“Your brand isn’t what you say it is; it is what your consumers say it is.”


Donna McLaren leads Roberts Wesleyan College’s integrated marketing and manages the brand as the Associate Vice President of Brand & Marketing Communications.  Under her leadership, Roberts has strengthened is brand image (new brand launched in January 2016), public relations story-telling and digital experiences to engage prospects.

Prior to joining Roberts in 2012, Donna McLaren was Director for Branding and Advertising for Kodak’s commercial printing business. In that role, she managed a worldwide team in the development and execution of B2B marketing communications. She has more than 20 years working in marketing, product launch, and training in corporate America.  She has been and adjunct professor at the College since 2006 and has taught in both the Masters of Strategic Marketing and Leadership graduate programs. She also teaches Advertising and Consumer Behavior to undergraduates.

McLaren is from Rochester, NY, she earned a Master’s in Science from Roberts Wesleyan College in 1999 while working at Xerox.  She also holds a bachelor’s of science in health science from SUNY Cortland. She enjoys golfing, bowling, traveling, and her favorite quote is “Be where the world is going.”- Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, Primetime TV and Radio Host


Why did you decide to get into marketing?

When I was at Xerox, after being in training for about four years, I applied for a Marketing Program Manager position supporting 500+ dealers. I got the job! I learned how to launch products and how to work with and engage the sales team. I loved it! I relished in seeing sales results that beat our goals – I was hooked!


Who or what were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment when you picked this career?

In 2012 Kodak was going through another restructure and I was event going to look for a job when someone came up to me and asked if I saw the job at Roberts Wesleyan College. I took a leap of faith and was ready to see where this new opportunity would take me. I also knew as a mom that I could never get the time back, and I admit that I worked a lot when my daughter was younger, so I decided to be just two minutes from my daughter’s school as she finished her high school education. And now, I never miss any athletic or music event.


What marketing initiatives are you working on right now? Anything unique?

Our challenge is doing more with less. This isn’t unique, but we have decided to do less marketing more effectively. Doing a lot of things and not being focused won’t yield results – it may lead to mismanaged resources and the stress of not feeling like we are making a difference. So, focusing on the main priorities and doing them with excellence will be our focus.

We are working on another re-launch of our web experience. To us it is about design, but also about the experience we are providing. The user experience should include what visitors want like fast load times, app-like navigation and highly visual content. We need to better respond to our prospects. We will do that by knowing how they consume data and what the top content is that they are looking for.


What digital marketing channels have you implemented in order to help grow your business?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snap Chat, Pinterest and LinkedIn. When I started in this role, I hired a manager for social media and the web (as there wasn’t a person who was dedicated). We had to build the social media audiences from the ground up as they were tactical (Facebook and Twitter for Admissions) and not a strategic social media experience. We also implemented integrated marketing plans for digital advertising, SEO, AdWords and email marketing. This has enabled efficient and cohesive campaigns versus adhoc media placements that couldn’t be measured.


Which specific channels have been most effective for your business and why?

Facebook engages alumni and parents. Instagram and Snap Chat are very effective for engaging prospective students and current students. It is important to target your audiences where they are – where they “hang out.”


How does your company use data to determine marketing strategies

All website decisions are based off Google analytics. We used this data when we transitioned to a responsive design. The top user actions became the top priorities.


Which tools does your company use to manage marketing initiatives?

We use HubSpot for digital campaigns, social media scheduling, landing pages, SEO and email. We use Google Analytics for website and advertising tracking.


What is the biggest benefit of partnering/working with an agency? How do you form great partnerships with your agencies?

They are experts in what they do, they focus on growth for their clients and they’re fun!  Agencies are paid to come up with new ideas for achieving success and in-turn they earn the trust of their clients.  Once a client gets a “big win” the agency becomes a trusted partner. And you are proud of the results because you hired the agency!  An agency helps to create really impressive work that is done in collaboration – such as advertising campaigns, marketing collateral, magazine design and layouts, public relations stories and crisis communications.  Working with an agency creates an extension of your team.  They focus on making their client shine – and that is the way it should be.


What are you most excited about in the marketing industry?

Any new updates that enable us to reach our audiences better get us excited. We believe that “content is king” and that you need to target your prospects where they are – “where they hang out digitally.”


Did you experience failure along the way? What did you learn from it?

Being cool and caring is something we learned.  When we initially launched Snap Chat our staff ran it and it flopped.  Once we hired a student to run it, our audience doubled within a few months!  It was clear to us that we needed to use “student speak” that was authentic.


Value-add Questions


Give the readers the best marketing advice you have.

1. Have a desire to learn. Continuous education is important in the professional world. Learn and translate that into new opportunities.

2. Involve your team vs. doing it yourself. People, who feel included in a project, can enable innovation. Overall the team effort can improve the quality of ideas produced – it can also produce healthy debate and compels people to think differently. In the end the team can celebrate the success together and learn from what went well and what didn’t.


While working on your project, have you come across any interesting bit of knowledge that you’d like to share?

Your brand isn’t what you say it is; it is what your consumers say it is. We conducted brand research for our website and that takeaway really resonated with our team. So, we used that data to help us message to our audiences in a genuine and trusted way. It is important to deliver, the web experience to customers, that they want not what you think it should be.


What daily habits do you have that allow you to perform at your peak?

I taught Time Management when I worked for Xerox and I learned that by following productivity principles I waste less time and have more energy to be effective in my work every day. It’s a “use valuable tips and tricks to get the most out of your day” habit.


Recommend a book or two!

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal



About MWI

I’m Adam Akers, and I’m in charge of strategic partnerships at MWI. We are big believers in business karma. Of course we partner with companies when it’s a good fit, but we love to help everyone out by sharing information and helping them gain exposure. If I can help in any way, let me know!

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