The Professors of the Education Partner Program

  • Paula Morris

    Paula Morris

    Professor of the Practice

    Salisbury University

  • Courses Taught

  • Principles of Marketing
  • Digital Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Interview
  • Twitter Stream

Interview with Paula Morris - Salisbury University

Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning in to the Teacher's Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. HubSpot's Education Partner Program provides college and university professors with everything they need to teach leading courses in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, and communications. Software, resources, and a community of professors all for free.

On each episode of the Teacher's Lounge we'll sit down with someone who is transforming marketing and sales higher education. I'm Isaac Moche your host for the podcast. Today we'll be talking to Paula Morris, Professor of the Practice at Salisbury University. She teaches many different marketing courses ranging from social media marketing, to professional selling, to direct and interactive marketing. For a while she was also the founder of Kids of Honor Incorporated, which helped and empowered young people to graduate from high school and pursue their dreams. We're excited to have Paul on our podcast to discuss faking it till you make it, finding your passion, and creativity in teaching, digital marketing, and sales. Welcome, Paula.

Thanks, Isaac. I'm excited to be here with you today.

We're really excited to have you here as well. And over the process of getting to know you, as we've been working together, there are a couple different projects that you've done that I think are really exciting. And I'm really looking forward to having you share them with our community.

I do things a little bit differently than most people do.

That is certainly true. And I'm excited to have you share your background so that people can see where you're coming from, and a little bit of that philosophy that I think really does inform that different approach. You know, your background is in nonprofit fundraising. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience?

Yeah. Well it wasn't something I really planned to do. I was working for a client who had sponsored an event in our community, and he didn't feel like he was getting a good return on his sponsorship dollars. So he asked me to come in the next year and run and do some of the publicity to help the sponsors get more recognition for what they were providing. And so what I did was I brought my background of sales and marketing and my network of contacts in the community, and it just became this magical thing where I was able to really make an impact on the nonprofit community.

And so that then evolved into my consulting business, where I helped businesses and nonprofits plan and execute marketing strategies. And really an emphasis on the execution side. I have a knack for helping people agree on what the expectation levels are to achieve success, and then helping them actually implement those things. I'm not afraid to step into trying something new and different.

Yeah. It's so interesting that you talk about both the marketing and the sales experience. With the growth of software and marketing and sales, those two roles are really becoming more woven together. It's interesting that you teach both. Do you think that's informed by your experience in nonprofit fundraising, and how closely connected those were?

Yeah. And I just have never really drawn a line in between them. I came out of the real world and although there is a sales department and a marketing department in both places, I've always worked in small business where you had to change hats so frequently that that line didn't always exist. So things in big business and in the way we teach are often very delineated. And in the real world it gets messy.

It does. It does. So how did you become a teacher?

I did that by accident too. So I had worked long enough in this nonprofit industry and in helping small businesses, that I really felt like I needed a refresher. I thought, OK, I'm going to go take a marketing class, make sure I'm still on topic, make sure what I'm telling people is still relevant, and I wanted to be up on that the emerging things that are the technology, and the things that are moving so fast.

And in the small community we're in, I happen to know the dean of the business school, so I went to him and I said, I need to enroll in a class. And by that time our 20 minute meeting was over, I walked out of there with a textbook and a contract to teach. And I'm not really sure how that happened. And I really think he also was playing with me a bit, because he gave me a Monday night class in the fall. So in order to keep kids in class I had to talk about the Oilers and the Steelers, and the football games, and the cheerleaders, and whatever I could do to keep them in class.

So I've always been about keeping the class relevant and bringing my real world into the class. There's this magic thing of bringing my clients into the classroom and then having my students go out and work with my clients. Because then everybody's winning.

What was that like to be teaching for the first time, to have gone in there looking for an opportunity to have somebody else catch you up to speed, and very quickly becoming the person who was going to be teaching the next generation?

