Chris Shumaker (MKTG ’82)

More than meets the eye

For those who grew up in the 1980s, that commercial slogan was synonymous with the Transformers, a wildly popular line of toys aimed squarely at the Saturday morning cartoon demographic. In five simple words, the toymaker Hasbro was able to encapsulate everything that was special and unique to the toy line.

For Chris Shumaker (MKTG ’82), those five words capture everything special and unique to a career in marketing. Recently, he aimed that message squarely at a different demographic.

“I don’t know of many other careers that offer such a breadth of opportunity,” explained Shumaker to a lecture hall filled with interdisciplinary students. “There are opportunities for both left brain thinkers and right brain thinkers.”

Speaking to Donna Wertalik’s Marketing Management 3104 class, Shumaker imparted words of wisdom gleaned from his 30-plus years of experience through his presentation, “From Class to Career – Marketing Pathways.”

A native of Vienna, Va., Shumaker began his lucrative marketing career in a classroom very similar to Wertalik’s. “I was originally a psychology major,” he explained. “I love ideating, collaborating, helping people.

“It was when I took a marketing class that I realized what I wanted to do. I took a class and turned it into a career.”

The mantra, “Take a class and turn it into a career,” was what inspired Shumaker to speak with Wertalik’s students. “I’ve spoken to other upper-class marketing and graduate classes before, but I needed to take a different approach in speaking to this one because it was comprised of students from a lot of different majors,” he said. “I wanted to convey to the students the different and positive attributes of a career in marketing.

“I wanted to try and convert some students. I am a marketer, after all.”

Shumaker’s conversion to marketing major from psychology major was not as unorthodox as it may seem at first; rather, it was a realignment of his strengths and interests. “I’ve always been interested in the psychology of decision-making—fascinated by it,” he said. “That was the hook.”

He was also influenced by his father—who marketed computers—and something that his father told him in his youth. “When I was in these students’ shoes trying to decide my major, my father explained to me that marketing was ‘selling through the eyes of your customer.’ That resonated with me, and I’ve taken that with me throughout my career.”

Donna Wertalik and Chris Shumaker (MKTG '82)
Donna Wertalik and Chris Shumaker (MKTG '82)

Knowing is half the battle

His career has not been without its challenges. Just after graduating, Shumaker was interviewing for a position with a large advertising firm in New York when he was asked by the interviewer what he wanted to do in advertising. “I said, ‘I want to be the guy that writes the slogans,’” he explained. “That is when I learned that position was called a copywriter.” Shumaker used the anecdote to stress to his audience the importance of understanding exactly what they want to do before the interview.

“When it comes to your career, know what you want,” he said. “Don’t be the desperate, freshly minted grad saying you’ll do anything because you’ll lose compared to the other interviewee who knows what they want. Do your homework. Understand the different positions and have a good idea of where you could fit into the organization.”

Shumaker did his homework, eventually landing a gig with a small marketing firm out of college. He credits his work at a smaller employer integral to his career development. “Working at a smaller firm straight out of college gives you better opportunities,” he explained. “Working at a larger company can pigeonhole you. At a smaller firm, you wear more hats, receive more experiences.”

Those experiences certainly paid off for Shumaker when, in 1988, less than a decade after he graduated from Virginia Tech, he helped launch the Virginia Lottery. Today, Shumaker doesn’t sell products as much as he sells a service. Specifically, the services of consulting firm Hasan + Shumaker, where he serves a president and co-founder, helping companies find the right agency and agencies to find the right clients.

A slide from Shumaker's presentation, “From Class to Career – Marketing Pathways.”
A slide from Shumaker's presentation, “From Class to Career – Marketing Pathways.”

Now you’re playing with power

He stressed to the students in his audience that, be they marketing students or not, they are all marketing something—themselves—to potential employers. “You are a brand. Everything you do and put into the world represents you.”

Shumaker explained that the realm of marketing is currently in a state of disruption, utilizing a term that originated in the military. “It’s a VUCA world in advertising right now,” he said. VUCA, an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, was originally coined to describe the state of international affairs during the Cold War. For Shumaker, the acronym perfectly encompasses the state of marketing with today’s multichannel entertainment.

“We’ve moved from media scarcity and attention abundance to media abundance and attention scarcity.”

As with any good and seasoned marketing and advertising professional, Shumaker finished his presentation with one last pitch to students unsure about their future. The slide simply read: “Consider your strengths. Consider your brand. Consider marketing.”

– Written by Jeremy Norman