The Professors of the Education Partner Program

  • Nate Riggs

    Nate Riggs

    Adjunct Faculty

    Ohio University

  • Courses Taught

  • Digital Marketing
  • Sales Strategies
  • Interview
  • Introduction
  • Twitter Stream

Interview with Nate Riggs - Ohio University

Isaac Moche: Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to the Teacher's Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. I'm Isaac Moche, your host for the podcast. Today we'll be talking to Nate Riggs, adjunct lecturer at Ohio University and CEO of NR Media Group. Welcome, Nate.

Nate Riggs: Hey, thanks for having me, Isaac.

Isaac Moche: Great to have you here today. I think what's been so interesting about working with you is your perspective, because you're on both sides of this. You're both a professional that has founded and run a business, but you're also a lecturer in college. I think that affords you a pretty unique perspective on something that you're really passionate about, the digital skills gap.

Nate Riggs: Yeah, it's been interesting. I became a teacher because of professional reasons. A big part of why I began teaching at Ohio University when I had the opportunity to do so was because I was building an agency, I was growing an agency, and I just simply could not find [00:01:00] young talent. When you're a young, small agency, you're hiring folks right out of school or two to three years into their career. I could not find the right talent that had the digital skill sets that I was looking for, things like blogging ... even not just blogging, but copywriting on the web, how do you use a content management system to do things like insert links, optimize posts, so on, so forth. That kind of went all the way down to online video production, search engine optimization, reading things like Google Analytics, and some [00:01:30] of the more insights and data-driven stuff.

I just simply was not able to find people that had marketing or sales degrees but then had those skillsets as well, so I kind of figured, "Well, if you can't find them, then you've got to make them." The opportunity to teach at OU popped up, and that was a little over five years ago. I taught really the first digital marketing course in the college of business there. I think they had to beg students to take the first course. There was about 14 kids in the first class. A lot of them were sports administration majors, so [00:02:00] the idea of fan activation was something that they were very used to, and at the time that was very popular in social media. From there, the course has now expanded to ... This next fall semester, we're getting ready for another class of 90+ students who are taking this four three hours credit, and we use a full license of HubSpot to teach the course.

Isaac Moche: What does that course look like today?

Nate Riggs: Today the course is structured ... we start with kind of the introductory, here's the concept [00:02:30] of inbound marketing versus traditional marketing versus the progression of digital marketing over the last 10 to 15 years now. We start by a lot of the theory. We use one course book, and that is Joe Pulizzi's Content Inc. I think it's probably one of the best content strategy books out there today. Then, from that, they learn how to develop things like personas. We use a lot of HubSpot training resources, as well, in Academy. We take them all the way through the inbound certification, so they get that base-level [00:03:00] theory, and then we start the practicum component.

The software license of HubSpot allows us to take everything that they've learned in the inbound course and put that into practice. The students work in teams to research and develop personas, then they come up with a content strategy, a content mission statement, for a piece of content that they're going to market to those personas, a piece of premium content. Then, once they do that, they work to develop kind of the distribution strategy around that, which includes blogging [00:03:30] and social media and search engine optimization and other different forms of promotion. It really turns into this big competition where these teams of four to five students compete with one another. The grand prize is typically some type of conference pass to a digital marketing conference or something like that, but that air of competition really kind of I think changes the course.

Now, you're going to get the teams that are really just there for a credit. They're not going to become digital marketers. This is just filling a schedule void for them. But you also have the 20% to 25% [00:04:00] that either knew they wanted to get into digital marketing when they took the class or the light bulb went off; once they started to get their hands on the keys, they really realized, "Wow, this is really exciting, and this is something I'd like to do for a career." We take them through actually doing the work.

I think one of the things I'm proud of about the course is, through them doing the work, they're getting graded on every step, but then the combination of all the steps that we go through during the course actually fulfills the practicum requirements for HubSpot marketing [00:04:30] software certification. At the end of it, they take the exam for the HubSpot certification and then, if they pass the exam, they simply have to submit the body of work that they've produced over the course of the semester, and that will all apply for the elements of the actual practicum. Then that's how they earn both certifications.

Isaac Moche: I want to talk a little bit more about one thing that you said there, which was the light bulbs going off. Can you give a couple examples either of specific students or actions or [00:05:00] victories when it comes to digital marketing that you've seen really lead students to see the light?

