In the Spotlight: Mary Kate Gulick, Manager, Creative Direction, IBM

Mary Kate Gulick serves as Manager of Creative Direction for the IBM Employment Branding team. In her role, she is responsible for leading a global team that delivers for both external and internal clients, guiding creative strategy and execution, developing and enhancing client relationships, and ensuring overall growth of the IBM Employment Branding solution. With more than 15 years of experience in marketing, brand management and creative strategy, Ms. Gulick held creative leadership roles at two distinguished advertising agencies, Ervin & Smith Advertising and Snitily Carr (now Firespring), achieving recognition for her award-winning creative work for both regional and national brands. Ms. Gulick holds a Master of Arts in Marketing, Communication Studies and Advertising from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Illinois State University. Recently, we sat down with her to discuss her role within IBM Employment Branding, explore what she’s most passionate about and understand how her experience and expertise has prepared her for the position she holds today.

Mary Kate, tell us about what attracted you to join the IBM Employment Branding team in 2016.

Brand strategy has been a large part of my work for the last 10 years, but it’s always been through the lens of consumer marketing. Everything we told clients about branding—that it’s more than the marketing, that it’s who the company is at its core, that it’s 100 percent about the people who work for you—clearly had more to do with Human Resources than it did with just marketing. But at an advertising agency, our teams were so confined to the role of consumer and B2B selling, we never had the chance to explore where the employer brand is made—at the employee level. I knew there were only a handful of companies doing employment branding well, and I knew IBM was one of them. So I kept my eye on opportunities and joined the team last Spring.

What would you consider your greatest passion in work? What drives you?

Two things: First, I live for that moment when the team develops a creative concept that reflects the truth within an organization. The process to get there is sometimes messy and mysterious, but when the team hits that perfect solution, everyone in the room can feel things just click into place. Second, I love helping people do more than they thought they could. I love working with smart problem solvers, and helping them develop the confidence and skills to surprise themselves. There’s nothing that makes me love this work more than those two things.

Tell us about a time when you overcame an obstacle or assisted someone else in addressing a specific branding challenge. What do you consider the greatest achievement from this?

Several years ago, I met a man on a flight to Las Vegas who happened to be the Vice President of Marketing at a nationwide recruitment organization. As we talked, it became clear that his company’s performance was suffering because they did not have a clear understanding of their own brand, and how to communicate that brand to prospects and clients. After that three-hour conversation, he engaged my agency’s services, and I started digging into the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of the company. Seeing how they worked, listening to how they talked, and getting to understand their day-to-day priorities helped me put together a genuine, rich picture of who this company was and the unique type of value they could bring to clients. The result was a brand messaging strategy that was effortlessly adopted by field recruiters. They all felt proud of the messaging, as if it was talking specifically about them. The results were improved client relations, better traction with prospects and, most importantly, a more engaged workforce.

What do you see as key trends in employment branding and recruitment today? How do they apply to our clients?

One of the most important trends that I think employment branding has been the slowest to adapt to is at-a-glance information consumption. Make no mistake, job seekers are scanning job listings and company culture information on their phones while they wait in line. You only have half their attention span. In the talent acquisition world, there’s often a desire to impart as much information as possible. This is a recipe for missed recruitment opportunities. By taking the leap to communicate your employment brand visually, you’re ensuring that even if a prospective candidate doesn’t read every word, he or she is still getting a sense of who you are. Video, infographics and branded graphic systems all allow organizations to communicate their employment brand without banking on a long commitment from prospects—a commitment that few are willing to make.

What are some fun things you’d like to share about yourself?

I grew up outside of Chicago and have traveled all over the world. My idea of relaxing is sitting in my favorite chair with a hot cup of tea, reading one of my favorite books. I love early mornings and late nights, but could do without afternoons. I also enjoy working in my vegetable garden—albeit sad and rarely successful—cooking, and hanging out with my two little boys. When I need to clear my head, I take a long walk with show tunes blaring on my headphones. My least favorite food is olives. And despite a lack of musical training, talent or experience, I have not given up on the possibility that I could still be the world’s greatest rock star.

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