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“The First Thing We Learn Is To Be Brave” : What Molly Hammonds Wants Women To Know About Being Your Own Storyteller and Putting Yourself Out There

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the voices and stories of women in Wake Forest University’s School of Professional Studies.

Molly Hammonds was born a storyteller, and now she’s rewriting hers. Growing up in an academically-minded home, Molly pursued a Communications & Public Relations Degree and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) before launching into a career as a Marketing Coordinator for a national healthcare company. When she had two daughters only one year apart from each other, she took a step back from her career to focus on her family.

Molly Hammonds, a Wake Forest Online Digital Marketing Masters student.

Following a post-pandemic shake-up and a desire to reignite her passion, Molly ventured into an entirely new digital landscape: the SPS Digital Marketing Master’s program. In this Q&A, she shares with us how the program has shifted her perspective, not only of marketing but what she and other women, mothers, and adult learners can discover by taking a leap — and not being afraid to make mistakes along the way.

Wake Forest University School of Professional Studies (Wake SPS): Can you tell us about your background and how it was a jumping-off point for pursuing the SPS Digital Marketing Master’s program?

Molly Hammonds (MH): I’m originally from South Carolina and grew up next to Augusta, Georgia. My parents were science professionals affiliated with the Medical College of Georgia, so in our home, we always valued education.

My dad was a neuroscience professor, and my mom was a Physician’s Assistant. When I was a teenager, my mom went back to school to update her Physician’s Assistant license so that she could teach at a local community college. It was inspiring to me that she was willing to reinvest in her education and tackle a profession formerly dominated by men. Looking back now, I appreciate how tough that would have been for her, especially in the Nineties when things were quite different when it came to valuing women at work.

It’s interesting because when I look back at all these little dots in my life — they all were interconnected to sitting right here, right now. That’s the fun part.

Wake SPS: That’s amazing that your mom also pursued higher education later in life, especially when it wasn’t so common. It seems like that was part of your inspiration to go back to school — but why Digital Marketing?

MH: My parents say I was born a storyteller. I’ve always been creative and was especially fascinated by communications and human interactions. When I was little, I would line up my dolls, and we would have ‘class time’ and share stories. My parents thought I’d be a teacher; I wasn’t interested in teaching K-12, but I always knew higher education would be a part of my path. So, it was to no one’s surprise when I did a Degree in Communications in Public Relations and a Master’s in Business Administration and that my favorite courses were anything to do with marketing or storytelling.

After I finished graduate school, I landed a role as the Marketing Coordinator for a national sales team at a large healthcare corporation. Our sales managers visited physicians and had two minutes to connect with them between patients. In that short time, they had to deliver a honed message and sell them our services. I loved this role because I got to combine the best of everything I had learned about marketing, communications, and teaching.

Then, I was fortunate to have two daughters. My husband’s a busy physician, so I focused on our family. But as my kids grew up, I wanted to reclaim some of the parts of myself that I loved when I was working. 

Wake SPS: When you had your girls, did you keep your hand in anything, or did you leave work completely to raise them?

MH: I focused on raising the girls. Once they were about 10 and 11 years old, I started getting out there and networking with women again. I loved being back in the adult world and hearing stories from women who were juggling their careers with motherhood. It gave me the itch to return to my professional life.

Then COVID-19 hit, and I had to put some of my career ambitions on hold, but it prompted me to reflect on who I am and who I want to be. I spent most of 2021 researching; I wondered what the world was up to again. Are they back at it? Are they working from home? And so I was on LinkedIn all the time, learning, reading, and seeing what was out there. One day during my research, the Wake Forest program popped up. I probably tossed and turned for the next two days, thinking about it but feeling intimidated. Then, I finally decided, “I’m just going to call.

I had been doing some side projects that reignited my passion for marketing and the aspects of my job I loved when I was at the healthcare company. I realized that if I wanted to get back out there and keep up with the new landscape of the marketing world, I would need to take my skills to the next level.

