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Q&A With Alex Carter

Alex Carter is working towards his Ph.D. in advertising, while also working for the School of Advertising and Public Relations as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Prior to his time at the University of Tennessee, he worked with Eastman Chemical Company and Creative Energy. He graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, advertising, and applied communication.

Prior to his time at UTK, he worked on several major brands, including Coca-Cola, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, and Pal’s Sudden Service. Carter is the head graduate assistant in the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center, which analyzes current trends in social media content. He is part of a team of graduate assistants who monitor major events, including the 2020 election.

His research focus centers on the influence of advertising on new technologies and media as well as concerns with privacy.

What are your career goals?

I went into academia instead of taking a job in the industry because I wanted a fulfilling job that I enjoy and will put me in a place to make a difference; those are really my three career goals. Currently I see my best chance at achieving these three goals by working at a research-focused university where I can pursue research related to advertising and public policy.

What made you decide to pursue your PhD and Doctorate degree at UT?

There were three main selling points: The first was that my wife was able to pursue her PhD in psychology here, and the second was the professors. I was impressed by the work of the professors in the School of Advertising and Public Relations and knew that I would learn a lot from them. And third was the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center; working in the industry, I knew how valuable a tool this center was and I’ve used it nonstop since then.

What has been your favorite part about your time at UT?

Definitely the culture. I really feel like I am appreciated and welcomed within the
college. I have been treated as an equal, and the entire program has pushed the
importance of a work/life balance. I am happy to go to work/class every day and I know that is truly a special feeling.

What advice would you give to a student looking to apply to the CCI PhD program?

Find professional experience where you can. I had the privilege of working for Eastman and Creative Energy where I was able to absorb a wealth of experience from my colleagues and my clients. They have impacted my teaching style as well as what and how I research. Even now, I am talking regularly to my friends in the industry to make sure I am up to date on what is going on in such a rapidly evolving field.

At both ETSU and here at UT, what has it been like to juggle being a GTA while also being part of two intensive programs? How do you manage your time?

One thing I have had to learn, and that I am still working on, is saying “No.” I love my jobs and am excited to try new things, but things can go from busy to overwhelming in no time. I have worked on being more discerning with what responsibilities I take on and that has come with prodding from my mentors.

I’ve also learned the best way to manage my time for projects I have said yes to is to schedule out my day. In the industry, I had a lot more structure set up for me, but as I transitioned to academia, I had to make my own structure. I started by making project management boards on a platform called Trello, and started tracking my time using Toggl. I quickly found where I had to cut time (fun things that did not contribute to my long-term goals) and where I had to dedicate time (grading usually).

What was it like working with major brands like Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola? What would be your dream brand to work on?

COCA-COLA – Working for a client like Coca-Cola on the first day of my first job after graduating was intimidating. I had to learn a new dictionary of words, fit into their corporate culture, and try to bring a new energy to a company that has been at the cutting edge of advertising for generations. I remember my first time walking into the HQ in Atlanta and just being awed by the history and magnitude of the company. I had to put that aside pretty quickly in order to succeed as an Account Executive for them. I knew after we launched our first website and trade show campaign that I could succeed with any client because I had succeeded with one of the best.

PIZZA HUT – Working on the NSAC campaign for Pizza Hut was incredible, it was my first time taking a leadership role on a huge project at school, and I realized how much I had learned in my undergraduate program. Pitching the entire campaign to an audience of over 100 industry professionals was one of the highlights of my career, and seeing aspects of our campaign actually used was like a dream. The Pizza Hut sponsorship of College Gameday, the pizza peels in place of signs and #PizzaHutHut were all central to our campaign, and I spent the entire day they debuted on College Gameday just browsing through social media to see what people thought, and being so proud of our crew when people complimented the tactics.

My dream is to be able to work with the NBA on a campaign one day. The NBA is always taking a lead in moving the sports industry forward. Their Tip-Off, Finals, and All Star Weekend campaigns are consistently fantastic, and they obviously have a structure that encourages idea cultivation and out-of-the-box thinking.

What has been the most interesting part of your social media analysis of the 2020

There were two parts that stood out. For the first, I have been following politics since I was seven years old when Tennessean Al Gore ran in 2000. It was a dream to be able to conduct analysis on a presidential election, share my findings with Twitter, and be interviewed by local affiliates and USA Today. After the election, my mom called, and we started talking and she made a joke about how 20 years ago I stayed up until 2 in the morning with a notebook “practicing” to be one of the analysts, and here I was being the analyst I was dreaming of “but with Twitter instead of a notebook.” I love the feeling that I had kind of been working towards this
for two decades and finally got my shot and had a blast doing so.

Secondly, while this election was contentious and negative on social media, I found
that people were optimistic about our future. I did a small side project for WBIR and a story they were running on election anxiety. One of the most commonly used words when people were talking about their fears, worries, stress, and anxieties concerning the election was the word “hope.” Looking further there were a lot of people who would say they were dealing with stress and anxiety, but that they had faith in a brighter future for the country. It was a relief after spending weeks pouring through data showing that most conversations were negative and filled with anger, that those most worried still had hope and optimism. That has really stuck with me over the past month.