A One-of-a-Kind Ride: Associate Professor Peg Murphy on Communication at Columbia College Chicago
Murphy’s first loves, literature and theatre, offered her an avenue into storytelling that proved that she had a gift for working with people, developing creative ideas, and pivoting to meet the needs of individual projects.
After graduate school, Murphy started working in advertising. It was an environment Murphy was pleasantly surprised to find that, as she says, “you get to flex your same creative muscles…there’s a lot of that quick thinking on your feet, a lot of improv, a lot of teamwork, working with others. I’d say there’s an element of performance in it, always.”
And, much like the theatre, Murphy found that each advertising project piqued her interest with its own set of goals, challenges, and unique cast of characters. In fact, she continues to advise high-profile clients while also teaching at Columbia. She’s worked with Apple, Marshall Field’s, and Crate and Barrel, just to name a few. She speaks fondly of those experiences now, and her continued work. “The thing I like about marketing and advertising in particular is that it’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s not boring…and you get to try out different things all the time!”
While working with clients in the field is important to Murphy, she prioritizes her role as a mentor for Columbia students studying Communication. Teaching was a natural fit—something Murphy enjoyed in graduate school and something that felt like home after years of working with young creatives and agency executives. “I like working with students,” she says. “Part of what keeps [the industry] going, you know, is this energy that comes from new, fresh, thinking. Students have a lot of good ideas and raw talent. Our job is just trying to help them shape that a little.”
Today, as a leader in the department, Murphy also works with Chair Suzanne McBride and others throughout the college supporting the needs and initiatives for seven majors, eight minors, and co-led the development of the new Strategic Communication graduate degree, which is available as a combined BA and MA degree
Murphy takes her role as an educator seriously, serving on the National Education Executive Committee, an elected body for the American Advertising Federation as well as working on initiatives with leaders in other aligned fields, including the Advertising Education Foundation and the National Retail Federation. These relationships, among other things, help students forge the crucial connections that lead to success after graduation.
Before that day comes, though, Murphy dedicates her time to helping students studying Communication develop a body of work that will serve as their calling card to future employers. She cannot state strongly enough how imperative it is that students develop samples that can speak to their strengths. “If you’re a broadcast journalist, you should have a reel. If you’re a journalist, you should have a bunch of clips. You should have a beautiful portfolio and examples of your work [by the time you graduate.]” Murphy works towards this every year as she leads and mentors a variety of successful competition teams. Her students’ competition wins include first and second place nationally at the Collegiate Effie Awards, fourth place nationally at the AAF National Student Ad Competition, first and second place nationally in the National Retail Federation Student Challenge (in partnership with Columbia’s Fashion students), first place at the AAF-NSAC Mega-Regionals and Best Planbook National at the AAF NSAC. All the while, Murphy continues to work with high-powered clients as a consultant and expert in advertising.
For Columbia students, having faculty mentors who are working in the trenches in their chosen fields makes them ahead of the pack. So, too, does a curriculum that allows students to start working in their major right away. Murphy recommends that students with a clear focus also make room for a minor. “I always say, for your creative soul, make sure your creative passions stay satisfied. If you want to minor in photography or video production or design, or if you want to take dance classes, you’ve got room [at Columbia.] And I think that’s important too.”
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