OK. So in learning, you will teach, and in teaching you will learn. And I got that from watching the Tarzan movie with my kids. And really, truly, I didn't plan to be a nonprofit fundraiser. Someone asked me to do something. I jumped into it and I learned as I went. That is my fake it till you make it kind of conversation. Did I know anything about running a nonprofit where I was going to empower youth to graduate from high school? When I saw a problem in our community, and realized that one in three kids in America wasn't graduating from high school, did I know how to fix that? No, but I also knew we needed to.

So just like teaching, somebody handed me a book and I said, OK, so I can do this. I can figure out how to do this, and if I don't know how to do it I think the students will help me help them learn.

How does that mentality of faking it till you make it-- which I think is a very humble approach to living and not only doing things that you're comfortable with-- does that work its way into your teaching and if so, how does it?

Well absolutely. So did I know everything about nonprofit fundraising when I started? No. Did I know about youth development and the education system when I started Kids of Honor? No, but I saw these issues, these needs, these opportunities. Did I know teaching when I started? No, but after 20 years I think I'm pretty good at it. And so what I often do is see problems and just continue to work on them. If you try something that doesn't work, then you try something else the next time. And so not being afraid to try something because you're afraid you'll fail, that's the easiest way to never succeed in anything.

So I'm not asking students-- when I tell them fake it till you make, it I am absolutely not a proponent of lying, bending the truth, but I am a proponent of if you feel like you have the ability to learn something, the best way to do it is to roll up your sleeves and do it.

And because of this-- it's interesting-- you've become a senior member of the marketing faculty at Salisbury, and are the most vocal proponent of digital marketing and sales. What's that been like?

Yeah. The digital marketing, I am absolutely the voice at Salisbury. We've got a great, great IT. Great IT department, and I do a lot of work with them. But when it comes to the digital side of marketing, the technology side of marketing, yes, I'm the biggest voice. I'm also not the only person who can do this stuff. And I know that my skill set is in the content side, the strategy side. It's not in the numbers side. You never want me doing your accounting for you. I am dyslexic and I will take 43s and make them into 34s, so I have found a colleague who is helping me with some of those sides of things.

But this is where marketing is going. And so I had children in my house before I had a mouse. When I was in college I talked to computers with punched cards. I didn't do it very well. And so I've seen this amazing transformation of the way that we engage with consumers. And in that transformation I became fascinated. And I know that I don't necessarily know everything. I don't think anybody knows everything, but I'm interested enough to really explore it and learn it, and roll up my sleeves and learn along with my students.

What advice do you have to professors who might be afraid to teach digital marketing? It's scary to get up and maybe be teaching something that you don't know completely.

Absolutely. Absolutely, but again it's a fake it till you make it. Try things. Some of them will work and some of them will fall flay. And you just adjust along the way. Many times I like to get very vague directions, because I want students to figure out how to do things on their own. Once they get into the real world nobody is going to give them due dates, nobody's going to give them timelines, nobody's going to tell them how to do projects. They're going to have to figure those kinds of things out on their own. And so I give these very vague directions, and it's hard. It's hard for them to get started. It's hard for them to really know what it is you want them to do.

Yet at the same time I jokingly say, all right, in kindergarten if I drew a flower on the board and I drew a tulip, you would all give me tulips back. And some of you all are better at drawing roses, and some of you are better at drawing flowers that look like other things, but if I give you an example you're going to give it back to me. That's not what I need in the business. World I need people to learn A, how to think, B, that there's more than one right answer to most questions, and really, truly, it's more like Survivor than Perfection. Just don't get voted off and you can go to work tomorrow. And so it's about trying new things and really getting over that fear of being imperfect. And I am very good at being imperfect in front of the classroom.

I'd imagine there are a couple stages that the students go through as they're confronted with pretty much a lifetime of "do this because it is the next step," to having to do coursework that is very much like being thrown into the deep end. So you created this create-your-own-adventure project. It's one of the most interesting assignments I've seen from a digital marketing professor. Can you tell our listeners what it is and how you came up with the idea?

