Sara Kerr

“Facebook already feels like old news.”
— Sara Kerr. Photo by Tommy Ellis.

Now, Hear This!

Want to promote your business or nonprofit? Listen to this digitally savvy professor.

By Sara Kerr, as told to Andy Steiner

A skillful storyteller, Sara Kerr, assistant professor of business administration, is a key strategist for the University’s new Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, which will launch in February. The integrated marketing communications (IMC) concentration — which focuses on digital marketing and electronic communications, such as social networks, blogging and transmedia campaigns — is Kerr’s brainchild and the first of its kind in the nation.

A grasp of digital marketing is central to modern business success, she says. “You can have the greatest idea or cause in the world, but unless you tell somebody about it on the web in an attention-grabbing way, you are going nowhere. It’s as simple as that.”

I WORKED FOR A TECH START-UP IN Chapel Hill, North Carolina, back in about 2006, when Facebook was really taking off. This was a scrappy little company that had a limited budget for promotion and marketing. When I was asked to promote their products, I thought, "What can we do with Facebook?" I did a lot of playing, trying to figure out how we could use this new medium to get our message out to people.

I had worked in corporate marketing before, but this was the first time digital marketing had been part of a project. And I was thrilled with the possibilities. We discovered so many creative ways to use the Internet to get our story out to customers. This approach came to be known as integrated marketing communications (IMC). Ever since then I have been convinced of its power.

Prior to Chapel Hill, my family and I had lived in St. Paul, and I worked at St. Catherine as director of institutional research and planning, and as an adjunct professor of business administration. I returned to St. Kate’s in 2010, when we moved back to St. Paul. I noticed that the University wasn’t offering any courses that focused on building students’ skills in IMC. So I started teaching a class on the topic. It was really popular. Now, it will be a concentration in the new MBA program. We will also offer a post-graduate certificate in IMC.

Our IMC courses go much further than "this is how you use Facebook for business," which already feels like old news. We focus on strategy and creativity, and on storytelling using a variety of media, which is the next step.

Many social networking tools are available today, but why would a person like a business on Facebook or follow it on Twitter unless the business had something interesting or important to say? Getting people to connect with your brand or product is called "content marketing," and we want our students to be able to come up with strategic storytelling ideas for promoting their own businesses or nonprofits.

Nobody else locally offers an IMC concentration. A person who earns an MBA from St. Catherine will have the business backbone of economics and accounting — and the interactive skills layered on top.

When I earned my MBA, it was purely about advancing my career. I was a French and economics major who ended up being a wine importer. I needed to know more about doing business in order to be successful. My MBA wasn’t about how I could use business to make a better world. But our students will be different.

Everything we do at St. Kate’s has an effect in the world. And that’s the way we teach business here. “A better you. A better world”: That is the brand promise of the new St. Kate’s MBA. Our graduates will do good work for the world. And, thanks to IMC, they will have the skills to get the word out about what they are accomplishing.