Wake SPS: Your previous work experience taught you about marketing strategy, but to your point, we’re in a totally different landscape. What is this program teaching you about the digital era of marketing?

MH: Marketing starts with the customer’s story, even in this digital era. The Wake Forest program kicks off with a fantastic strategy overview course taught by Ged King, and the first thing we learn is to be brave.

People come into this program feeling timid: they’re not sure about it, and they’re not sure about each other, and so we’re reminded of how to connect on a human level. One of our first assignments was a case study about Home Depot, and he said, “To do this study, you’ll have to get into the mind of the customer walking through the store. What’s their home life like? What are their kid’s needs? What are their needs? What’s their house like?

You have to get personal, which requires bravery, putting yourself out there, and asking the right questions to the right people at the right time and place. Right off the bat, he had us thinking differently. In the Nineties, marketing was more “We’re going to sell this, and you’re going to buy this.” Now, there’s a lot more psychology to it.

Wake SPS: You started in the Certificate Program; when did you realize you wanted to keep going and continue with your Master’s?

MH: I started thinking about it while I was in Ged’s class. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on such a big commitment. It’s perfect that Wake Forest has a ‘dip your pinky toe in it’ option. You don’t necessarily have to start over if you want to do the Master’s Program, and that’s amazing because it meets people where they’re at. I was just excited to keep learning.

Wake SPS: What are some of the technical skills you’ve been able to use, and what are some of the more psychological moments you’ve felt personally or emotionally? 

MH: I love the balance of those two questions. One thing that jumps out at me right away is the emphasis on design thinking. It’s technical to the extent that it involves creative minds coming together and thinking through a project from the very beginning. So, for example, we wouldn’t have smartphones if it weren’t for companies like Apple using design thinking. They bring in the creatives, the engineers, the process thinkers, the user experience thinkers, and they just riff; they lay it all on the table and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and there’s no right or wrong answer. And then there’s also the psychological part, where you feel like an important part of the project from the get-go.

Another thing I love is getting dirty in research and being able to interpret data. The data tells a story. And the library resources at Wake Forest are also phenomenal. There are so many pieces, articles, software, newsletters — you name it — for you to sort through it and just swim around in.

Wake SPS: What are you excited about when you think about the future of digital marketing or your career in digital marketing?

MH: There are a few things. When I look at what I thought marketing or my career was in my twenties versus where it is now, I’m excited to see if I experience that same exponential jump.

When you think about artificial intelligence and virtual reality, for example — some people are really intimidated by that; I’m excited about getting in there and learning all of the reasons why we shouldn’t be afraid of it and instead join in and have fun.

I also look forward to listening to the richness of people’s stories and experiences and bringing that into whatever I’m tackling that day.

Wake SPS: It’s Women’s History Month, and we’d love to know what you would tell your younger self, your daughters, or another woman or mother who is curious about pursuing this degree. Maybe she’s on the fence, maybe she’s scared — what’s your advice?

MH: We need to stop with the “yes or no”, right or wrong, success or failure — let’s just experiment. Let’s get in there and get dirty. The business world is very black and white, and women can tend to take that too literally and not test the waters. Instead of thinking about all-or-nothing, let’s focus on improvement.

It goes back to what I was saying about Ged King in his first class. He said, “Yes, you’ll be graded because you’re in a Master’s Program, but don’t be afraid of trying and getting it ‘wrong.’”

Women need to tell each other that more; a lot of it is about attitude. It’s like Yoda says: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Even our failures or times when we’ve fallen flat on our faces still help us fall forward to the next thing. Look at COVID-19, for example — if it hadn’t been for COVID-19, I wouldn’t have looked for this program.

Failure or not succeeding is the ticket to your next phase. When it came to this program, I just decided I’m going to go in there and try — that’s what I want other women to embrace, too.

To learn more about the Digital Marketing Master’s Program, please visit the program’s page