REQ's Avelyn Austin: Owning It
Avelyn Austin is one of those rare people who not only knew from a young age what she wanted to be when she grew up, but actually saw that young dream through. Even before she arrived at James Madison University, she was learning about the industry and honing her marketing skills. A DECA program at her high school in Roanoke, VA provided a first glimpse into the world of business and entrepreneurship, and she liked what she saw.
“I remember “inventing” a tech product, and then creating a robust integrated marketing campaign around it, from packaging to roll-out,” Austin recalls. The program clearly left an impression, as she can still remember her product’s lightning bolt logo and sleek black packaging.
At JMU she studied marketing, and she credits one professor in particular, Dr. Theresa Clarke, as a crucial influence in both her education and future career path. Clarke had created a program on internet marketing which covered search engine optimization (SEO), website development and design, and digital advertising. At the time of this program’s unveiling—the early 2000s—iPhones were not yet available, Facebook did not exist, and Amazon was known mostly for selling books. Clarke was sharing cutting-edge industry insights with her students, and it obviously left an impression.
Clarke also taught an integrated marketing course in which she brought in representatives from well-known international companies to listen to student pitches. “I admire and appreciate the fact that she brought real-life scenarios into the classroom,” says Austin. “Working within a team, we had to pitch a real product and produce comprehensive marketing campaigns that included not only the fun creative aspects, but also details of strategy, budget, and expected return on investment.”
Prioritizing Learning at Every Stage
Austin has had numerous mentors throughout her career, and credits much of what she learned to specific people she has worked alongside.
Just out of college she joined Janet Driscoll Miller at Marketing Mojo (then Search Mojo), where she focused on SEO and pay-per-click advertising on Google. Miller, Marketing Mojo’s owner and founder, stressed the importance of having an in-depth understanding of what you’re talking about. SEO is a very technical practice, but Miller never allowed that to be an excuse for a lack of working knowledge among her marketing hires. Beyond measurement and analytics, her account managers learned HTML, various content management systems, and the many technicalities of website hosting. She wanted her team to speak the language of the IT professionals they were interacting with, thereby earning their respect.
“That’s something I’ve continued to try to live by,” says Austin. “Regardless of industry or seniority level, you better know what you’re talking about. You need to know the level of difficulty of what you’re asking of your colleagues. You need to at least get in there and try. Don’t just hand it off to somebody and expect them to do it for you.”
Austin is always seeking out mentors and peers from whom she can learn, while at the same time recognizing and applying her own strengths. Austin’s next move from Marketing Mojo was to Ketchum, a global PR firm. She found great mentors in both Tim Weinheimer and Katherine Watier Ong, and she used her knowledge around paid advertising, a practice that was once taboo in the world of traditional earned media, to help create Ketchum’s digital advertising team. Her first major campaign was with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and it aimed to carry out the mandate for hospitals and physicians to transfer their medical records to an electronic format to give patients greater access and control over their health treatments. She remains very proud of the project to this day.
Sharing the Gift of Time
Austin recognizes and appreciates the time, guidance, and knowledge others have given her, so she consistently prioritizes generosity of her own time. That’s one reason she is a member and serves on the board of Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR), a group dedicated to providing leadership opportunities, professional development, and mentorship to female communicators.
“I’ve learned so much from individuals who have been willing to share not only their successes, but also their mistakes and how they could have done something differently,” says Austin. “Therefore I try to be generous with my time, share my experiences, and empower professionals at all stages of their career to become mentors and mentees. It’s so easy to say, ‘I don’t have a ton of experience,’ or, ‘I don’t see myself as a mentor,’ but at different stages of our lives we all bring different experiences through which we can learn from each other.”
She feels particularly lucky to be part of this smaller, more local group of professional women. “It’s women helping women,” she says, “but it’s not just because we’re women. We are professionals. We are driven. We have opinions and share similar opportunities and challenges. It’s finding peers that also serve as mentors, sounding boards, and friends.”
Proud but Not Done Progressing
“I’m always looking for mentors because I’m not done growing,” Austin says. “If you don’t have somebody you look up to or something you want to accomplish, it’s easy to become stationary.” Austin is far from stationary. She has a sense of pride about what she has accomplished but continues to strive to become better. This proud but not done growing mindset is also visible in the team, work, and mission of her current company, REQ.
One reason Austin moved to REQ (then RepEquity) was because of the passion of its leaders. “Tripp Donnelly’s [CEO and Founder] enthusiasm for the future of REQ is not only contagious, it’s tangible. The leadership team that he’s built and the strategic business moves he initiates are evidence of the strength of the company,” Austin says. “When I have made career movies, I haven’t looked solely at their corporate success, but also at the strength, excitement, and personalities of the leadership team. Culture was a big reason why I wanted to join the REQ team.”
Austin brought change to REQ upon her arrival as she immediately took charge of the newly created sales and marketing team. REQ continued to grow when they acquired Unison soon thereafter, adding branding, website development, and mobile technology to their existing suite of online reputation management and SEO solutions. The changes prompted one of Austin’s favorite projects to date, the rebrand of RepEquity to REQ. “Part of that process was aided by Will and the Maestro Group team,” says Austin. “The surveys and self-reflection that were part of Maestro’s training prompted us to take a deep dive into our own corporate brand strategy and contributed to our evolution into REQ.”
REQ continues to earn awards and five-star client ratings, but satisfaction doesn’t bring stagnation for their leadership. In fact, REQ just announced their latest acquisition of tech PR firm SpeakerBox. “SpeakerBox completes REQ’s circle of the PESO model of paid, earned, shared, and owned media,” says Austin. “We now have the full package. We will continue to deliver and expand our brand, reputation, and advocacy solutions to better serve our clients today and in the future.”
Austin looks forward to being involved in continuing iterations of REQ, which right now means welcoming new colleagues from SpeakerBox and making them feel like they have been part of the team since REQ’s founding. How will her team make that happen? “Again, it’s that idea of generosity of time,” says Austin. “We’ll go back to the basics of how we operate and what we stand for as team and as a brand. We’ll focus on collaborating on existing clients to bring them even greater value, while listening to each other just as much as we’re talking.”
Taking Ownership and Taking Chances
What is Austin’s advice to the younger generation just starting out in the field of marketing? “When I was really young,” she shares, “my grandfather asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him, ‘I don’t know, but I want to wear a suit, play golf, and own my own business.’”
She laughs at this, but then says, “I’m still a terrible golfer, and I don’t even own a suit, but I have always felt a sense of ownership over what I do. If I’m spending my time doing something, I want to feel that my time is valued. That’s something I think people should take into account as they make career choices. Don’t just go to work and punch the clock for somebody else. Take pride in what you’re doing, both professionally and personally.”