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Master’s in Marketing: Alara Özçam, Warwick Business School

Student Name: Alara Özçam

Graduate Business School: Warwick Business School 

Describe Yourself In 15 Words: A curious-minded dreamer, just beginning her adventure with ambitious plans and a hunger for knowledge. 

Master’s Graduation Class: 2020

Undergraduate School and Major: Hotel Institute Montreux, Hospitality Management. Northwood University, Business.

Current Employer and Job Title: Publicis Groupe Turkey, Human Experience Strategist. I also am a Freelance Marketer and Digital Strategist.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am not certain if this is my “biggest accomplishment,” but it’s certainly one of those that makes me the proudest. After I graduated from my undergraduate school, despite the job offers I received I felt unsure of what I wanted in the greater scheme. I was in a period in which I needed to find myself and it felt like a great opportunity to do just that whilst going after one of my biggest dreams: exploring India! But I wasn’t just going to explore, I was in to learn all about the culture and contribute to the community to the best of my abilities. 

I contacted one of the biggest Public Relations & Marketing companies in the country. I made some arrangements with a public school in a little village nearby. Then, I packed my bags and got on a plane to New Delhi! The plan was to work as a Marketing and PR assistant part-time, while I dedicate the other half of my day to volunteering as an English teacher to primary school kids – which I did. It was a magical time for sure, but I count it as a major challenge because a) I was a foreigner in an unfamiliar culture b) I had no experience as a teacher before, nor as a marketing assistant! c) I had zero ideas about what was expected of me. 

I’ll admit, I had great difficulty adjusting to the lifestyle and the organizational culture at first. I was the only foreigner in the office I worked in, so it was unusual to have me there for me and them both. My first week, there was a massive communication barrier in both my office environment and my class – the former because we weren’t sure what to expect of each other and the latter because we literally couldn’t understand a word! But as time went by, I learned how to adapt to their way of life while also keeping mine. I noticed the hesitation of both parties and I went to introduce myself to everyone at the office, offering to help whenever I could and socialize in events related to the Indian culture. At school, I came up with innovative signs, pictures, and movies to connect with the children – as sound is not the only way to bond. After these efforts, I ended up working with amazing companies (i.e. Moët & Chandon, Bobbi Brown, Gaurav Gupta), learning things I couldn’t have learned from my comfort zone, made lifelong friendships and broadened my horizons by seeing through another cultural lens. 

Describe your biggest accomplishment as a graduate student: One of the biggest gifts my MSc degree gave me is the confidence that I can just “wing it.” While I was collecting data for my dissertation, I got into contact with a gentleman for my research on creating a Social Media Strategy. The idea was to interview him to collect data, yet the interview ended up turning into a business deal! 

As I proceeded with my questions, I realized that he started asking me his, about what exactly a good social media and digital strategy can lead to. By the end of our call, he said “perhaps you can help with my business marketing strategy.” I was beyond excited of course; it was a huge opportunity to put all my research and learning to practical use! Yet, I was a bit nervous as I had never worked as a strategist before – let alone as the single person responsible for a real business. Thankfully, I had all my training, practical-based projects, invaluable advice from expert marketing professionals, and a basis of research-understanding thanks to my previous Market Research Classes with Professor Johannes Habel and dozens of articles I had read for my thesis. So I said yes, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made! 

This was the beginning of my career as a Freelance Marketing Strategist and opened a new door for me. From that point on, I am sure that as long as you want something enough and you have the will to do it, nothing is out of reach. Now I have other clients, who have asked me to decide major business decisions on their behalf (like acquiring a new venture), strategizing their marketing activities with my viewpoint and often challenging my comfort zone with special requests like “Hey, can you make a website?” or “hey, can you organize a virtual wedding with 400 invitees?!”

What was the key factor that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I was always certain that I would do a master’s. I had a few options while I was choosing the school and Warwick Business School was always among my top 3. I chose this school for its program schedule, diversity, lifestyle, reputation, and opportunities. 

What led you to choose a Master’s in Marketing over an MBA? The main reason I decided against an MBA was that I wanted to become a marketing professional and I was at the beginning of my career. During my undergraduate degree, I also specialized in Luxury Marketing & Communications during which I had lectures on Marketing, Luxury Communications, and many more areas. From the start of the lesson that term, I knew this was what I needed to do. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Marketing world and that I needed further knowledge on the field if I was to become an aspiring Marketer. I was determined to go deep and absorb all the knowledge I could from an institute that I admired. Thus, I selected the WBS Marketing programme. Yet, another huge dealmaker was the inclusion of strategy in the program. It wasn’t solely marketing, it was an “MSc in Marketing & Strategy.”This was brilliant for me because as I saw it: it gave me deep-rooted knowledge in two distinctive fields that I thought were quite futuristic and essential to any organization. Moreover, I would have extensive options as to experience both marketing and strategy-related classes, then choose from which ones interest me more as the last term of the masters included elective courses that were more inclined towards marketing or strategy. 