Nate Riggs: Two or three years ago now, there was a gal in my class who I knew was a management information system major, and she was very, very quiet. About class three or four, she kind of started to perk up and ask questions and get really involved. Then I realized she was acing all of the exams and the quizzes. Her name was Eileen. I started to get to know Eileen. That's a big indicator is, if three or four weeks into the semester [00:05:30] I know your name, it's because you've participated in class, you've asked questions, you've made yourself visible.

Eileen falls in love with digital marketing. She was both a marketing and an MIS major, and was really looking for something that combined the systems component with the more creative and strategy components of marketing. Upon graduation, she was really struggling to figure out, "What is a job that's going to allow me to do that?" and she almost went into a sales position. I ended up being able to recruit [00:06:00] her to my company, and today she's my director of client services. I think her taking that class and really seeing the connection between the creative and the storytelling side of marketing, plus the integration of systems and the software and the technology components, that was really what made that connection that this idea of digital marketing could become a career path.

Isaac Moche: From listening to you talk about this digital skills gap so much, sometimes people get confused and say, "What Nate's doing is self-serving." I think it's really, [00:06:30] really the opposite in that I think you're super dedicated to making sure that you are setting students up for success, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the steps that you go to to make sure that you're teaching students skills that will make them A-players and have an impact directly after leaving school.

Nate Riggs: Yeah. I will say that, again, my intention was to build a bank of potential employees for my agency. What I realized [00:07:00] is the volume of students was so great that there was plenty of talent to go around, and an interesting thing happened. All these other HubSpot partners and other digital agency owners that I knew locally, and just from being at INBOUND and Partner Day, figured out what we were doing and started to connect with me and say, "Hey, I'm hiring for this position. Do you have any students that would fit this role?" The light bulb went off for me that this is a bigger problem in our industry. What I was experiencing as a small start-up agency owner was something [00:07:30] that a lot of other agencies were struggling with.

Unfortunately, résumés are a dime a dozen. I think that college career advancement management offices have done a very good job of preparing students how to submit a résumé, how to interview, but I think that also swings the other way a little bit, where some of these students are so good at interviewing and submitting résumés that it tends to be a little bit of puffery, that they really oversell what their capabilities are. In the class, one of the [00:08:00] mantras that I give to the class is "Look, I don't care what you do on the test. Show me the work that you can do. Show me the results that you can get online."

They publish their blog posts. is out there online for everybody to see. You can go to the URL right now. It's going to be a dormant site because we're not in school right now, but I think that experience of them actually publishing content online is one of the most valuable things that can prepare them for their career, because not only do they get to see what it looks like on the web when they actually produce [00:08:30] content, they get to see the results that that content generates, and they have a portfolio piece. They have something that is not a simple WordPress blog that they can point to, where they've written on somebody else's site. That's a very, very valuable asset that I think can help your résumé rise to the top of that stack when you are interviewing.

The amount of students that I have that ... I don't solicit this, and this isn't a humble brag, but I'm blown away by the amount of students that come back to me and will email me 6, [00:09:00] 12 months after they've taken the course and say, "Look, this course was really the reason why I just got this job, because I was able to at least speak the language of digital." I had a gentleman who graduated a year ago, took a job with an agency, and said, "Look, they're not HubSpot users, but all of these concepts that I learned in the inbound certification, they all apply. I'm doing this in WordPress. I'm using Gravity Forms, and I'm using SEO Yoast to optimize blog post titles and things [00:09:30] like that."

That really gets me excited because I think a lot of us who were on this first wave of digital professionals -- the digirati, as some people call them -- we were all self-taught. We just learned by getting in, getting our hands dirty, and clicking and figuring out. Unfortunately, that's a really slow process. Anything that that wave of professionals can do to help make it a little bit easier for the younger generation of marketers coming [00:10:00] up to accelerate that digital learning, that's really what I think closes the skills gap, the involvement of professionals in the classroom, because we are on the front lines. More of that needs to happen in the context of colleges and universities.

Isaac Moche: Whether it's hard skills or soft skills, what are some of the other things that you really look to have students graduate with?

