were weak and lacking from reality. There is little to no recruiting and much of the burden falls on the student to figure it out as they begin the job hunt. The reality is, Advertising doesn’t pay well and an entry level position can expect long hours doing less than glamorous work. NO ONE TOLD THIS TO ME OR MY STUDENTS. Huge oversight on the school’s part and in my opinion I felt a little duped. Once I had worked through school and was fixing to graduate, it’s a bit late to learn this kind of information. Many of my Advertising friends I graduated with are long gone from Advertising because there is better experience and pay elsewhere. Do not get me wrong, you should expect and want to work hard wherever you land but you’ve earned your degree and should demand better pay and a better career trajectory, the latter being the more important factor. Advertising offers a salary comparable to what I was making in restaurants in high school and the raises salaries one can expect at senior level positions is dismal. This rant applies to just traditional advertising, the career path the Advertising program taught to.
Ok off my soap box. Here’s where Advertising students should be looking for jobs: any digital shop period. Career trajectory is everything and understanding where the Ad industry is and will be is important. Advertising is not dying, don’t let anyone tell you that. In fact, more ad dollars are being spent today than ever before. The only difference is they aren’t being spent with Ogilvy, they are being spent with Google and other online ad platforms. Unless you have an undying passion for it, do your best to stay out of a Traditional Agency and look for digital experience. This is what I would tell current students to look for in a job:
“Digital” Advertising Only. This can mean many things but what I’m saying is everything you learned about billboards is basically useless. The majority of ad dollars are being spent online, not in traditional spaces. Two disciplines I highly recommend because they are in demand and generally pay well are SEO and SEM/PPC. This is modern advertising, learning these kinds of trades will teach you so much and give you better career opportunities.
Metrics Driven. Gone are the days of “I waste half my money on advertising, the problem is I don’t know which half.” Today, everything is metrics driven. It is laughable to throw budget at a campaign and say we increased brand awareness without real numbers to back it up. Big data is real and advertising/marketing is at the forefront. Find a job that will teach you meaningful KPIs and measures performance.
Remember, an agency works for other businesses. You will always be at the client’s mercy in an agency. Anyone with an Adv degree has the means to work in-house for a business, will likely get paid better for it and not have to deal with the garbage an Ad Exec does. It’s much better on the other side, speaking from experience.
I’d also add that you need to rely on your relationships and get yourself out there as much as possible. Throw your resume out to as many possible employers as possible (seriously, 50 is not unreasonable). You’ll want to give yourself as many chances as possible. I saw so many grads waste their time applying to just a handful of employers at a time. The world is getting more and more competitive and most “entry-level” jobs require experience. Though it is unlikely you’ll stay in your first job for long, it is important to get that experience on your resume and build it as a jumping off point. Also, are they still teaching kids to stand out with their picture and creative fonts on their resumes? I had two professors at UT suggest this approach. Yeah, don’t do that. If you’re a creative/designer use your best judgment (creatives should have website resumes anyhow), but everyone else should stand out for quality and professionalism. Trust me on this one.