If there ever was a woman to tell you everything you need to know about how to turn an internship into a career, it’s Allison Cooke. At the age of 25 and after holding only two other positions, Allison is already the Director of Marketing for CS Magazine, Modern Luxury Media’s Chicago publication. She’s a girl you can grab a margarita with and who makes you feel like you’ve been lifelong friends. Her ability to connect with those around her is a major contributor to her success and a true testament that being nice actually can take you far.
We love that this Texas native admits to wearing flats most of the time, is obsessed with karaoke, and has an intense love for Nutella. With her approachability and knowledge of the industry, Allison was able to land a position many girls dream of. Ladies, take notes. Allison is proof that hard work, a warm personality, and a love for what you do can lead you to great places! Today, she tells us about her journey to the top, the importance of having a great mentor, and just how crucial timing is to advancing your career.
Full name: Allison (Ally) Cooke
Current Title/Company: Director of Marketing at CS Magazine/Modern Luxury Media
Educational background: Bachelors Degree in Journalism at University of Missouri at Columbia
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
Funny enough, it was an internship at CS Magazine in the Creative Services department. A friend from college who was in my sorority was in the marketing department and helped me land an interview with the creative department. My dream was to be a graphic designer in Chicago. I moved here with two of my best girlfriends and literally found out I had been offered the job on our way to the city from my hometown of Dallas, TX. It was an unpaid position as a graphic designer for our production team, so I had to get jobs number 2 and 3 to make ends meet! I worked retail and waited tables in order to keep the internship, hoping someday it would turn into something permanent!
Tell us a little about your internship experiences. How do you feel that interning helped you move forward in your professional career?
Obviously, I absolutely think interning is the best way to advance your career. The key is to find a place where you feel challenged and really enjoy the people you work with. I loved Modern Luxury so much because of the people in our office—from the production and sales team to our incredibly talented editorial staff, everyone is so unique and creative. I learn something new every day.
How did you first get connected with and hired at Modern Luxury? What advice do you have for others to set themselves apart from other applicants when applying to similar positions?
I was first connected with Modern Luxury through an older Chi Omega sorority sister of mine at Missouri. I found out she was in Chicago, and it sounded like she had the most amazing job. I got in touch with her and picked her brain about the company. From there, I just worked hard to meet everyone in the office and take on any and all tasks no matter the department. I wanted to learn as much as I could about publishing and about the brand, and I tried to prove myself to them every day.
I stood strong for 11 months as an unpaid intern, and finally the marketing coordinator position opened up. With the help of my friend and the whole office standing by me and recommending me, I was given the chance to step up and be an official part of the team. In order to stand out at an internship, I would recommend that you get to know your coworkers, don’t be afraid to ask questions, be eager and willing to do any task they hand you, and definitely be passionate about the company and the industry.
You have climbed the ladder at Modern Luxury starting with being an intern to now being Director of Marketing. What has enabled you to take your career with them so far? What advice do you have for others who are hoping to move up within their current company?
I think since I grew up with the company as an intern and worked my way to Director, I have so much respect for every person in that building. I know what it was like to be at so many different levels. I’m really willing to do anything I need to do to get things done, and I always want what’s best for CS and our overall brand.
I was also lucky enough to work with such an incredible team in marketing/sales. The former Director of Marketing, Samantha Berngard, was absolutely a mentor to me as I climbed the ladder in marketing. She was so supportive and gave me huge amounts of responsibility very quickly at CS. I’ll always be grateful that she had so much faith in me, because it really helped me believe I could handle anything.
To move up in a company, so much of it is being patient and being in the right place at the right time. I think being verbal about what you want is key, because if you want to move up, your superiors need to know about it. I was loud and clear about my intentions, and it paid off. Also, get a mentor or someone to whom you can ask questions about your career. Maybe it’s your boss, a coworker, or a family friend, but it’s so important to have someone supportive there to guide you along the way.
What are some of your responsibilities as Director of Marketing? What are the greatest rewards? The biggest challenges?
