Alum teaches marketing students tricks of the trade

by Emily Murphy / Beacon Staff • March 28, 2012

Sonya
Emerson Alum, Sonya Cosentini, has worked with TJX Companies, Inc. for eight years.
Photo Courtesy of Sonya Cosentini
Emerson Alum, Sonya Cosentini, has worked with TJX Companies, Inc. for eight years.
Photo Courtesy of Sonya Cosentini

Instead of walking down the aisle of a church, the bride took her steps between rows of size eight shoes. The wedding ceremony took place in a T.J. Maxx store in July 2010. Numerous outlets, including The Today Show, USA Today, and the Associated Press, aired the unconventional wedding footage nationwide. It may have been the perfect ceremony for the bride and groom, but it also proved to be the perfect PR move for T.J. Maxx.

The audience of Emerson students watching this short assemblage of wedding clips laughed at the email where the bride asked T.J. Maxx to be wed in the shoe aisle. They sighed and cooed when the couple kissed on screen. Last Thursday evening, room 914 in the Tufte building was filled with good humor and, it seemed, excitement.

Sonya Cosentini, the brains behind the T.J. Maxx viral video operation, spoke to the room of Emerson students about her job and how she got there. Cosentini, an Emerson alum, has worked for TJX Companies, Inc. for eight years as a PR Manager. TJX is a discount retail company which owns and operates Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx, and other stores.

The lecture was small—drawing about 14 students, and was hosted by Emerson’s chapter of Public Relation’s Student Society of America. The low number provided an intimate setting, allowing the speaker and her audience a relaxed atmosphere. The event proceeded, organized but not strict, casual but not unfocused. The occasional joke about The Hunger Games premiere, the eccentricity of the T.J. Maxx wedding, and Maria Menounos, who graduated the same year as Cosentini, punctuated the discussion.

During the lecture, Cosentini elaborated on her career after graduating Emerson in 2000 as a print journalism major. She responded to discussion points from PRSSA’s President Stephanie Miceli and showed the T.J. Maxx case study before taking questions from the audience. 

“I just think it’s good to help people who are getting started in their career,” Cosentini said in an interview with the Beacon. “I know [professionals giving advice] was helpful to me when I was younger.”

Miceli, a senior marketing communications major, said she thinks meeting professionals in the field is essential for students interested in public relations, especially if those professionals are Emerson alums. 

“I think it’s really important to engage the chapter with Emersonians who have done well for themselves with PR,” said the senior marketing communication major. 

PRSSA is a national association. Kelsey Doherty, the vice president of marketing for the group, said there are about 30 active members. However, the number of those attending organization-related events fluctuates depending on subject matter and the speakers involved. 

“We focus on preparing students to get out there in the professional PR world,” said the sophomore marketing communication major. “There is an emphasis on networking.”

In addition to connections, the association also helps with cover letter and resume workshops and holds guest lectures, said Doherty.

Miceli made it a goal this year to have more alums involved with the organization. She reached out to Cosentini and others through LinkedIn, asking her to speak at the school. 

Doherty said the group has had a few occasions of meeting and mingling with alumni, but they definitely want to have more. When the organization went to Digitas, one of the biggest agencies in Boston, a group of Emerson alumni gathered to give the group a tour, advice, and helpful information about the agency. Doherty said that meeting professionals like Cosentini and those at Digitas helps students in a different way than in the classroom. 

“Professors talk about writing pitch letters, techniques, and skills,” she said. “They don’t talk about day-to-day life, what your job is actually going to look like.”

Catherine Pears, one of the students in the audience not associated with the organization, also found useful advice in what Cosentini had to say. She heard about the discussion through an email from Emerson’s Fashion Society. Interested in fashion journalism, Pears said she found Cosentini’s advice helpful to her personal situation. 

“After she graduated, she wasn’t interested in becoming a journalist,” the freshman said. “She managed to get where she was and accomplish what she did without a PR degree.”

Since Pears is also a journalism major and interested in fashion, Cosentini’s achievements showed her an alternative career path, away from a strictly journalistic route.

In an interview, Cosentini emphasized the importance of her Emerson degree in public relations.

“My education helps me understand the day in the life of a journalist,” she said. “I know what they are looking for.”

During the lecture, Cosentini covered subjects like client relationships, résumés, and a typical day at the office. She discussed how imperative bridging the gap between media and the client is.  As an example, she introduced the group to one of her most prideful career accomplishments. 

When an email regarding a woman’s hopes to get married in a T.J. Maxx showed up in the marketing office it was passed around as a joke, but Cosentini saw potential. 

“It came to my desk and I was like: This is amazing,” she said to her audience. “This is how we get the brand in the media in a fun and different way.”

Cosentini packaged the story as a trend piece, citing examples of people getting married in Taco Bell and Home Depot. Getting married in stores seemed to be a “thing,” Cosentini said.

“This is what’s happening, this is a trend,” she said, explaining her pitch to USA Today and The Today Show before showing the video clips of the wedding and news coverage.

“It turned into the craziest thing I ever worked on,” she said with a smile.