Alumna Releases Book About Her Climb Up the Corporate Ladder

Nancy Bullock, who received her B.A. in English from MSU in 1981, has spent most of her career in Vice President of Marketing and Director of Marketing positions for companies like 1-800-FLOWERS, Pampered Chef, Home Depot, Spilsbury, and Random House. She is now President and Owner of Digital Market Solutions, Inc., and does consulting for startups in the Chicago area. Bullock also recently published a book, titled The Only Girl in the Room: Real Life Tales of One Woman’s Climb Up the Corporate Ladder, which is about her time in the corporate world.

How did you get into the marketing business?

It was entirely an accident. I wanted to be a writer in some capacity after getting my degree in English from MSU and being Editor-in-Chief of the Red Cedar Yearbook my senior year. I moved to New York City in 1985, and I created a copy portfolio that I was showing to various advertising agencies in New York. Through a family member, I got hired as a catalog copywriter for Crown Publishers (now Penguin Random House). While working as a copywriter, I was offered a position as a marketing manager for the catalog. I had done a short stint at Procter and Gamble right out of school, so had some brand management and marketing exposure.

The position at Random House launched me into a very fun and exciting 10-year journey in consumer catalog marketing and merchandising before I transitioned to digital marketing and merchandising in 1995.

Tell us about the positions you have held throughout your career involving marketing.

Once I landed in the consumer catalog world, I worked in marketing and merchandising positions that involved choosing and sourcing products (books, videos/movies, office products, and toys and games), creating marketing offers and messaging to increase sales, creating loyalty programs to increase sales (these programs have been around a lot longer than Amazon Prime), and creating brand experiences around specific products and services. The biggest pivot for me was when e-commerce came into the picture in 1995. I was working as a Vice President of Merchandising for a movie catalog and was tasked with getting the business “on the Internet.” Amazon had just started in 1994. Ever since that experience, I have been involved with all phases of digital/e-commerce marketing and merchandising. It has been quite a ride.

Tell us about your recently published book, The Only Girl in the Room: Real Life Tales of One Woman’s Climb Up the Corporate Ladder, and the process you went through in writing it.

I have one very longtime dear friend who had been bugging me to write about my career for several years. She had to sit through hearing many of my stories and thought my insights were unique, as well as universal to the working woman of my generation. I first published the book in the spring of 2015, well before the #MeToo movement. I slightly revised the book in 2018 to address the #MeToo issues and also started my blog.

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The cover of Nancy Bullock's book, "The Only Girl in the Room:
Real Life Tales of One Woman's Climb Up the Corporate Ladder" 
 


Writing the book was a great deal of fun – I have never been a “tortured” writer, I love everything about writing, including the entire editing and revising process. I had several editors along the way that kept me on course. There are lots of decision points on the journey and I had great support from many people I truly respect. My mentor was the one who helped me literally write the first sentence of the book. My nephew did a fantastic job of designing the book cover. My husband came up with the name for the book after listening to me rant one day. It just felt like the right time to tell my story and what I saw happening, or more accurately, not happening, for women in the corporate world. 

Explain the transition you made from VP of Marketing/Director of Marketing to consulting for startups in the Chicago area.

Again, it was an accident. I was transitioned out of a job I had for five years that I discuss in the book. This gave me the time to start my business and work on the book at the same time. I have found that every business I speak to is “starting-up” some area of their business. As we have seen with many brands and retailers, you cannot stand still and rely on old business models. Change is necessary, investment is necessary, and having a digital presence is absolutely essential, no matter what type of business you run. I am thankful I jumped into digital marketing as early as I did as it has given me a solid foundation to leverage – I am not a catalog marketer at this stage of my career. That would simply not work at all.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am still working in the digital marketing world, currently speaking to a community college here in the Chicago area about their digital marketing needs and also an agency that is selling high-end office products online to small- and medium-sized businesses – and they use their digital site to acquire leads, as well as to sell and promote their products. I have been toying with the idea of writing another book, but I have not decided on the direction. There are a couple of different ways I could go, but I do know it will not be about business or the corporate world, and it will be non-fiction.

As a marketer, being an English major has always been my secret weapon.

How has your English major helped with your career?

It taught me how to think and write and debate ideas and probe the status quo. Even though we have transitioned to “all things digital,” being able to clearly make a case for your point of view in writing and speaking is an amazing skill to leverage. Marketing is about telling stories – telling the story of your product in such a way that customers will want to engage with you. As a marketer, being an English major has always been my secret weapon. Being able to write – copy, emails, social media, memos, articles – has always come in very handy for me. I had several professors that were foundational in taking the raw material of my passion for writing and helped me become a true writer and thinker.

What are some of your favorite memories of your days as a student at MSU?

Certainly, being on the yearbook staff my junior year as a Copy Editor and then senior year as Editor-in-Chief was fairly all-consuming and a great deal of learning and fun. Our offices were in the basement of the Administration Building, we kind of had our own little cave down there. Spring term was also a great time to be out biking, playing frisbee, and enjoying the beauty of the campus. I was on campus, screaming in the streets in 1979, when we won the NCAA Championship with Magic Johnson. Watching Magic Johnson and Larry Bird go up against each other was an amazing experience.

And, of course, there is nothing like walking anywhere in the winter from Brody across the tundra. I can still feel the wind!

As we have seen with many brands and retailers, you cannot stand still and rely on old business models. Change is necessary, investment is necessary, and having a digital presence is absolutely essential, no matter what type of business you run.

What do you see as the importance of a liberal arts education?

I am such a huge advocate for a well-rounded view of the world. A liberal arts education teaches you how to THINK, and not just “do.” Some of the smartest business people I have ever met were liberal arts majors and not MBAs. Specialize when you get to work, learn how to develop your brain in school. I have spent the last 30 years hiring liberal arts majors into the business world.

What advice do you have for current college students?

I believe that acquiring skills that are not “debatable” is a huge advantage. Being in marketing has been a very nebulous experience for me. Am I good? Am I successful because I can make people money? How about when I do not? My son is a chef, my daughter and son-in-law are airline pilots, and my nephew is a nurse. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably go into teaching, which was my original plan – to get a Ph.D. in English and teach and write. It has been satisfying for me to continue to coach and mentor young business people, and I hope to do that well past my active work life. I do have a well-earned perspective, having been in the middle of one of the biggest retail changes in the past 100 years with the advent of online selling.