SOM Alumna’s Enthusiasm for the Outdoors becomes a Career: September’s aMaizeing Alumni

Danielle Mauter earned her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Marketing with a minor in graphic design from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2014. During her time as a student, Danielle had multiple internships, was a co-founder of the Marketing and Advertising Student Professionals club, and participated in other off-campus activities like coaching for a high school color guard squad and competing in the Genesee County Fair open exhibit classes. Danielle is currently the Chief of Marketing and Communications at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks which serves five southeast Michigan counties. She oversees marketing staff, improves media relations and partnerships in the region, and implements future-facing goals for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. As our featured alumni of the month, Danielle describes her career path, her favorite memories as a student, why she went into the marketing field, and gives advice for those who want to pursue a career in marketing!

Q: Degree(s) and graduation year:
A:  Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Marketing with a minor in graphic design, 2014

Q: Where are you currently working and your title? How long have you been in this position or at this organization? What is your job like day to day?
A: I am currently the Chief of Marketing and Communications at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. I have been here since February 2019 (2.5 years). One of America’s premier metropolitan park systems, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have served the people of Southeast Michigan since 1940. Managed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, the Metroparks are made up of 13 properties in Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties.

As much as I hate a cliché – it’s true that my job is different every day. I manage a small team and together we are responsible for promoting the Metroparks brand and communicating with the public and partners about activities, programs, events, and the general park experience. We maintain all the social media and web presence as well as communication pieces in print, digital, TV/Video, radio, and out-of-home spaces. Some days I spend time with my graphic designs reviewing and brainstorming ideas for ad artwork to fit our brand identity and then I shift to answering media phone calls, completing interviews, and writing press releases. Then other days I spend time in our parks capturing photos and generating content. Still other days I may spend with our organizations’ leadership team creating the “big picture” ideas of where the organization needs to be or go in the future and putting together our budget and ideas for the upcoming year. It is a truly rewarding job that always keeps me on my toes.

Q: Describe your career path.
A:  My career path started while I was still in college. I consider the five years I spent working part-time at Menards during school to really be the start of it. I was a shy kid in high school, but working in retail forced me to talk to customers and brought me out of my shell. I saw how merchandising worked and developed sales pitches to help customers finish their home improvement projects.

From there, all but one of my positions have been the first of their kind. I have stepped into roles that organizations have just created and have spent the majority of my career building brands and campaigns for organizations that created marketing departments or roles to help grow their business.
   
At the end of my second year of business school, I scored an internship with a small local business that organized and promoted fine art and craft shows and was looking to grow into new types of events. This was my first real-world experience in marketing where I was responsible for managing business social media accounts, booking and creating ad campaigns, organizing event details, and helping with bookkeeping. There were times that I was doing a lot of self-teaching, but it was a job I loved and really excelled at. I ended up staying with the company part-time for about 2 years.
   
After my first year with the show promotion company, I applied for and was offered a second internship at Nexteer Automotive completing marketing research for their future engineering department. It was a new role at the time and I was being supervised by engineers to find the possible market share for a possible future use of their technologies. It was a very self-guided project that resulted in me actually presenting my findings to members of their board. The presentation was a success and they continued to work on that project for a couple of years (as far as I know) after I left the organization. This is where I determined that marketing research wasn’t the only thing I wanted to spend my days on. I needed a mixture of marketing tasks to keep me happy.
   
After graduation (well actually slightly before), I took my first full-time position in marketing. I was the marketing professional at Wolverine Fire Protection Co. – a specialty contractor that designs and installs fire suppression systems across the country. I was the very first marketing staff person they had hired in their history. Here I had the chance to rebuild a brand from scratch. I took their existing logo and built a much more modern identity around it that includes a website overhaul, new letterhead and templates, new report and RFP style and format, building social media presence, new trade show materials, etc. I did spend a lot of my time working on proposals to win new projects because this is a B2B business. It was a great experience, but I quickly discovered I wanted to get back into the B2C world and a role where I was working on ad campaigns and more traditional marketing channels.
   
That is when I found the posting for a Marketing Specialist at Genesee County Parks. In this role, I was able to come in at the front of a brand refresh project in a B2C organization. I was able to work through updating all branded brochures, social media presence, and website AND create true marketing campaigns. I managed a marketing budget and a small staff of 1-3 (1 full-time and 1-2 interns at a time). I also got to do some event organizing and marketing utilizing the skills I earned in my first internship. I was hooked on the field of parks and recreation after my first six months there, and although I wasn’t the first person in that role, the role offered a lot of room for modernizing and making it my own with a fresh start.
   
I was at Genesee County Parks for almost 4 years when I took on my current role. It was a shift from a county park system to a regional parks system and managing a larger staff with more responsibilities. At the time I took my position at Huron-Clinton Metroparks, the role of Chief of Marketing and Communications was new and the Metroparks hadn’t had a consistent and organized marketing plan in over 30 years. I once again had the opportunity to come in and rebuild a brand starting with the brand refresh process and working through updating the brand identity and then working to build brand campaigns to improve brand recognition in Southeast Michigan and increase attendance. Additionally, I’m working to continually improve media relations and partnerships in the region and focused on public-facing storytelling to get our brand message across. As part of the executive leadership team, I also have the opportunity to be a part of the team the develops and guides the future-facing goals and plans for the organization.