What has been your favorite course and how has it helped you in your career? It is not easy picking one, but if I had to, I would have to say “Critical Issues in Marketing” with Dr Laura Chamberlain. This was one of our first lectures in Term 1, and I went to each class with happy curiosity. This was mainly because in each lecture, we discussed a topic that has the potential to be ground-breaking for the Marketing industry. The content was current, intriguing, relevant and totally fun. 

What role did your school play in helping you to land your first job out of the program? The dissertation process was a key for me. As I found ways to combine an academic dissertation with a tailor-made strategy for an evolving start-up, my abilities to think outside the box evolved. Moreover, during my dissertation (and learning experience in WBS in general), my skillset for critical analysis and confidence for independent work grew drastically. As a result, when a UK-based wine start-up asked me if I could manage the entirety of their Marketing strategy, I said “Yes, of course I can!”

Thanks to that, my journey as a freelance marketing & business strategy consultant started, opening many doors for me along the road. So, it wasn’t only my academic learning that helped me to become “self-employed” before I even graduated (I started freelancing while I was working on my dissertation!), it was also the soft-skills I developed & the self-confidence I built over time I spent in WBS.

The WBS name also helped me. For my current job as a Human Experience Strategist at Publicis Groupe, my background was central. My learning experience and the details of courses I took at WBS were extremely important for my manager. And frankly, when you mention you studied marketing at a top 10 business school, people are impressed. I also found out that before you even get an interview with an employer, you are just one many CVs on the table of the Human Resources Department. At this point, it becomes imperative to find ways to draw people in with a piece of paper, so you have a chance to impress with your personality. I can confidently say that my time at Warwick helped me a great deal at this stage. 

How did your classmates enhance the value of your business school experience? I’ve always had a strong belief in the power of divergence. Different people with distinctive cultures, mindsets and visions improve you – professionally for sure but also personally. During my master’s program I’ve had classmates (169 people!) from all over the world. We had many collaborative activities during mini-class presentations, negotiations, debates and end-of-term projects. Was it always easy to find a common ground while every single person in a large group had a mind of their own? No. But it was what made my WBS experience so special. We would start brainstorming on an idea and somebody would mention a relevant technological innovation from their country that was unfamiliar to me, another would talk about a cultural ritual or an old family tradition their grandparents used to do, and we would end up with something unique.

Who was your favorite faculty member and how did this person enrich your learning? First of all, Harminder Singh. Professor Singh was assigned to Negotiation classes during Term 2. At first, I had my doubts about a negotiation class as I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The assignments were in a format that I found unusual. For example, we needed to create an end-of-term presentation that explained a well-known negotiation process, to which our main guideline was to “create art”. When I asked a question, I rarely got a direct yes or no answer. Instead, Harminder would give me a question back, or a clue as I see now. So it began to lead my mind to places that were not only analytical and research-based but also uniquely creative and totally “me”. 

The second person I need to mention is Alison Collins from WBS Career’s Office. Alison played a huge part in my master’s experience not only as someone I asked for help on things like perfecting a CV, but also as a mentor I could go to for valuable advice. I remember writing to her before my interviews or asking for her detailed opinion, sometimes on a single wording on my cover letter. No matter what, she was available and full-on ready to brainstorm with me. 

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s graduate master’s program? Talk to students. This is something I wish that I had done more. The school provides many opportunities to connect to current students from the same program you might be interested in. I know how extensive the options are as I was a WBS Ambassador responsible for liaising between the school and candidates. There are Q&A sessions, live chats, webinars and even direct calls with students. The easiest way to stay in touch and to get notified is to follow WBS on its social media accounts (especially Instagram) or to sign up for WBS newsletters from the website. Another thing I can recommend is to just find people from LinkedIn! Lots of new students-to-be or candidates contacted me on LinkedIn to ask questions. I was happy to answer and even schedule calls, as I am sure many alumni would be. 

What was your best memory from your master’s program? There are two. First, the Winter Ball!  Within all the chaos, 5 am study sessions and sleepless days where we were running on coffee, the Winter Ball was like this legend awaiting all of us. The weekend before, some friends and I went for a shopping trip to Birmingham to get some cool outfits and release some of the stress of our intense schedules. Approaching the end of the night, there was an instant when everyone was out on the dance floor showing off some moves (including me, of course). I remember looking at everyone – 169 people! – all from different cultures and daily lives dancing to the same songs, laughing at the same jokes and just enjoying the moment. That was one of the moments that I didn’t want to end. I was happy to be a part of a new family.

The second one was a project in our Digital Disruption Transformation class with professor Yansong Hu. We were required to pick a brand, create an idea and actually design an advertising campaign that included a video-clip ad we created. My team and I chose Primark. As it was a couple of weeks away from Valentine’s Day, and we wanted to empower people to love themselves.