As Associate Creative Director of Experience, Melissa Batalin works across the entire agency, from strategy, through creative, to digital executions, making sure the brand is consistent—and the experiences we create are compelling. And while it’s not Melissa’s job to know everything, luckily for CCA, she pretty much does. Over the past fifteen years, she has finessed a combination of higher education, marketing, publishing, and creative work into an expertise. In the office, she is our go-to for almost anything. Have a question? Ask Melissa. She always knows the answer. This makes her very, very busy. She is seen from afar as the queen of multi-tasking; read on and find out how she does that so well. Thankfully, she found time in her schedule to sit down to answer some questions about higher education, creativity, and a taste of who the real Melissa is.
You’ve been at CCA for three years now. What brought you over here?
I had worked in higher education years ago and returned when I left publishing—working in marketing department at Albany Law School. I really enjoyed being back in higher ed, but I wanted to work somewhere with a bigger team that were all experts and highly focused in what they did. That’s where CCA came in.
You have a decade of higher ed experience under your belt. How did that start?
My first higher-ed job was when I was a student at Hampshire College—where I worked as a graphic designer. When I was there I worked more on the advancement, fundraising side. We worked on the alumni magazine and did things like interviewing Ken Burns after the release of the Civil War series. Then I worked on campaigns for a few other schools before joining the marketing team at Albany Law where I worked on all aspects of the enrollment marketing as well as alumni engagement and fundraising projects.
How has the higher education landscape changed since you’ve started?
The amount of data that’s available now—from ten years ago to now—is staggering. Even since I started at CCA, marketing has changed in how we use data to create segmented, customized experiences. CCA has moved into content/digital marketing that’s very responsive to what students are actually engaging with and what questions students are looking to answer. Just last week we spent the whole day journey-mapping for a school to envision our shopping experience. A lot of the tactics we currently use were established years ago, and we have to ask ourselves: Are they still correct? Do they need to be updated? Will these strategies still move prospective students through the enrollment funnel?
You seem to know everything here. Not kidding. How do you keep it all together? What’s the best strategy for multi-tasking?
I do have a really good memory. Honestly, which is a blessing. But, I don’t multi-task often. I focus. And I fast-switch between things. Everyone’s seen my weekly planner with forty things on a “to do” list. So, I focus on three or four big things per day, and have a list of things that need to be done or that need to be checked in on.
You have a background in art. How do you incorporate this into your work?
I think artists are very flexible people. They take a step back and make connections. That’s what I do all day. Making those connections and clearly communicating a new idea. That’s what art teaches me. I’m a designer, but a lot of what I do is strategy and experience-focused. Creating a narrative where connections are being made, and making it easy for students to naturally find to the right information. Creating a relationship with a brand, even if they haven’t been on campus, so they still feel connected to a community. Artists can figure out how things fit together; sometimes it’s expressed in a snapshot of something and calling attention to it. Other times, it’s about telling a larger story. That’s what I try to do, make sure the brand experience is cohesive and compelling—it’s a whole package.
How about your personal artwork? When do you find time to do it and what do you like to do?
I’m surrounded by plants all the time (editor’s note: Batalin’s desk is surrounded by plants—and she saves the ones her coworkers almost kill). I grew up very close to a park in Pennsylvania, and even though I really like living in a more urban area now, I’m still very influenced by plants and nature; natural forms, organic shapes, and also the mathematical structure of nature. My own artwork tends to be a strange mix of digital and hand-done work. I create monotypes and prints that are all one-offs or short series. I also tie in technology into the creation, sometimes designing pieces on the computer and cutting them with a vinyl cutter or on a CNC machine, and making prints from those pieces.
What’s your favorite thing about working at CCA?
The answer to this question is always the people. Everyone is really good at what they do. As much as we have different departments, we are all part of the same team, serving the same purpose. On a deeper level, everything we do is about helping people find their path in life. Getting students to the right place. I think we have a high percentage of people who transferred, like my own history. I never wanted to leave Hampshire, but I had to for financial reasons and ended up transferring to RPI. Getting students into the right school and right program is really important. It’s not marketing for marketing sake and selling the more product. It’s about creating a lifelong relationship.
What do you like best about living in Troy?
I landed in Troy very much by mistake and didn’t plan on staying…and now I’ve been here for 14 years. Troy is strange but wonderful; I like the mix of historic urban architecture with a small-town feel, where you can really get to know the residents.
Fast forward ten years from now. What does the marketing world look like to you?
I think it’s all going to change completely. A lot can be speculated upon but we’re still going to have to focus on the experience and make sure each individual is connected with a brand in their own way. The need for creating a strong relationship with a brand won’t change.
Finally, and most important: describe your favorite breakfast.
A real New York City everything bagel with plain cream cheese. With a giant black iced coffee.
Batalin’s pretty cool—and so is the rest of our staff. If you’re looking to join a hardworking team who enjoy spending time together, check out our current job openings.