“If it scares you, do it.” These wise words from Meghan Goulette, Director of Marketing at Rockit Ranch Productions, are part of the reason you’re going to love what she says about being in the hospitality industry. This 30-year-old is not afraid to take leaps of faith and her risk-taking ways have gotten her to where she is today. After college, she moved to Brisbane, Australia to earn her master’s degree and learned the invaluable lesson to never be afraid of doing something different. After returning Stateside, she spent several years in marketing and account management, including a stint working closely with Detroit’s auto industry. Now Meghan leads the team responsible for marketing some of Chicago’s hottest restaurants and night clubs, notably the celeb-frequented Sunda, Rockit, and The Underground.
With her hard-working attitude and her desire to always learn as much as she can about a job before diving in, Meghan’s diligence will have you wanting to pursue a career with the same drive she has. Read on and see how Meghan is proof that work doesn’t have to feel like work if you’re doing what you love.
Full name: Meghan Goulette
Current Position: Director of Marketing at Rockit Ranch Productions, Chicago, IL
Educational Background: Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Communications from University of Connecticut; Masters in Integrated Marketing from QUT, Brisbane, Australia
Your life after graduating from college was a little different than most. Tell us about your decision to move to Brisbane, Australia to study for your masters degree. What made you decide to take the leap and live/study in another country?
I had spent one semester of my senior year in Brisbane, as part of a study abroad program, and I immediately fell in love with everything about it. The weather was amazing, the lifestyle is unmatched (laid back with a work to live instead of live to work philosophy), and the people were some of the friendliest I have ever met. The semester flew by and I realized that four months was not nearly enough time to really explore and settle in (well that, in addition to falling in love with an Aussie boy!). So, I moved back home, finished up my last semester of undergrad and decided to return down under to get my master’s degree.
While the idea of moving abroad post-college sounds like an amazing opportunity, the process of it all can seem a bit daunting. How did you support yourself in another country while you were studying, and what advice would you offer other college graduates looking to do the same?
It was daunting for sure…I remember packing up my things only a few weeks after moving back from school in Connecticut and thinking, “am I crazy? I’m moving to the other side of the world for nearly 2 years!”. But I have learned that the best life experiences and growth come from taking risks. Luckily for me I have the most amazing and supportive parents, siblings and friends who I knew would always be there to catch me if I fell, which gave me a huge sense of security.
As soon as I arrived back in Australia I got a part-time job as a waitress at a local café, and worked to support myself while I was in school. Tuition itself is actually much cheaper there than in the US for almost identical programs so that was a huge selling point since I knew I definitely wanted to complete my master’s degree somewhere. My advice to other college graduates looking to do the same would be do your homework in regard to the program and location you choose, make sure the classes and professors are of a level that would be beneficial to you in the US. Save as much money as you can before you head over too, it is fairly easy to find part-time work but typically you can only work 20 hours max with a student visa, so you’ll need some cushion!
After you returned to the States with your masters, you took another leap of faith and moved to Chicago. Tell us a bit about making that decision. What was your first job out of grad school?
When I returned to the States I went back to my parent’s house in Rhode Island and while it was great to reconnect with family and friends, I was immediately stir crazy! I knew I wanted to be in a larger city, so I started looking at agency jobs in Boston and New York. Boston felt a bit too familiar, too close, and New York was just way to expensive for my entry level salary. My father had been traveling a lot to Chicago for business and suggested I look here. I came out for a weekend when I was on a long break from school in Australia and fell in love with it (of course it was a sunny weekend in July when I did!). So, I immediately began the job hunt… 80 cold calls landed me four interviews and eventually one job offer for an assistant account manager position at Slack Barshinger (now Slack & Company), a B-to-B integrated marketing agency.
Eventually you started working as the marketing manager of Gen Art Chicago, a non profit for the arts. What was the transition from working for a B to B agency to working at for a non profit like?
The transition was actually quite easy for two reasons. One because I had learned these great technical skills about marketing, project management, budget oversight, etc. from Slack Barshinger and two, because the work at Gen Art was something I was totally passionate about personally. Gen Art focused on the promotion of independent art, music, fashion and film through events and I was already familiar with the organization prior to starting. I did have to get used to the much tighter budgets and the much smaller team that came with working at a non-profit, but I found that to be the best way to learn how to be 100% efficient (and sometimes a little scrappy too!).
You were later promoted from Account Manager to Account Director at VSA Partners in less than a year. What do you attribute to this kind of success?
Hard work and a positive, solution based attitude. In that type of role you need to be able to work with all kinds of personalities and you need be flexible in your style with each and every person. When I started at VSA I immediately began asking as many questions as I could, about the client, my colleagues and the culture of VSA. In order for me to perform my best there I knew I had to fully understand what I was working with. This understanding then allowed me to bring out the best in my team of designers, strategists and copywriters, all while growing the business with my clients and working to solve their business problems, not just complete a checklist of requested tasks. Communication was and is always key.
It was also critical for me to be able to solve problems on the fly without losing my cool. It was inevitable that at some point, something would go wrong; clients would request last minute changes or a concept would fall flat when presented…the trick was to always stay focused on the solution. The easiest way to make a bad situation worse is to waste all your time point fingers or trying to figure out what went wrong. The smartest move is to focus immediately on the solution or new options. Working in this manner helped the internal team to see me as a leader, which helped me elevate my role more quickly.