OK. So like I told you, digital is so big. It's so hard to try and teach digital. And again, digital evolved from someplace else for me. It was part of my Direct and Interactive class. And then I realized that they needed some digital, they needed some mobile, they needed some social, they needed all of these technology communication tools. They needed content. And so I couldn't teach all of that.

And so I created this project called create-your-own-adventure. I had a very large group project going on in the class and I wanted something that was individual. And I also wanted something that the students would own, and feel like they were able to be in charge of doing something specifically that they wanted to do. And so it's a digital exploration, and what I basically said to them is, OK, so what do you want to learn? And go learn it. And so the process is relatively simple, but complex at the same time, in that what I did was I had an interactive proposal portion of the class.

By the second week of class they had to send me a proposal that said, here's what I plan to do, here's what I want to learn, here's the level of knowledge I already have, and here's how I'm going to go about learning more about it.

And for context, these are mostly juniors and seniors, correct?

Yeah. They're at least second semester juniors. So they're looking out. They should kind of know where they're going. Many of them are not marketing majors. They're marketing minors as well. So I have some art folks, and I have some communications folks. So they're all coming in with these varying backgrounds, also with varying destinations as to where they want to be after graduation. And so after we go through this process of them proposing to me and me coming back and saying, OK, so what's your timeline? Create your own due dates. Tell me what you're going to do. Tell me how you're going to keep up. What kind of feedback do you want from me?

So we created some systems where each of them had a Google Drive that they could drop things in, and they were able to send me an email that says, hey I sent this to the Google Drive. And so I could give them back when they wanted it. I didn't require that they do any check in at all, because most bosses aren't going to do that. If you need help in the work world you go ask for help. So that's how I set this up. And then the deliverables they had to give me was a blog post written to their fellow students. So they had a persona that they were writing to.

They also had to turn in an infographic and a self-reflection all at the beginning. And what I really wanted in the self-reflection is basically, honestly, what grade should you get and why, and what did you learn from this? And then we went from there. But then I asked them all to read each other's blogs and they did another reflection after that of, hey, would I have done something differently? Would I have done a different project?

And so for context, what are some examples of things that people chose to do? That students chose to do?

OK. So I had two sections this semester, so there were 61 students total. 57 projects, five of them paired up. And we had people who created their own blogs. Some video blogs, some written blocks. We had a couple of podcasts that were created. They created personal web pages for their own futures. Many of those were my art students who needed a portfolio as well. Many of them did industry certifications. One of my students got, I think, three HubSpot certifications.

Some of them realized that maybe they didn't pay attention enough in their Excel classes, and that they're seeing job descriptions that need proficiency in Excel, and maybe that was a good idea to go do some refresher. So they did some Lynda courses. Some learned coding, some did social media explorations. One did an Instagram contest. And once he got all of the images from his Instagram contest, he used it to design the album cover that he put out. So it was just so really cool things. One student took this thing to the next level. Read two different books on sales, then cut three HubSpot certifications and amazingly landed a job with Tom James in Florida.

Wow. What role do you think the choice has, and why is that important? Because you could say, you know, one year, oh, these three actually ended up being really helpful, so students, you can pick one of three.

Well, yeah, but the choice is the challenge. That's the real hard part. I remember when my children were little-- and they're all now college graduates-- but I remember sitting with them reading the create-your-own-adventure books, and having them get to the page where you have to decide whether this is going to happen or that is going to happen. And listening to them negotiate with each other and struggle with, really, what do I want? I loved that struggle.

And then the proposal's the real hard part. It's what do I really want to do? This world is so huge and I get to do what I want to do. And so that's the real crux of the assignment. Because once people decide what they want to do, if they're dedicated they'll get it done or they won't. And so let me read you a couple of the statements that came from the blog post. So this is reflection.

Please do, yeah.

