Danielle Robinson Bell, an accomplished integrated marketing communications practitioner and a Northwestern University alumna and faculty member, was named director of the IMC Professional Program at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in September 2022. She shared her thoughts about the program and the future of integrated marketing communications at Medill during an interview in October 2022.
Twice a Wildcat, Always Focused on Excellence
Bell was an undergraduate journalism major at Medill, then got her MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management before embarking on a career that has taken her from Chicago, to New York and back to Evanston. “It was very important for me to be in a learning environment in which excellence was valued; in which I would be motivated and inspired to bring excellence to my work and my learning and beyond,” she said about her education. “When I say excellence, I mean it in a very rewarding sense. I'm very proud of my education at Northwestern and very proud to be back in this role.”
Working with World-Class Brands and Leading a World-Class Program
Bell spent more than 15 years on the agency side of advertising and branding, creating integrated marketing campaigns for some of the world's most recognized brands. Her client portfolio included P&G North America, Kraft, General Mills, Pepsico, Visa, KFC Global, General Nutrition Center and Verizon Wireless. Before joining the Medill faculty in 2020, she served as a trusted adviser to business leaders on such topics as crisis communications, reputation management, public relations and inclusive communications. “All of those experiences prepared me for this role, for my time at Medill as faculty,” she said. “I'm able to tap into so many real-world examples and cases and bring that to life for my students in the classroom.”
“And it's not just me,” she continued. “I know this to be true for other faculty as well. We have faculty with a deep bench of experience in various industries that shows up in the classroom.” Medill faculty bios include a “who’s who” list of brands and agencies, and the faculty are generous about sharing their connections with students, as well as their knowledge.
Deep industry connections are among the differentiators that set the Integrated Marketing Communications Professional Program at Medill above the competition. The experiential learning page offers an idea of the wealth of in-class and extracurricular opportunities to work with cutting-edge tools and interact with marketing industry leaders.
Dynamic, Industry-Leading Curriculum
“The Medill IMC curriculum and courses are fantastic--some of the most interesting and exciting and dynamic courses that I've seen,” Bell said. The Medill School has been renowned for marketing innovation and synonymous with integrated marketing communications since the late professor Don E. Schultz and his colleagues pioneered the approach in the early 1990s.
That’s no accident, according to Bell. “The curriculum is constantly being discussed and thought about by the faculty and administration to make sure that it is timely, that it is relevant.” The instructional approach blends case studies and lectures from industry leaders with the work of Medill scholars who are “researching and publishing around topics that are meaningful to today's marketing landscape.”
Because the marketing landscape is “ever-evolving,” Bell said the marketing communication program is always being updated to give students the skills to excel today and the intellectual framework to stay on top as times change. The curriculum offers students a flexible blend of 10-week online courses and 5-day, in-person immersion courses on topics including
- Data analytics
- Consumer insight
- Brand strategy
- Strategic communications
What Bell finds most exciting about the IMC Professional Program is its immediate career-boosting effect. “I am constantly impressed with how relevant our courses are to students’ career growth. It’s what makes our program unique and we’re proud of that”
Customer-Focused Curriculum Design
“Our program is for working professionals. So you can be in class on a Monday evening learning about a particular marketing skill set and go right into a team meeting on Tuesday morning and apply it.” Bell believes that immediacy and an “intense focus on data and customer-centricity” are key benefits students derive from the Medill IMC Professional Program.
“We are all about driving growth and value for organizations by leveraging insights from data to engage stakeholders and customers,” she said. “And that's very different from other programs in the marketing space that might focus more broadly on marketing from a managerial standpoint and a broader organizational dynamic standpoint.”
Putting a Lens on Purpose
True to the integrated vision of marketing that characterizes the Medill IMC Professional Program, Bell didn’t respond to a question about the next marketing “game changer” with a technology discussion. That’s certainly important, but it is so because it enables marketers to derive real insights. Instead, Bell said that marketers must develop a dual vision encompassing their organization and stakeholders.
“As marketers and as business people, we're trained to understand how organizations perform,” she said. “And I will say there's some expectation from various stakeholder groups that organizations think about how to be purposeful in that performance.”
Bell thinks a key question for marketers is “How do organizations show up for their people internally, for their customers and other key stakeholders?” and that “Stakeholders are increasingly holding organizations accountable.”
“The most important question that stakeholders are asking, and that companies and organizations should really focus on is, ‘Do you value me?’” Bell concluded that it’s no longer enough for business leaders to focus on getting the company “across the finish line as it relates to a certain goal.” In addition, they must also understand how stakeholder groups want to be valued. “That's the game-changer going forward.”
Cultivating Inclusive Marketing Leaders
“Medill is being really thoughtful about how we want to show up to the world and to our stakeholders.” That commitment is reflected in the fact that Northwestern has received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for two consecutive years. Bell believes focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion is crucial. “We're putting out people who are leaders in their industry, who lead global teams–diverse teams–who are able to champion diverse teams, and in other efforts that relate to culture and equity and inclusion. It's very important to us that our alumni are able to be a part of this dialogue to be able to think strategically, critically, and be confident around the topic not just in their professional lives, but in personal lives as well.”
Join the Marketing Visionaries at Medill
Diversity, equity and inclusion are integral at Medill. The IMC Professional program embraces students from a wide range of backgrounds and supports them in reaching diverse professional goals.
“Everyone's journey through Medill IMC looks a little bit different,” Bell said, “and that’s intentional. The program is designed for students to matriculate through in a way that makes sense to them in their lives. So no two journeys look the same, but every journey is considered a success.”
It’s a big decision for a working professional to undertake a master’s degree. The IMC Professional MS in Integrated Marketing Communications program is continuously refined to help professionals like you develop your marketing skills and your professional community while continuing with your other responsibilities.
Bell pointed out the importance of that community, noting that “Students are able to build community online with themselves, with faculty, and with our industry partners who are on this journey with them. It's one of the things we're really proud of in the program.”
“I would encourage you to think about a program like the Medill IMC as being additive to your lived experience, to being something that can be considered a plus and not, you know, a burden or another obligation that you won't be looking forward to. You can do this,” she concluded, “and you can enjoy it while you're doing this. Success is up to you. How will you define it?”
Apply now to start defining your success.