By Aaron Rhodes
Six months ago, Chris Gray was hired as the college’s executive director of marketing communications. It took a long time to get to his tidy open corner office in the GEB and Gray discussed many steps of his journey, from his upbringing to his most recent career shift.
Gray credits his decision to attend Drake University in Des Moines to his time growing up in Clinton, Missouri (population of roughly 10,000).
“I was hesitant to go to a large university and my parents didn’t want me to get too far away, being the firstborn, so there was compromise,” said Gray. “It was about 4,000 undergraduates, it’s a private school. It was great, the size and just the atmosphere of the college really allowed me to feel like on week one, day one, I was a part of the actual community there and really got to know people.”
After two years post-college at an information technology company in Iowa, Gray made the move to the Kansas City metro to work in the marketing department at the Kansas City Star.
“It was my second official job, what I would call my first grown-up job out of college and it really allowed me to kind of find my path,” said Gray. “Working at a large newspaper at a time where news media was still relevant in the early 2000s allowed me to understand that while a degree and college [are] really important, that people skills and personal skills [are] a massive component to really kind of help you succeed.”
Gray also mentioned that he thinks working at the Star today would be much different, considering he left in 2008 and daily readership has gone down by almost 300,000 people since then, according to a Nielsen report.
After six years with the Star followed by seven years at the Lenexa marketing company Zillner, Gray made his most recent change in employers. Gray was hired by the college after what he considered a competitive hiring process.
“Every industry and business does it a little different,” said Gray. “I appreciated it because it was thorough. … I actually had to submit a pretty detailed five-minute concise online video. I had to present a systems portfolio online, then I had about, I’d say three-fourths of a day interview with multiple functions within the college and then quite a few follow-up meetings as well.”
Gray said making the jump from working in non-academic marketing to academic marketing is taking some getting used to and involves a learning curve, although Gray made it clear that the students and faculty have been immensely helpful from day one.
“I actually came in on crutches and I wasn’t able to walk for two months, my first two months here, because of a pretty extensive knee surgery, so that made even just navigating the vastness of the school tough, so some of my peers were great, but also just a lot of the students made it welcoming. They were opening doors for me, so it was a good experience.”
Gray was thoroughly amused when asked what happens in a day at work.
“What doesn’t happen? […] I’m one of those individuals who has a hard time sitting in one spot for any given amount of time, “ said Gray, “so the beauty of it is we’ve got five different offices and functions that roll up underneath marketing, whether that be web communications, publications, event and marketing staff, continuing [education] then over here on the credit side.”
When Gray clocks out of his job, he spends a lot of time outside with his wife and two kids, who are seven and four years old.
“The weekends, even as young as [the kids] are, is playing taxi and coach in support for their various sports and events,” he said.
And what does Gray hope to accomplish in the time he is spending here?
“You always try to leave a place better than how it was before,” he said, “and it was in a great spot from a marketing standpoint when I came here, but I think it’s really positioned the college in the correct manner that serves the students and the community, not just currently, but looking ahead in the future.”