Nate Riggs: There's key concepts. That's a really good question. There's key concepts that we try to drive home from a strategic standpoint. Number one, the concept of the buyer's journey, or buying life cycle, or customer life cycle, whatever you want to call [00:10:30] it. How do we research online? How do we make purchase decisions, and what stages do we go through to do that? Giving the students that foundation helps a lot.

Another thing that we drive home is the inbound methodology. I think what HubSpot and HubSpot Academy has done is they've taken this Wild Wild West world of digital marketing and packaged it really neatly into a framework that makes it very easy for not just students, but professionals, to also understand and execute. We talk a lot about the search demand curve in terms [00:11:00] of long and short tail keyword strategy and what the differences are and what the results are of taking different approaches, to the point where we do some contests in class where I time them for a minute, and if they can get to a whiteboard and they can literally, with a whiteboard, draw the inbound methodology to spec, simply recreate the graphic on a whiteboard ... they have 60 seconds to do it ... we give them a $25 Chipotle gift card.

That contest usually runs about two to three weeks, and then we do the same thing with the search demand [00:11:30] curve. They have to basically figure out how to draw that diagram, label it correctly -- here's what the head tail means, here's what mid tail, here's what long tail means -- and if they can do that within under 60 seconds, they get Chipotle gift cards. You can get college students to do anything for Chipotle gift cards. It works because I tell them, "If you guys can memorize this framework to the point where you can draw it from memory, then now you can use that to make strategic decisions because you've internalized that framework, and that is your compass. [00:12:00] That's what's going to guide your decision-making." I feel like the more strategic concepts are just as important as actually then getting their hands on the keys, having those concepts in their brain, but then making them execute on those concepts. That's where colleges and universities are struggling today is adopting software into the classroom to teach execution and not just regurgitation of theory.

Isaac Moche: Have you been doing other things beyond just your college teaching to try and drive that awareness for digital skills?

Nate Riggs: [00:12:30] Yeah. I realize that I'm one person and I can't teach every student, and teaching takes a lot of time. We're at 90 students in the class. I need a TA to be able to manage that because I also run a business. What we're doing now, and you can find this resource page on our website under Teaching Resources or Teaching Digital, but everything that I've developed in terms of the coursework, the syllabus, the grading sheets, all of those resources are available out there for download, [00:13:00] as well as a bunch of different information and tools and things that other college professors or professionals who are looking to get into adjunct teaching for maybe similar reasons that I did. There's a blueprint out there for them to use.

We also offer workshops where we can train high school or college faculties on the system we've developed in terms of teaching this class and what the requirements are. I think that's really the sweet spot that's going to make the bigger impact on the digital skills gap is finding groups [00:13:30] of faculty and training them to teach their students, because it's just simply a numbers game. The more faculty that become skilled in digital and understand these concepts, the more students we can reach. That's really been our focus for about the last six months is teaching the teachers.

Isaac Moche: Any other things that you can think of that really helped you either get someone else involved ... because I know you do this for a business, so it might not have been as much of a jump for you ... but anything that you've seen from professors as they've adopted [00:14:00] this, either at OU ... because I know many folks have ... or at other schools, where their light kind of flipped on and they said this isn't as scary as it might seem?

Nate Riggs: The recent example that I have is Tim Marshall at Baldwin Wallace up near Cleveland, Berea area. They've got an entire clinic up there called the Digital Marketing Clinic that Tim and other faculty have developed, and I think Tim has really led the charge on this. He spent the last year and a half really not only recruiting students [00:14:30] to this program and fleshing out what the nature of the program is, but then also going out to local businesses in and around the Berea area to get them involved with the program.

What's so impressive to me, and we didn't get to cover this on my own podcast, which is the ... shameless self-promotion ... but Tim has actually worked with the local business chamber to give businesses credits so that they can jump into the program and have student agencies help them develop their digital presence [00:15:00] and do all kinds of work for them. It's this formalized student agency, and there's actually money out there in the community available to help small businesses fund that. I think that's a fascinating idea, right? Is there ways that this could be looked at as kind of a civic improvement for local businesses, whether it's through chambers or local incubators, and how do you get students involved with that?

