by Amanda Barberena
Editor’s note: In fall 2018, ADPR announced its first-ever Professional Advisory Board. The PAB is comprised of six graduates who are now leaders in the industry and will help the college evaluate and plan curriculum, mentor students through internships and classroom visits, and assist in strategic planning. In this issue, we introduce PAB chair Larry Swyer. Look for profiles of the other members in upcoming editions of “The Brief.”
“When I’m on campus, the feeling I have is that I was just here yesterday and it’s now 38 years later. But when you are walking on campus, it feels like you were a student just yesterday, so it moves time back.”
Larry Swyer is a managing partner at MediaCom, a global advertising agency. But before he was an advertising legend, he was a Spartan, and Homecoming Weekend 2018 became the perfect opportunity to reflect on his time at MSU.
I was surprised to learn that Swyer — a native New Yorker — chose Michigan State to be his home away from home. I mean it’s New York. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Why choose a university in the middle of Michigan?
“I had three schools I was visiting. I came out here first to do a visit, and after I saw the school and spent some time, I canceled the rest of my trip and decided this is the place I was going to go,” Swyer said.
At the time, Swyer was set on a career in hotel restaurant administration management, but that changed pretty quickly.
“After about a year and a term, I decided that really wasn’t for me, and I switched into the advertising school,” Swyer said. He felt advertising spoke more to his interests in business management and working with numbers.
Plus, there were (and still are) many advertising agencies in New York City, so it was a perfect fit. It seems like it should be easy to get a job, right?
“At that time, we graduated in mid-June and what happened in the advertising industry is that no one hired in the summer,” Swyer said. “So, I was in New York City going door-to-door trying to get a job.”
Finally, Swyer landed an interview at a company then called Grey Advertising. He had an interview in the morning, another in the afternoon, and by that evening, he had a job. In 1986 – six years later – the advertising department at Grey Advertising broke off into MediaCom.
Over the next three decades, Swyer worked his way up and is now a managing partner for the company. His team works with six clients, American Airlines and Shell Oil Company being the largest.
Swyer and his 40 staff members are the financial planners for their clients. “We take their advertising dollars and create communications plans that will reach the target they want and drive sales,” Swyer said.
Swyer’s most successful campaign was when he worked with Subway for 11 years. At the time, they were the #6 fast food restaurant in the world, with McDonalds’s being the reigning champion. Through sponsorships and advertising during major television events (like the Olympics), Subway was able to move up to #2 in the world.
“The advertisements made them stand out. It made their dollars look bigger even though they weren’t spending as much as McDonald’s or Burger King. Their visibility was much greater because of the way we scheduled media and developed partnerships,” Swyer recalled.
When I asked Swyer what his proudest moment was, I expected him to respond with a similar anecdote. He surprised me again: he said he was most proud of his ability to come back to MSU and mentor students.
“I’ve been coming back for the last nine years talking to students, giving them a little idea of what is going on in the advertising world and talking to them about how they can get a job,” Swyer said.
With his dedication to mentoring students, naming Swyer to the Advertising and Public Relations Professional Advisory Board was a clear choice. “It’s an honor that they chose me to be part of something that could drive so much change within the university,” said Swyer.
The PAB had its first meeting during Homecoming Weekend. Swyer said he was excited, because the first meeting was productive and the board members were enthusiastic.
“Everyone had ideas,” Swyer said. “Everyone had thoughts on what they thought would be helpful to advance the curriculum for the school to make the experience for the students better and to help prepare them to get into the business world. So, we actually have a long list of things that we are going to think about and consider.”
One of those ideas is to create a mentoring program for students so they can reach out to professionals in the field and ask for advice and guidance. Swyer said one way the PAB is thinking about accomplishing this is by having a class solely based on alumni talking to students and sharing their experiences.
When Swyer is not inspiring students, he can be found in the northern part of campus, walking the paths with the students as if he never left. Swyer said, “I think that it is such a beautiful place with the architecture and when the street lights come on at night, so to me that just has such a great feeling and it is the most memorable.”