One student said, "as I meander through my final semester of college, I was able to take on my most unique project thus far. Throughout my academic career I've always been told what to do or given assignments with specific rubrics to follow. Each assignment became like clockwork. I powered my way through each monotonous task, often with great success. Success as I knew it was simply a grade. Each time I received a grade my job was complete. On to the next one. Semester after semester I began to understand how the process works and mastered the technique of late night cramming. I thought I was successful. I continued to see my GPA rise, but a startling trend was developing.

What did this have to do with my future? Sure, I was gaining a diverse understanding of the basic world of business, but did any professor ever ask where I wanted to go? What I wanted to learn, or what career aspirations I had? Then one day create-your-own-adventure came along, just in the nick of time. I'm in the twilight of my academic career at Salisbury University. As I prepared to tune out the semester and do as I always had to get the grade, this assignment landed on my desk. It was startling. It took me a while to truly grasp the task, but as the title states, it's been a real adventure."

That's really something.

By the end, though, they were a different tune. So in the final reflections I got things that-- "I thought all of the blogs and infographics were well organized and helpful when reading. I think you should share all of these blogs and infographics in future classes so students will learn from us. Thank you for allowing me to do my own adventure this semester so I could add certifications to my LinkedIn and resume."

One student also said, "this project motivated me to take graphic design classes next year to broaden my knowledge and use the computer in the marketing world." Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing as educators?

Yeah. It's just amazing. Were there any students who you felt just had a complete transformation from rejecting it-- to being, like, I can't do this-- to seeing the light in that way? Is that the norm? If you treat it like a bell curve, you know?

Yeah. I think part of it was I had a couple of students who really, really struggled trying to figure out what they could do that was relevant to them. Because they wanted to do something relevant, but they couldn't quite get their brain around it. So two or three times I had students come in. One student on one end of the bell shaped curve came to me and said, this is hard. You just tell me what to do and I'll do it. And I had to look at him and say, sir, I'm not going to think for you. You've got to think for yourself and you've got to learn how to do these kinds of things. I'm not just going to tell you what to do and how to do it. That's not going to help you in your future.

I had another student who came in and said, you know, I think I want to do some social media exploration. I said, what do you love? He said, I love music. I said, OK. I said, do you follow any bands on social media? And he said, yeah, I follow this one, and I follow that one, and I follow the other one. I said, well, I know none of those. Tell me who they are and tell me about them. Well this one's an emerging band, this one's been around forever. And I thought, OK, there you go.

So his adventure became following using Hootsuite and using some social media listening tools. Listening to an emerging band and what their social media presence was, an established band, and then one that was kind of in the growth phase. And his aha moments became that the small bands that are trying to get themselves established have to do a whole lot more talking about themselves, whereas other people talk about the well-established brands. So just very interesting ahas.

I had one student learn about sentiment analysis, because she thought it was interesting. And she's a sociology major, so it would be.

In many ways it does mirror what marketing and sales look like today. And that you could never possibly know anything by having that beginner's mind set, and being willing to try new things and pursue your passion. That is a softer skill that you are teaching them.

That and a lot of what I do, with the self-reflection and those kinds of things, comes out of my youth development work from Kids of Honor. I learned so much about the developmental assets and what young people need to succeed. That can't do anything but flow into my classroom. So I also learned a lot about service-learning. And service-learning as a four step process. It's identifying a broader issue, it's doing something about it, it's then reflecting on it, and celebrating. And so fake it till you make it starts with figuring out what the issue is and going and doing something about it. And if that doesn't work you do something else about it.

So yes, I will tell you I had one student in the classroom whose blog post title was Failure is the First Step Toward Success. He is the only student that didn't complete his adventure.

What was that like? It was like having to stand in front of the classroom and say, I didn't do what I was supposed to do. And so the reflections-- after a semester of me working with these folks individually, they know that I know how well they did. And so I talk about helping students put on their swimmies and jump in the pool. And all of us who've ever taught someone to swim, or have been taught to swim, you know there's that little stage in there where you catch the child for a while and then you quietly start backing up. So you're empowering-- you're helping them fake it till they make it. You're going to get farther away and farther away, until all of a sudden they swam all the way across the pool and did it by accident. And then you go the long way across the pool.

