Please tell us about yourself

Ritu Kanoria, 2013 graduate of the Communications Practice master’s program at Columbia University (now the M.S. in Strategic Communication program), didn’t expect to work outside of New York City, let alone outside the U.S. Originally from India, she had previously worked at Young & Rubicam and Grey Group in Kolkata, but didn’t anticipate a return to the eastern part of the globe. However, when an opportunity arose at Wunderman’s Singapore office, she jumped at the chance.

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At Wunderman, part of Young & Rubicam Group, she currently works as a Senior Account Manager focusing on digital and social media marketing. Ritu tells me that she welcomes her shift from traditional advertising to new media marketing: “After working on TV commercials and print and radio spots, where the medium hasn’t changed for decades, it was really exciting to work in a medium that is always evolving and is so fast-paced.”

We spoke with Ritu via Skype about the most valuable elements of the program, the close-knit nature of her cohort, and the allure of working on digital and social media marketing in Asia.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

Singapore was really not on my radar. I had been working in New York, and I was at the heart of the digital scene out there. Why look elsewhere, right? One of my really good friends moved to Singapore. We were just catching up online, and he told me about how he joined Y&R in Singapore. He asked me whether I would ever consider moving out there. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but he told me about the digital scene in Southeast Asia and how it’s rapidly evolving.

Because of the density of the population out here, the kind of scale that marketers get in Asia is unmatched anywhere else in the world. So with digital penetration reaching an all-time high in Asia, the interest in mobile, digital, and social media marketing is also at an all-time high.

I’m in a digital role with Wunderman, which is the digital arm of Young & Rubicam. What’s really interesting is that it’s a blend of both strategy and business development.

How  was the experience with the program at Columbia University?

This ia an advanced professional program with a focus on brand strategy, digital marketing, audience segmentation, market research and creating content for different digital mediums. The Program was focused on developing skills specific to digital communications and the ability to execute them in a fast-paced professional environment in diverse teams.

When I entered the program, I already had some experience in the digital realm of advertising. The program helped me explore my career options. I later discovered that [digital marketing] was what I wanted to do, but I needed to go through the program in order to find my own niche.

Along those lines, I think two classes that really stood out for me were Navigating the Digital Frontier and The Evolving Industry. The former helped me understand how social and digital media is impacting the whole marketing landscape. It made me realize, “This is what I see myself doing in the long-term.”

Another class that was really interesting for me was The Evolving Industry. We visited communications organizations all across New York to see what their work culture was like. I never thought I would work for a digital agency, but we went to an agency called Likeable, and I really loved the culture. I thought, “Okay, I can see myself doing this.” The fact that you were meeting people who were doing what you envisioned yourself doing – it was really helpful for me in framing my career.

Can you tell me about what it was like to have such an intimate cohort?

I think what was really great about our cohort was that, because it was such a small group, and there were so many group projects, you got to know what everyone’s distinct style was, what everyone’s strengths were. It really prepared you for the real world; you really learn how to iron out your differences and work together in a team.

When you meet people from such diverse professional and personal backgrounds, you form amazing friendships. I’m still in touch with my friends from my program.

I wonder what you see yourself doing in the long-term. What are your broader aspirations?

I don’t know what I will be doing, but I have an idea of what I would love to be doing. I really love the whole start-up culture in New York. Especially with these startups that begin with a shoestring budget, the element of branding and communications is so crucial in that first round of venture capital funding.

I feel like there’s a gap in the market. There’s this sweet spot where you have these startups with all these amazing ideas that can potentially attract millions of dollars in funding, and they need a strategic way to communicate their value. The intersection of entrepreneurship and communications – helping startups form their brand identity, sell themselves, perfect their pitches to venture capitalists – I think that would be an exciting space to work in.