Q: Why did you choose to attend UM-Flint for your degree(s)?
A:  I originally started college with a much different career path in mind. I chose UM-Flint at the time because I wanted to complete my prereqs while I worked toward transferring into UM-Ann Arbor’s Architecture program. While I did accomplish that – after two years at UM-Flint and one semester in Ann Arbor’s Architecture program, I decided it wasn’t actually making me happy and that I needed to change majors. When I did, I decided to come back to UM-Flint because the smaller campus was a much more personalized experience for me. The teachers were able to give individual students more attention and I felt like it was a better place for me to gain the education I needed to prepare for my career while still being more affordable than other big universities.

Q: Were you involved in any clubs or extracurriculars during your college experience? If so, what organizations/clubs?
A:  I was a co-founder of Marketing and Advertising Student Professionals at the time. Was involved in other activities off campus including coaching for a high school color guard squad, riding four-wheelers, and competing in the Genesee County Fair open exhibit classes and queen pageant.

Q: How did your education at UM-Flint prepare you for what you are doing today?
A:  In my business classes I had a diverse set of students. Unlike some universities where everyone is fresh out of high school and living in dorms, my classes were a mix of “traditional” college students, older return-to-learn students with careers and full-time jobs already and students from abroad. Being paired up in group projects and discussions with those unique perspectives allowed me to think differently and really discuss what we were learning in class. That combined with the internship and hands-on experiences that I gained through the career center and the student org we started helped propel me into realizing what my career could be. I’ll admit I didn’t really know what type of marketing role I wanted to be in while I was in college. It was really helpful to take two very different internships over the course of my four years. The first one was in event marketing and allowed me to use my creativity and graphic designer minor and I loved being on the B2C side. The second was in marketing research which I thought would make more money and I would love the numbers side. I discovered that I didn’t love it as much as I loved creating B2C campaigns and using my creative side. That helped me determine that I ultimately wanted to end up the head of a marketing department somewhere.

Q: Why did you choose to go into the career path you are currently in?
A:  I weaved my answer to this into my career path answer. It had a lot to do with my experience at each role I’ve had in showing me the pieces I did and didn’t like in each of my roles.

Q: What is the most important thing you learned while you were at UM-Flint? 
A:  I would say that the most important thing I learned during my time at UM-Flint is the benefit of applied experience. I had teachers and internship opportunities through campus resources that allowed me to work on real-world projects. That type of experience can’t be read in a textbook. Those hands-on experiences allowed me to apply what I was learning in class (and do a little research and self-teaching along the way) and propelled me further into career options that I never expected. Had I not taken the chance on those opportunities, I don’t think I would be as far in my career as I am today. I learned that you have to put the work in, but when you do, everything starts to click and it makes it all worth it.

Q: What is one of your favorite events you attended or classroom experiences at UM-Flint? Why?
A:  I remember my classroom experiences more than events, and it’s hard for me to pick one. I actually have a few that stick out in my mind. I had professor Laurence for organizational behavior and I always found his lessons really interesting. It really brought the concepts of inter-office relations and management into a realistic perspective. He was also always willing to help outside of class or give advice and he wrote me a great letter of recommendation that helped me land my first job. I also really enjoyed my international business class (although I don’t remember my professor’s name). At the time, I thought I wanted to end up in an international business and his lessons often brought a hands-on component. One specific time is when he brought in silkworms for us to eat. I originally felt I could be brave and try it, but ultimately ended up chickening out. But it was still a really impactful lesson for other cultures.

Q: What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
A:   I have a couple pieces of advice. First, treat every job like a great opportunity. What I mean is open your eyes and ears and soak up as much experience as you can. A lot of students don’t consider their part-time retail jobs as “experience” on their resumes and in interviews, but it is! When I’m talking to students I remind them to think about those jobs differently and decide what those jobs have taught them that they can carry into an organization. Maybe it’s communication skills or sales skills or merchandising ideas from someone who has actually had to stock shelves before. It’s all valuable in different ways.
   
Also, graphic design experience today is really important. Even if you can’t do it yourself, you should have an understanding of the principles, terminology, and technology used. In my role, I supervise graphic designers, but in previous roles, I’ve had to be both the marketing person and the graphic designer. A lot of companies are looking for dual roles and even if they aren’t, you need to understand the principles of what works and looks good to consumers when your reviewing and approving billboards vs print ads vs social media content. So I recommend taking some graphic design courses while you’re still in school or in some other capacity after school. It will make you more marketable in the job force.

Q: What is a long-term career or professional goal you have for yourself?
A: When I think a few years back, my long-term goal was to become a chief marketing officer (CMO) somewhere. I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to realize that goal by the time I was 30. Now I’ve been so busy building that role for 2.5 years and through a pandemic that brought record attendance to parks everywhere, that I haven’t really stopped to think what my next long-term goal should be in my career. My goal is always to continue growing and improving the organization I work for. Professionally, in the parks and rec field, there is a certification called CPRP (certified parks and recreational professional). I do have a goal for myself to obtain that one day and to stay in the parks and recreation field.

Q: What is something people may not know about you?
A: In the professional world people tend to see a petite, fair-skinned, young, blonde woman and generate certain assumptions about me. However, I have often surprised people when they discover my hobbies include riding four-wheelers, and side by sides, getting dirty, fishing, hunting, photography (I even had my own business for a short period of time) and all things outdoors. My honeymoon trip to Alaska was my absolute favorite vacation. I listen to all types of music from rock to hip hop to country, I’m a dedicated dog mom and I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and help with projects of all kinds including tending to my small flock of chickens and home renovation projects at my husband and I’s house in the country or cabin in the woods.

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