Business Developer and Marketing Expert Lauren Vellek on cutting through the usual marketing noise and reaching consumers in an authentic way
We kick off this year’s PSFK series highlighting alumni of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding Program with Lauren Vellek, Senior Manager of Business Development at Sterling Brands. At SVA, she worked to re-brand the iconic 1930’s cartoon character Betty Boop for her masters thesis, a project which eventually ended up in the pages of Marie Claire. Speaking to PSFK, Vallek discusses the vital link between branding and marketing and what marketers can do to better understand the brands they work with.
SVA’s Masters in Branding program allows students to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development, critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategies and master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity.
What made you decide to enroll in the Master’s in Branding program?
It was a combination of a lot of factors in my life both personally and professionally. I went to Parsons School of Design for Design and Management, and shortly after graduating took a hard pivot into the B2B world working for a global technology company in marketing. At a young age, I was working in a very complex industry armed with a vastly different perspective than my tenured peers—but it proved to be an exciting challenge. I was able to get a solid business foundation and the experience shaped me as a more realistic and business-savvy designer. However, the ability to flex my creative skills was limited, and I often found myself working with agencies and yearning to be on their side of the table—working in a collaborative environment, building creative solutions to enhance brand experiences.
Because I was so creatively limited in my professional life, I was constantly soaking up all things design, and Debbie Millman’s podcast was one of those things. Additionally, swiss miss introduced me to the program website and I found what I wanted next in my career was articulated through the curriculum. It seemed like a no-brainer, but it actually took me two years to apply. I finally reached a place in my professional life where I felt like it was “now or never” and took the leap.
In what ways did a branding program benefit you, someone with a background in design and marketing that perhaps another masters program couldn’t have?
I wasn’t looking for a traditional MBA and no other masters program brought together the combination of design thinking and business strategy in the way the branding program at SVA does. It is a really great feeling to go into the studio every day and just know you are with “your people.”
Did the benefits of attending the program manifest themselves in your career quickly and directly?
Definitely. I’m at an agency now in business development—my work is about understanding a client’s business challenges and having a unique point of view on those challenges based on culture and consumers. You have to be strategic, know how to connect with people, and have a solid understanding of how design and strategy will impact their business—all of which the branding program offers.
One of the biggest benefits of the program is learning how to present your ideas in a structured yet engaging way, which is key when trying to attract new business.
In your professional experience, how does branding inform marketing and vice versa?
When you get the brand story right—the true essence of a brand, the reason for being—marketing solutions should flow effortlessly from that foundation. Great branding acts as a lighthouse for everything your business does—marketing activities included. Given all of the new technologies and ever-changing channels of communication, it’s more important than ever to really know what the core of your brand is, and getting that right allows you to adapt and be more flexible. Our world is changing so fast, and consumers today can see right through the bullshit of traditional marketing messages, so being authentic and really owning who you are as a brand is critical. That’s a challenge for marketers today, but it’s also really exciting.
Are modern marketers working at a disadvantage if not professionally well-versed or trained in branding? How so?
I think a lot of marketers believe they understand branding, when in reality, that might not always be true. The word ‘brand’ carries a ton of weight and means so many different things to different people. As marketers, it’s incredibly important to be well-versed in branding so you can communicate in the right way through the right channels with your consumers (not to mention, not waste valuable marketing dollars)—and it will bring clarity when making business decisions for the company.
If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?
The branding program was an incredibly enriching year. It is truly a place where curiosity and different ways of thinking are celebrated. Your peers will come from all over the world, all with different backgrounds. Always have an open mind, work hard and soak up all the incredible opportunities available—from the professors who are all top-notch professionals in the industry, guest lecturers, conferences, design matters tapings, and workshops!
This article is paid for and presented by the SVA Masters in Branding program