I think another thing that would help professors at colleges and universities is that the hardest thing about teaching digital marketing is, to really teach it, to really provide that hands-on [00:15:30] experience, you have to have something to market or sell. At bigger universities, the idea of going out and touching the local businesses is great, except that after year two or three, those businesses have been tapped so many times that their level of attention towards the students, I think, diminishes pretty significantly, so why not develop a fellowship program to give the students the basic training that they need their freshman, sophomore, junior, senior year and then turn it into a fellowship program that by the time the students [00:16:00] are seniors, they're actually marketing on behalf of the universities? They're going out, creating content, doing real work to try to recruit other students to join that college of business or school of journalism or communication or whatever it is.

There's a lot of university politics in between now and then, but for me I think that's the ultimate Q-Star. How do we get there, to where we've got this army of students who are trained in digital out there recruiting students that are just like them? That's an easy audience for them to get their head [00:16:30] around, and it gives them at least 8 to 12 months of experience actually doing the work before they hit the job market. I think that's the key to the digital workforce development.

Isaac Moche: Can you talk more about that, the 8 to 12 months, and why you think that's the ticket?

Nate Riggs: Well, I'm seeing this right now at Ohio University. A gentleman by the name of Dan Dahlen, former CMO of Wendy's and half a dozen other restaurants, joined the faculty and staff at Ohio University a few years back, [00:17:00] and really came in to build what is now the student research center. It's a research center that's a fellowship, a center of excellence where they're trained in various different market research techniques. Then, by the senior year, the students are in a fellowship program where they're working with large brands to go out and conduct actual research around restaurants, around their audience, a lot of it focused around snake people because Ohio University happens to have a pool of about 40,000 snake people that [00:17:30] they can tap from that is very nationally weighted, so they can produce really, really good research.

The experiences that I've heard those students talk about, that's what's really getting them in the door in terms of making connections that's driving their career. They're getting to show real work that they've done, not just a strategy that they've put together and pitched and had somebody grade and say, 'Hey, this is a really good idea." They're getting to see the actual product of the planning and the work that they've done. I think we can take that same type of fellowship concept [00:18:00] and translate that to digital.

I've seen the same kind of model work with the Schey Sales Centre at Ohio University. This is one of the more developed centers of excellence that has 99% to 100% placement rate with corporate partners. I think that's another big component to the program is if you're going to build this fellowship or center of excellence at a college or university, there has to be some type of bridge to the professional sector. Companies are willing to pay for the opportunity to recruit those [00:18:30] special students who have had this type of training, and that can actually be the main reason, the main vehicle, for funding the development of the program.

Isaac Moche: One thing I wanted you to talk about a little bit, because I got to participate in it, is the final examination in your course. I think it's a really cool example of pulling industry in in a way that helps them grade and inform and work with the students, and impact how you teach, a really kind of simple and actionable way that you can do that as [00:19:00] a professor. I was wondering if you could share that.

Nate Riggs: Yeah. At the end, the students work on their practicum components and they launch a two-week campaign where they've developed a piece of premium content ... and I'll sidebar for a minute. In the last couple of years, I've seen the students get really creative with what defines premium content. We had a group of students actually build their own unique microsite as premium content. We had people do audio files and podcasts. There's the typical downloads, brochures, lookbooks, things like that. They market this, and they [00:19:30] have two weeks to market the campaign, and then they have to basically get up and, within seven minutes, prepare a presentation of the results to pitch why their campaign was successful or not.

What we're looking for is certain components. Are they looking at the analytics correctly? Have they been creative? Is this compelling content? Is it aligned with their personas? To judge that, we actually bring in a panel of between three and six professional judges that are from various digital agencies. A lot of them are HubSpot partners. We've had Jessika Phillips from [00:20:00] NOW Marketing Group, which is an Elida, Ohio, HubSpot partner. We've had folks from Conrad Phillips Vutech. My friend Eric Malone has been a judge a few times. They're now Hart, which is a big digital agency. Isaac, you've been a judge.

We've had just slews of other judges come down, and the students will present to them. Then I've created a rubric, a grading rubric, which is available for download for free, that actually takes criteria from [00:20:30] their requirements for the project presentation, but then also criteria for soft skills, their presentation skills, did they balance the workload, did they execute, did they get results, things like that. Then that's a weighted grade, so they get two points. There's a double weight on the project requirements. There's a single weight on the soft skills. The judges will then grade them and then pick a winner out of that. I actually take the combination of the judges' scores, and that signifies their grade on that project. We'll average that out, [00:21:00] and that average will be their grade on the project.

