SPARKsouth - Find Your Passion

SPARKsouth DIgital Marketing Conference - Career Path

The annual SPARKsouth conference aims to benefit college students looking to build a career in digital marketing. The day focuses on career development with insights from expert panelists, mentor pairings, keynote speakers, networking opportunities, interviewing skills, and marketing career planning.

Since marketing provides diverse career paths, the conference offers three separate tracks - agency, brand, and entrepreneurship - in addition to a career development room. Students choose to learn about how to break in, find a niche, and rise to the top of the ranks in specific industries.

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In addition to the content tracks, three respected marketers with different backgrounds shared their experience and advice with the attendees through keynote presentations:

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  • Brian Easter, Co-Founder at Nebo Agency, started the day encouraging marketers to find a purpose in everything they do, to take a stand, and to always ask “why.”

  • Brad Meriwether, Director of Consumer Marketing at the Atlanta Braves, held a panel with his social media and advertising team to emphasize the importance of digital and audience targeting in the marketing landscape. The team shared their new campaign “#ForEachOther,” which embodies the brand’s personality, fans, and players as well as their journey to the 2018 playoffs.

  • Jeff Perkins, CMO at ParkMobile, left the students with five essential tips to succeed in marketing and the workforce.


A collection of common themes and takeaways from each session:

Build Relationships

Time and time again keynote speakers, mentors, and panelists emphasized the importance of networking. Derek Van Van Nostran of NewsON said “Make one good connection, give them value, and they’ll go to bat for you.” Every person matters. Talk to everyone and gain as much knowledge as possible.

To open the door, ask someone in the desired field to coffee…”the worst thing they could say is no.” Most of the time, people want to help.

Building a relationship is a two way street. Shanice Merrill with Ross Media started with Google because she kept up with a recruiter - constantly asking about THEM and what THEY needed. If interviewing, find solutions for the job’s problems. If taking someone out to coffee, ask them about their challenges.

"Your network is everything. Protect it. Cherish it. Don't just go to one event and hand out your card. It's not 'what can you do for me?' It's 'what can i do for you?' When you have that mentality, it comes back around in your favor." - Jason Dominy, Atlanta Brewing Company

Work to build and maintain relationships. Burning bridges never solves anything. The marketing community is small and it’s important to work together. Keep the ego in check, never assume feedback is personal, and always assume positive intent from everyone.

Find Unresolved Conflicts

When Melissa Proctor, CMO of the Atlanta Hawks, wanted to climb the ranks in her job, she found someone she admired, took them to coffee, and asked them about their pain points. She then returned with strategic and creative solutions to become an “asset instead of a liability.”

Always look to solve problems. Brian Easter, Co-Founder of Nebo Agency, showed the attendees Nebo’s puppy adoption campaign. There were puppies who needed a home so the agency team asked themselves what could they do about it and took action to support the cause.

Always be prepared for meetings, coffee outings, interviews with recommendations and ideas for improvement.

Tell A Story

Moderator: Victoria Neilsen, Schlotzsky's; Speaker 1: Mark Henneges, IHG; Speaker 2: Jennifer Watson, The Weather Channel; Speaker 3: Kristie Benson, High Museum of Art

Moderator: Victoria Neilsen, Schlotzsky's; Speaker 1: Mark Henneges, IHG; Speaker 2: Jennifer Watson, The Weather Channel; Speaker 3: Kristie Benson, High Museum of Art

Marketers are the storytellers of brands so they should really capitalize on telling a story about themselves. Social is a powerful tool to do this. Jennifer Watson with The Weather Channel made this clear by explaining that most of her jobs have come from making a brand for herself and connecting with someone through social.

Know your “personal brand.” Look introspectively and capitalize on strengths. Mark Henneges with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG)  suggested peering at the parallels between your social life and work. “Someone who does their laundry every Monday night is process oriented.” Spend time perfecting the strengths instead of harping on the weaknesses and truly “get to know your selfie stereotype.”

Work to differentiate yourself from the competition. Julie Saxon of OATH stood out because she sent thank you notes after interviews. When interviewing at Turner, Melissa Proctor brought a magazine about herself to the interview - showcasing her confidence, creativity, and marketing skills to the team.

There are so many people who want the same thing as you - what will make you stand out? How will you tell your story?


The funny thing about marketing is that many marketing professionals come from different experiences and walks of life. Each experience shapes a person’s expertise and helps them form their own story. Take advantage of passions and build experience from everything.

Mark Henneges had a desire to be in a band when he was younger and used that entrepreneurial spirit to guide him through the business world. Jennifer Watson was a meteorologist who fell in love with social media. Kristie Benson with the High Museum of Art started in government public relations and discovered that public relations and marketing were cousins.

Whatever the background, Arielle Burnette from The Burnette Agency advised to ‘look at where you are and what path will get you where you want to be.”

“If you really want to do something, go for it, and do it” - Jennifer Dorian, Turner Broadcasting Systems

Constantly learn from everything and everyone around because experience always helps. Rashidi Barnett with We Are Rosie told attendees that interning outside of Atlanta will help expand their network and comfort zones.

In terms of education, many of the panelists advised attendees to gain 3-5 work experience in between undergrad and grad school because “hands on is always better.”


Sponsors for the event included Nebo Agency, Atlanta Braves, Moe’s Southwest Grill, AgencySparks, and

Brand focused panelists included speakers from Leadercast, Atlanta Hawks, Turner Classic Movies and FilmStruck, and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Agency speakers came from all over Atlanta, including Amanda Thompson, Vice President of Marketing of AgencySparks partner, DEFINITION 6. Entrepreneurs ranging in backgrounds shared their experiences in the field and how to make the first step into entrepreneurship.

Plans are already in the works for the 2019 edition of SPARKsouth. To make it even more spectacular, reach out to become a sponsor, speaker, mentor, or attendee at