Leo Burnett is one of the biggest ad agencies in the world. When they’re scouting for new talent, they don’t exactly set up a table on the Quad and start taking resumes.

And yet John Hill ’11 had his foot in the door at Leo—his whole body, actually—long before he graduated. As a standout student in the College of Business’ integrated marketing communication (IMC) program, Hill’s professors connected him with Illinois State alums already working for Leo. Two months before he graduated, Hill had been offered a job at his dream agency.

“The networking got me there. The relationships. It’s all possible because of that,” Hill told STATEside.

Hill is selling himself short—more on that later—but he certainly benefited from a thriving relationship between Leo and Illinois State’s IMC program. The Leo relationship—one of many ISU has cultivated with big ad and media agencies and other firms—infuses the IMC program with new courses and ideas while also creating a pathway for current students to connect with successful alums.

John Hill

Illinois State alumnus John Hill.

Hill has been on both sides of that relationship. He chose marketing at Illinois State because it gave him a viable career in business while also keeping him close to his creative roots in graphic design.

As a student, Hill worked on campaigns for real clients in Bloomington-Normal—a sneak preview of his job today at Leo. Hill’s courses ranged from learning Adobe design software to tracking trends in digital media, and even the college’s “business casual” dress code added to the professional vibe, he said.

“I knew I was in a special place,” Hill said.

It was special because it was shaped by industry leaders. Department of Marketing professors created the IMC sequence in 2006-2007, embarking on a series of summer “road trips” to visit Illinois State alumni at big agencies. They used that feedback to form IMC’s curriculum and course offerings.

One of the first visits was with Linda Che ’01, a College of Business alumna who is now vice president of marketing operations at Arc Worldwide, a Leo affiliate that focuses on digital and shopper marketing. Che was actually Hill’s first boss at Leo—one of many Illinois State students she’s connected with via Linda Showers, IMC’s senior faculty member and de facto team leader.

Showers is one of six faculty members who teach in the IMC sequence, which has around 140 students. College marketing programs typically have one or two advertising courses, she said, but an entire sequence like ISU’s—focused on everything from mail to email to social media—is uncommon.

Showers, left, works with a student on Adobe design software. Around 140 students are majoring in integrated marketing communication.

Showers, left, works with a student on Adobe design software. Around 140 students are majoring in integrated marketing communication.

“It’s very rare to have the depth that we have at the undergraduate level,” Showers said. That’s a tribute, she said, to the IMC faculty’s shared commitment to networking with those in the industry.

Added Che: “I’m very impressed with Dr. Showers and all the work she’s done. … She’s been a great partner with me to build our network at Leo Burnett. She’s brought me some outstanding candidates.”

Hill was one of them. He was an incredible student who took initiative and even created his own blog about marketing trends while a student, Showers said. All that put him on Che’s radar. (In fact, most of the nine-person Leo team that Hill joined after graduation were Illinois State alumni.)

Today, Hill works on Leo’s community management team, helping to conceive, plan, execute, and then track the results of social media campaigns for eight major clients. The College of Business Early Career Achievement Award recipient is based in Chicago but is temporarily in Detroit working on social media for client General Motors.

Hill makes time to stay connected to Illinois State, even returning to campus for IMC Career Night, a semesterly event where students can learn about careers and meet alumni. Hill attended those events as a student; since returning as an alum, he’s seen Leo hire students that he’s met there.

“It’s humbling to see things come full circle,” Hill said. “As a student, I never thought I would be on the other side of the table in the College of Business on IMC Career Night, looking up at 100 students, giving them advice on how to land a job in IMC. But it’s great to know that I can return the favor and help students like alumni helped me years ago.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.