So tell us about how you received the opportunity to work at Rockit Ranch Productions. In what way does this position differ from your previous roles? Was there a learning curve when you first started? Any lessons that you’ve learned along the way?
I had done a few events with the Rockit Ranch team back when I worked for Gen Art and of course the venues were some of my favorites in Chicago so I was definitely familiar with the company. The opportunity itself was brought to me by Nicole Salerno, one of our company’s operating partners and Director of Sales and Catering. I have known her for several years and respect her immensely as a businesswoman and entrepreneur so, while I was not actively job hunting at the time, I decided to throw my hat in the ring based on her suggestion.
The opportunity seemed amazing, but definitely scary. I had never worked in the hospitality industry before; I had always worked on the agency side of things for large corporate clients. This position would mean building and running my own department, reporting directly into the partners and making big decisions about strategies and budgets. There was indeed a learning curve, as there is with any new position and company, but Rockit Ranch provided what has been probably the best training program of my career to date. For six weeks I was immersed in all aspects of the company and venues. I ate and drank my way through our menus (not a bad part of the job!), I worked the floor with venue managers, observed the teams on the line in the kitchen and spent countless hours with our partners and GMs asking questions, reviewing sales and financial documents, uncovering strengths and weaknesses and planning out my strategy.
Along the way I have learned a lot about how to react quickly. In our business you can know immediately if something is working or not. If a new promotion is increasing traffic and sales or if an event concept is resonating with our key demographics. It has taught me to take risks, to test new ideas and not be afraid to fail, but more importantly, to accept any failures that may occur along the way and quickly adjust or try something new. The worst thing you can do is let your ego get in the away and keep pushing something along that clearly is not working.
What advice can you give Everygirls seeking employment in the marketing/pr industry?
Network network network… Get to events, shake hands, swap business cards, build new relationships and maintain the ones you have. You never know where your path will take you so having a strong set of people you can call on for advice, favors and new ideas is critical. Also, keep up to date on what is new in marketing and PR as well as what is happening in your industry of focus, I use Fast Company, Business Week and Mashable as key daily sources of information as well as food and drink publications. In our digital world things are constantly changing and it is important to keep up!
Walk us through your average work day.
An average work day for me starts with a review of my to-do list and some check in meetings with my team. After that my days include meetings with the partners to review new ideas and current work, calls with our various media partners or editors and brainstorming sessions with our design team. I also make it a point to spend some time each day at one (or more) of our venues. This venue time might include meeting with our management team at AY CHIWOWA to check in on the progress of projects, talking to chef’s at Sunda and Rockit Bar and Grill about upcoming menu changes, overseeing photoshoots at Rockit Burger Bar, or simply saying hi to patrons and generally observing what is happening. It is impossible to effectively market something that you are not familiar with inside and out so this time is very important to what I do.
After the normal work hours are done I am usually off to an event or two, whether it be at one of our venue’s or somewhere else in the city. There is never a shortage of things going on in Chicago, especially in the summer!
Your job requires that you oversee events, advertising, public relations, social media, and digital strategy for six different venues! How do you balance your to-do list and responsibilities? How do you go about delegating tasks to your team?
My strategy is to always keep a running list of what needs to get done. In the morning I run through that list and I always start by getting the easiest and quickest tasks checked off first. I find that even if something can be put off for a few days, but can be done in 5 minutes, it is worth doing immediately. This strategy helps me cross a lot of items off of that list before I really get into the day. From there it just becomes a lot of multi-tasking! It is important in my role to ensure I am paying attention to all aspects of marketing as well as all six of our current venues. I’m lucky because I love what I do, so it rarely ever feels like work!
With regards to my team and delegating tasks to them, we meet every Monday for an hour or so, walking through each venue and what must be completed that week. It helps prioritize tasks and make sure we are all on the same page. Everyone on the team has their own areas of focus so I place a lot of responsibility on them to understand their deadlines and really track down whatever they need to get things done. Then, we set checkpoints to review progress and provide feedback. Centralized calendars help us keep an eye on key dates and what is on the horizon so we can all plan accordingly.
Considering you work in the nightlife industry, do you find that the job requires many nights and weekends? Any tips on how to maintain a work/life balance when working in such a demanding field?
There are definitely nights and weekends involved, but again, that rarely feels like work because the events are always fun! We typically have 1-2 events that we are throwing ourselves, which I will attend. On weekends I am very rarely required to be in any one place, but I am always out socially popping into our venues with friends!
The best advice I can give is to make sure you set aside time that is yours and honor that time. Block it on your calendar. Designate nights and days that are off limits and do you best to keep that promise to yourself. Sunday’s are my designated “Do not disturb day”. Also, put the phone down and go off the grid, sometimes you just have to tell yourself, it can wait. Our digital culture has caused us to become so impatient, so immediate, and it is oftentimes unnecessary.
Lastly, take vacations. If you get stressed going away for too long, break it up into periodic long weekends. I never leave vacation days on the table, they are there to be used and I for sure take advantage of mine. I may work extra-long hours in the days leading up, but when that vacation starts you certainly won’t catch me on email or buried in my laptop. My team knows they can always reach me if it is an emergency, but we try to support each other in that time off. We work hard and we deserve the breaks!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
If it scares you, do it.