That's really what I do with these folks. Put your swimmies on, jump in the pool, and some kids take the semester and they float.

And the other thing-- so I love the self-assessment, I love the create-your-own-adventure, but what's so cool is that they write their learnings up and they share with the world. And what actually happens is your course provides more coverage on what's happening in digital marketing than you might be able to teach by yourself in a 15 week session. Because you essentially have 30 or 40 topics.

And Isaac, do you know how much I learned in that process?

Yeah, I can only imagine. I can only imagine.

And so you just jumped in and you roll up your sleeves, and you learn with them. And then when I get some of the blogs and the things that I read throughout the semester, I know who to share them with. And there are times that my students call it Mrs. Morris's Rabbit Hole, because I have been known, at least once a week, to find something during my lunch hour and to have it in the lectures at 1:30 and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Because it's new, it's relevant, and somebody in the class is working on something, and then they can all share with each other how that interacts with what they're doing.

When they have to do that self-assessment, do you think they're straight with themselves?

Absolutely. So where I was going is some people just get in the pool and float. And I know they're floating. They're not trying to learn to swim. They're just floating on their backs and they get to the end of the semester, and when I asked the question honestly, what grade you deserve for create-your-own-adventure, it aligned almost to the number. There are a few that wanted to inflate things a little bit, but most of them were honest because they knew I knew how hard they worked. And the ones who really worked hard, they wanted to tell me about it because they wanted me to be proud of all of the things they learned this semester. And that's the kind of thing that we want to instill is I want you to see what I did.

So you're going through this process. You've been teaching for many years. You've been teaching digital marketing. You've got this great program and as of last year-- you might have to fill me in on the details-- you decided to add sales. Is that correct?

No. I have been working the digital side. And in the past three years Salisbury University has absolutely created a sales initiative. We brought in a new chair. We brought in two new faculty folks. And we have created MASMI, which is the Mid-Atlantic Sales and Marketing Initiative. Yes. So they, in less than two years of the process, have created a minor in sales. They've also been able to be accepted into the sales alliance. So they're really hitting the ground with sales. That's something that we need--

So it's kind of a big institutional push toward sales?

Big push. And I'm very supportive of sales. In the interim, when people left and no one was there to teach sales, I could fill in. I sold for Xerox back after the dinosaurs left the planet, and I understand sales, and I guess the fact that that's a real career path in marketing. But this digital side is also a career path in marketing. And they can't be separated from each other. Your word of "smarketing," I love it. We need to be more aligned. We need students who understand that consumers are buying differently than they were, and that the used car salesman of the Rodney Dangerfield age is no longer tolerable.

And so I've been bringing some of the digital things to the sales side, and really we've all been working together at Salisbury. We've got some new colleagues coming in soon and they're both sales and, hopefully, the digital side. But we have a relatively new colleague and I've been able to help get him to help-- he's created the analytics course from this class that I taught this semester, the Direct and Interactive class, where I added in the create-your-own-adventure and I added in Inbound. I'm hoping to develop another class on Inbound, because the students basically said to me, this was a great two classes. Thank you, Mrs. Morris. You overwhelmed me with work this semester.

I think that happens all the time with digital marketing, because there is so much of it and usually demand is only at a school for one class or two classes. At least to start. And what happens is I like to say, all the TLAs-- the three letter acronyms-- get thrown in there. The SEOs, the PPCs, the email marketings, it can be really overwhelming for students.

It can be really overwhelming for professors.

That's true, so how do you handle that? How do you decide what gets in and what doesn't? Or when a new class might be necessary?

I am very transparent with my students and I ask them how things are going along this semester. One of the things I was going to have them do with the create-your-own-adventure was a five minute video presentation where they would watch each other's video, because I think it's really important for them to teach each other. And we got to the end of the semester and they were their eyes were as big as saucers, and it was, OK, so we can make that go away. That's going to be easier. You know, let's just make this semester a little bit easier for you all. Because in addition to that, I also added your inbound piece.

