Swickard marketing Pikes Peak Community College

Thu, Aug 25, 2011

One on One

Allison Swickard thought she wanted to be a reporter, but found a home instead in public relations and marketing.

And now, she’s found a home at Pikes Peak Community College, after moving from one position to another.

“While it may sound like a lot of jobs and titles, and while some may view this in a negative light, I have to say the experience is a huge asset,” she said. “My professional projects have varied from interviewing Shaun White about e-mail versus texting, teaching tech geeks how to improve interpersonal communicators and traveling to Spain to direct the media relations efforts during the Women’s Rugby World Cup.”

A native of Ohio, the 34-year-old Swickard now directs marketing and communications for the community college, a job she says she’s fallen in love with.

“One of my core beliefs is that everyone, regardless of background and beliefs, should have the opportunity to receive a first class education,” she said. “…education has opened doors for me, and provided me opportunities I would never had access to growing up in rural Ohio.”

What made you decide to go into marketing?

Public relations, marketing, advertising, and communication are truly where I belong. But I have to admit I got really, really lucky. My first quarter at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, I found myself in a journalism class. At the time I was exploring the idea of being either a news reporter or an English literature teacher. During that journalism class there was a chapter about public relations and marketing. Being from a very rural town in Ohio, up to that point I had no idea what public relations or marketing was, but as I read that chapter something clicked and I could see myself working in the field. I loved writing, relationship building, being creative and developing strategy. I was lucky to attend a college that placed me in my first public relations internship as a sophomore. Nearly 17 years later I’m lucky to have had faculty members and employers who pushed me, believed in me and catapulted me into a profession that gets me jazzed every day.

What are your goals for Pikes Peak Community College?

PPCC is in the midst of creating a new strategic plan that outlines the goals for the college for the next five years. From a department level, however(Marketing, Communication & Recruitment), we rally around two main marketing goals.

First and foremost, we are working toward elevating the image of the PPCC brand. We know from research our community doesn’t fully understand our impact and our mission. Through a strategic and focused marketing outreach campaign that kicks off this fall we hope to educate those in our region about our product: A first-class education at an amazing price.

Our second goal as marketers/recruiters is continuing to make the dream of education a reality for all those in our region. We serve a diverse and varied population and we want to meet them where they live and on their terms so they are aware of the opportunities available at PPCC.

Do the cuts in higher education during the past few years make it harder to work for a college?

Some may answer this question with an emphatic yes. But, in my opinion, shrinking budgets and fewer resources force us to become more strategic and more creative; and those are the parts of the job that get me most excited. Because there isn’t the budget there once was, we now turn ideas inside out, look at things from a fresh lens, measure ROI to the point of exhaustion and work in ways we may have never imaged. In the end, this kind of fresh thinking creates a stronger and better product.

What are some of the particular challenges of your job?

The biggest challenge is keeping up with such a varied and savvy customer base. There is no typical PPCC student. Sure we could break it down to our average of a 29-year-old, female, nursing student who receives financial aid. But our students don’t fit into the average; they are diverse. The idea of a one-size-fits all communication strategy doesn’t exist here. That means we have to understand the traditional high school student, the 55-year-old student looking to start a second career and the veteran hoping to apply their service to a new career. The way these prospective students think and learn about college is different, and we have to be incredibly smart about reaching out and telling them the PPCC story in a way that is relevant and authentic.

What would you like to see Colorado Springs become in the next few years?

When I close my eyes and think of a Colorado Springs of the future, the first two words that pop into my head are “vibrant” and “community.” I see concerts, festivals, art openings, new businesses, a downtown with no empty spaces, an amazing public transportation system, college students interning at local businesses, new start-up ventures, and positive national attention. I also see residents who say they live in “Colorado Springs,” not downtown, the west side, Briargate, etc. We live in an amazing place with amazing people, now we just need to build on those strengths and let people know the cool stuff that goes on here.

What are some ways the city can attract and retain more of the younger, creative class?

This is the million-dollar question. I can’t tell you how many forums, luncheons and round tables I have been to that asked this very question. I believe we do have a strong base of young, creative professionals who can help us retain and attract more. But, we need to give these individuals a seat at the table and allow them to partner with established business professionals so together they can create a shared and bold vision of where Colorado Springs can grow.

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