A thriving community of young professionals doing impactful work that moves the line for  local clients; that’s what 1893 Brand Studio is now, but how’d we get here? 


So many students have walked through our doors, leaving behind legacies that continue to influence and inspire. Our new monthly alumni spotlight series is one way we’re showing our appreciation for those talented, driven individuals who truly left their mark here at 1893. 


And, for a series like this, there’s no better alumna to start with than former managing director Molly Looman. 


A Foundational Leader for 1893 Brand Studio

To call Molly’s tenure as managing director during the 2019-2020 school year transformative for 1893 would be an understatement. Coming from the Daily Tar Heel, where she’d served at every kind of position besides management, Molly took the lead role of a Brand Studio still very much in the early stages of development. 


In true 1893 fashion, she saw the value inherent to the Brand Studio’s youth-focused framework and pulled together a vision that would take this team of freelancers to the next level. That vision was defined by community and accountability, laying down ground rules for how our staff continue to work – always together and driving toward real results for our clients. 


Now, Molly is the Assistant Manager for Corporate Communications at Newell Brands. We were thrilled to get the chance to catch up with her for our February Alumni Spotlight, and hope you enjoy the highlights from our conversation.       


1893: Let’s start chronologically, how you came to the Brand Studio from your perspective and what you were doing in that role. 

Molly: So Paige approached me and sort of said, “We’re looking for a managing director. I know that you studied PR. I know that you know how to write and lead people, why don’t you just apply and then we’ll see how it goes.” 


So I applied and I became managing director, which was very wild, but it shows that she knows what she’s doing. And this was a great experience. Basically, my role was to make sure that what Paige and I were communicating to our clients is what ended up happening. So that meant scheduling everybody, reviewing all of their work, making sure I was writing proposals to clients that I knew that our team could execute and then making sure that the team leads were on top of their team members. It really is a quarterbacking position. 


And I got to hire the entire brand studio, basically minus five people, which is because we were really, really small when I started. And that taught me a lot. Hiring people I think was one of the most educational parts of the experience. I knew what I was looking for when I was interviewing someone, and so now, when I’m doing interviews, I know what I would look for if I was interviewing me. 


So you really had a special role in the Studio’s development, coming on so early and hiring most of the founding group who still help run it. I’d love to know more about what the vision you had for the Studio was when you came on and what you looked for in the students you hired? 

Molly: When and I were talking about the vision for the Brand Studio, I wanted people to want to come here and work here and have a good time at the office. So a lot of my vision going in was trying to instill traditions, trying to instill a social atmosphere while also getting the work done that we needed to get done. And from an admin side, I wanted the Brand Studio to play a larger role in the Daily Tar Heel as a media conglomerate, because we have a wealth of talent here.


And, when hiring people, I knew coming from the journalism world that, if you can write, I can teach you the rest. You just have to have the thought processes in place. I was really looking for people that had a strong writing background, that knew how to construct a story from beginning to end. That was really important to me. And I was looking for people that genuinely wanted to be there because I think the worst thing you have to do as a leader is keep hiring people because you hired the wrong person the first time. I really wanted to try to get people that stayed, and a lot of them did. I was pretty proud to see that we had one of our highest retention rates the year after I left.

Now that you have hindsight on the experience, what were the biggest lessons you took away that have proved the most valuable?

Molly: The big thing was just organizing myself and my time so that I could effectively organize other people. The hardest part of having your post-grad “big adult job” is that there’s no one there to really tell you what to do, and so you really have to be able to organize yourself. That was the biggest soft skill that I learned, and I also learned a lot of technical skills. 


One thing that I’m really passionate about as a leader is I never want to be in a conversation with someone that works for me where I have no idea what they’re talking about. When I was managing director, I did try to learn more about video and graphic design and some of those areas that I just wasn’t strong in. I think that’s a big thing in creative work and creative feedback is I can suggest a thousand things, but if it’s due by the end of the week, I need to have very realistic expectations on what can really be done. And learning how to give reasonable feedback is a really big skill, because it also helps you learn how to request reasonable feedback from a potential boss. 


It definitely taught me a lot of technical and interpersonal skills, which have been very useful in my real life. 

Talking about real life, where has your career taken you and how has the Brand Studio been a part of that?

Molly: So I got my job before I started my senior year, but when I graduated and was in that job the role was completely different because the company had changed a lot. A lot of the stuff I’d done in the Brand Studio, I was so grateful that I had done because all of a sudden that was what I had to do in my new job. A lot of the compliments I’ve gotten from my bosses and from people that I have worked with are things that I learned how to do at the Daily Tar Heel and the Brands Studio. 


Really just being professional, I think that is something that’s really underrated and senior, veteran members of companies will tell you that. That was a huge thing that I didn’t really have before I started the Brand Studio. But, when I left the Brand Studio, I felt very confident that I could talk to anyone and conduct a professional conversation with them. 


And commanding respect in a room is sometimes something that takes a little bit of extra effort, and I certainly learned how to do that at the Brand Studio. And I’m not as afraid or unsure of myself as I think I would have been had I not had that experience.

The last question I have is what motivates you to take the time to speak with the current staff at All-Hands and what that’s like?

Molly: I’ve always told Mory, I told Keaton, and I’ll tell whoever’s after Mory that, when the Brand Studio calls, I’ll make time. Mentoring is something that I love to do, because the longevity of the Brand Studio is very important to me, the development of it is very important to me.


Its purpose is really important because, when I talk to fellow professionals about their college experiences, there aren’t a lot of organizations like the Brand Studio. There are not a lot of real-world workshops for PR and Communications students. It’s usually a college newspaper or nothing. And the fact that the Daily Tar Heel has made this is really special. I’m biased, but I think that more students in the Hussman school or just in general should take advantage of it because there really isn’t anything else like it.

Article written by Jack O’Grady with image provided by Molly Looman.