We all wear so many hats at CS, because each of us in every department dabbles in so many different industries. My overall responsibility is to facilitate marketing and strategic partnerships for Modern Luxury’s clients here locally, which includes clients for all seven publications in Chicago (CS, CS Interiors, Front Desk, CS Brides, Men’s Book, Charity & Social Datebook, and we are launching NS, a North Shore publication this Fall). On top of all of that, we plan some incredible events in the city, from full-blown fashion shows with NY designers to small, intimate dinners for our VIP clients. If you asked me the short version, I’d say “I plan parties for a living,” but it’s so much more than that.
The best part to me is that I get to work with so many incredible people. Not just within the walls of CS, but in this city, I have the pleasure of meeting some amazing and talented people—interiors designers with CS Interiors, concierges and hotels with Front Desk, national fashion designers and retailers with CS, and the list goes on. It’s so exciting to gain knowledge in so many different fields.
The biggest challenges are probably that there are a million things to do and never enough hours in the day. I always call my job “connecting the dots,” because it’s all about connecting the right partners and making an incredible promotion or event. Sometimes there are just so many dots and I’m terrified I might miss one! I’m given insane amounts of responsibility and am always challenged to be creative and innovative in marketing. Every day is a surprise—some hectic and extremely busy—but I like that it keeps me on my toes.
In addition to marketing and media, you have a background in art and design, with projects ranging from fine art to graphics in magazines. How did you get on the marketing/media track? Do you find that you still utilize your art and design background in your current career?
Honestly, I never thought I would be in this kind of career, but I’m so lucky to be. Things always happen for a reason, and this was definitely the path I was meant to take. I grew up wanting to design a magazine like CS, but now that I’m out meeting people and networking through marketing and events, I’m not sure I could sit behind a desk and lay out pages. I absolutely love designing and still do it on the side when I can find the time, but this job lets me use that creativity in such a different way.
Having the design background is absolutely helpful in this job! I definitely keep a close eye on our promotional materials and all of the invites—the designers might say I’m too opinionated!
What advice can you give Everygirls seeking employment in marketing/media/public relations?
It sounds cheesy, but so much of it is who you know. Network, network, network. Meet as many people as possible in this industry. So many of the people I’ve met in Chicago are so helpful and willing to give you advice because we were all there once, just trying to get a foot in the door. Don’t be afraid to send an email, write a thank you note, or ask to meet for coffee to pick their brain. If you send an email or two (just in case!) they will most likely be willing to help!
What obstacles have you faced during your career, and how were you able to overcome them?
As Marketing Director, I’m working on proving myself these days. Learning to be a director of a department has probably been the biggest challenge for me, and I’m excited to work on growing my marketing team and becoming as strong and efficient as ever. I think I’m also working on finding a balance between my work life and personal life. I have to make myself leave work and go home at a decent time some nights!
In what ways do you still hope to see your career evolve?
I think I want to master this role at Modern Luxury—I love my position and want to become a strong manager and become a mentor to someone else like Sam was to me. Not sure where this road will lead, but I’m excited to find out and lucky to be on this path with Modern Luxury.
What is a typical work week like for you?
E-mails, events, and more e-mails! We typically do about two to three events a week, if not more. Then, of course, I want to support other events in the city, so I try and go to as many as I can. The e-mails in our industry are a huge part of our day-to-day—you will never catch PR and marketing professionals without their Blackberry or iPhone!
What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Everything happens for a reason. I live by that statement—it always makes even the worst days seem manageable because I know it’s all going to work out.
Best moment of your career so far?
Planning some very grand events—my favorites being our Saks Fifth Avenue Spring Fashion event, featuring a Yigal Azrouel fashion show. I also loved the grand opening and White Party for EnV Luxury Apartments in River North. All of the events were amazing, and I felt like I proved myself at each of these. My favorite part is the last ten minutes of an event, when I’ve made sure everyone is having a great time and I can finally breathe! Those moments are my all-time favorites.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Just stick it out and take one day at a time. There is so much fun ahead of you!