I think having the professionals come into the classroom ... There's always time to have the panel introduce themselves. The students typically stay afterwards and talk to them. They're getting feedback from real-life agency and/or corporate side-marketers who are doing this for a living. I think it benefits the professionals because they're getting a glimpse of here's the talent that's coming down the pipeline. Anecdotally, I know that there's been a lot of hiring conversations started from judges coming down and seeing those projects presented. [00:21:30] Likewise, too, the students are getting the benefit of not just hearing Nate get up and preach at them about this industry, and what's expected and what's good, but they're hearing it from a variety of different professionals from all over the state of Ohio or even in Boston. I think that helps solidify in their heads that, hey, digital marketing and inbound marketing is not going anywhere; this is going to be how marketing becomes down the road. It's already moving in that direction. We better make sure we understand this stuff.

Isaac Moche: Great. Well, [00:22:00] Nate, I don't know before we wrap up if you have any final words to our listeners here, either motivation to the ones who are just starting out, or encouragement, or even just, I don't know, any final thoughts. I'll give you the floor there, or you might say, "Hey, I got it all out of the way."

Nate Riggs: No, I mean, I think I'll leave it at this. I love this industry. I remember sitting in my first job, and it was a sales job, and starting to read things like Wired and starting to read things like [00:22:30] AdAge. That was when digital marketing was really starting to become popular. I got so enamored with it. I've spent my entire career working in this. I love what I do.

I feel like there's a lot of people out there like me, that just simply love this career. It's our responsibility to then make sure that it keeps going forward. We have a lot of knowledge that we've learned over the course of trial and error and having the opportunity to come up as this industry was developing, so now we need to take that back to [00:23:00] the next generation of digital marketers because someday we're going to retire and it's our responsibility to make sure that the students are getting the education that allows them to pick up the baton.

I talk about when you see the light bulbs go off. There's nothing more rewarding for me to see a student that's skeptical when they come into the class, and maybe they only took it because they needed to fill a course requirement, and then you have that one lecture or that one experience or that one project where suddenly they go, "Wow, this is really cool. I never looked [00:23:30] at the web this way." When you see that light bulb go off, there's nothing more rewarding because you've just created that awareness; you've just given somebody an opportunity to go down a path. You can essentially change the course of their career, and that's really exciting. You don't make a lot of money being a teacher, but if there is a reward, it's knowing that you've been an influence early on that maybe saved somebody two to three years of struggling in their career, because now they're going into the marketplace knowing at least an inkling of what [00:24:00] they want to do. I think that's something very important that all of us can do.

Isaac Moche: A fitting conclusion. Thank you so much, Nate, for joining us. You've really taken solving the digital skills gap by the horns, and taken a personal approach to doing that and fixing it, which isn't something that always happens from industry professionals. Thank you for coming on here and sharing your thoughts.

Nate Riggs: I appreciate it. I appreciate you, Isaac, and the support of HubSpot Academy and the Ed Partner Program. It's been a game-changer for us at OU, so onward [00:24:30] to you guys. You're going a great job.

Isaac Moche: Appreciate it. Folks, this has been the Teacher's Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. The Education Partner Program provides colleges and universities with everything that they need to teach leading courses in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, and communications. That's software, resources, and a community of professors all for free. Until next time, folks. If you'd like, you can subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or whatever software you use to listen to podcasts. Have a good one, folks.

Nate Riggs

I am an inbound marketer with over 14 years of experience in helping all sizes of companies get measurable results from their marketing programs.

I founded and lead NR Media Group, an Inbound Marketing Consultancy and HubSpot Gold Partner based in Columbus, Ohio. We specialize in helping companies understand and execute inbound marketing programs that leverage HubSpot's marketing automation suite to increase brand awareness and content reach, attract new website visitors, convert them into leads in company's marketing database and ultimately new opportunities that increase sales. You can learn more about how we work here:

On the side, I teach on the faculty of Ohio University's College of Business where I've worked developed curriculum for Inbound Marketing that addresses the digital talent gap we are seeing in new marketing graduates. My course has been adopted as part of the elective requirements to graduate with a marketing degree. You can find ratings from my students here:

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