That's one of the things I promised my students. Every class they take with me, they will get something for their resume. It's about ROI. College is expensive and if they're going to sit in my classroom, they're going to take something away from that classroom of value. So when I teach the principles class we learn social media listening, they get Hootsuite certified, and we follow a company all semester long. And we learn that. In the advertising and promotions class I teach, we work with real clients and create a fundraising event, and an ad campaign. So we are doing real things.

In the Direct and Interactive class, we are working on a direct marketing campaign that came from the collegiate MAXIs from the Direct Marketing Association of Washington. So we're working with real projects. They also got Inbound certified this semester, and they do the create-your-own-adventure. That's a little overwhelming for 15 weeks.

Yeah, I bet. And what often happens over time is that stuff begins to expand. And it looks like the digital is creeping into the sales side. It's creeping into direct into a lot of these other courses. Yeah. It's mirroring that exactly. And one other experiment that you ran, I know we mentioned. There were two things that I thought were really fascinating was that you have been really dedicated to for a while, but very much this semester, to helping students get their first job out of college. And that you've actually started to integrate technology into that job search.

OK. Well it was actually part of the create-your-own-adventure. Here's where Inbound really works. So last summer, to make sure that I was staying on top of things, I got the email certification and I got in-bound certification, put it on my LinkedIn, and then all of a sudden someone named Isaac reached out to me on LinkedIn and said hello. What do you think about teaching Inbound in your classroom? To which I said, oh, I can add that too! So really truly this is this whole process does work.

And so when you and I started talking about this create-your-own-adventure project last summer, you brought to me the fact that HubSpot had free CRM software that I did not realize was a thing. And so one of the pairs of students that worked on their create-your-own-adventure this semester used the free CRM software from HubSpot to track their job search. And so this aligns perfectly with our sales initiative at Salisbury. I asked them to go to the job fair, I asked them to track things at the job fair, and they used the software to, all semester long, work on their job search. Both of them graduated this semester. Both of them have sales jobs. So it worked.

And what they did was they documented how they did it. And so I asked each of them to do some informational interviews, so they were tracking their networking, and then how their job search was going. They then presented what they did this semester to the sales team, and they are creating-- our goals this summer is Judy, who is my colleague who's teaching sales, and one of the students and I are going to help you put together curriculum, so that we can then launch this. And it's something that the sales team will be using in the coming semester.

So I think it's something that's cool and that we'll be able to share. And what's really fun is that it's student driven and student feedback, and they loved it. And what they kept saying was, well, if this is going to be free then we can do this. And then they were speculating-- because I wasn't there when they presented to the sales team and they didn't realize that it is free. That that's just not an issue. And so they really embraced that this is the kind of tool that they need, and the reminder systems, and this is how they go about doing these job searches, and what they need to be doing to follow up.

And one of them, Brooke, who if I'm not mistaken, mentioned that she was using a CRM to conduct her job search, was one of the ones who ended up getting one of those sales jobs.

Absolutely. And she's going to help me this summer. She's still here in Ocean City and working, and she'll start in the fall with her sales job. So she and I, this summer, are going to work on creating curriculum that will hopefully be able to launch soon.

It is something that seems like it is very much run through your core and probably does have the background in the nonprofit work of having good people capture the things that have been helpful for them, and valuable for them, and then paying it forward by sharing it with their community. It's awesome.

It is. And education is the center of, really, everything. So whether it's youth empowerment, whether it's getting outside your comfort zone, fake it till you make it education and learning in the process is the key. And I think that's why I landed as a teacher.

Well I can't think of a better way to wrap up this podcast. Thank you so much, Paula, for joining us, and for sharing your experience, and for pushing your students to share their experiences as well.

Thanks, Isaac. It's been fun.

All right. We'll talk soon. Thanks for stopping in and listening, everyone. Have a good one.

Want to become an Education Partner?