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Posted by Carolyn Bernardo on March 5, 2019
Meet Binghamton University alumna Karen Auster, founder and president of Auster Agency, a boutique marketing agency, whose employees range from social media strategists to event planners and everything in between. Karen has been at the "forefront of changing the face of events management in New York City" since establishing her agency, and she gleans much of her expertise from her experience in Binghamton's School of Management. After determining that a job in finance wasn't right for her, Karen recalled business classes at Binghamton and used her skills to make a quick shift into the world of marketing. Read her full story, and learn how she grew her company to the powerful force it is today.
I graduated from the School of Management, with a concentration in finance. Today, I’m the CEO of an experiential marketing firm in NYC, based in Brooklyn, and serving the entire city and its boroughs, as well as nearby locales, including Long Island’s East End and The Hamptons. We launch and activate brands by producing experiences and by providing all marketing services to support launches. We definitely don’t operate “by the book,” and by this I mean, we go out of our way to create the unexpected for both our clients and THEIR clients. I’m very proud of the work we do at Auster Agency; we’ve created, promoted and/or launched some of the biggest brands in NYC, including the Hudson Yards project, The Shops at Columbus Circle, MasterCard’s “Priceless” experiences, Domino Park in Williamsburg, Atlantic Antic (the largest street festival in NYC) and Game On! which activates downtown Manhattan, including the Financial District.
The School of Management definitely set me up for success in business, but when I graduated and left to seek employment in finance, I quickly learned that I didn’t want a job in banking or finance. However, because I had taken a variety of business classes beyond the requirements in my major, I was well-equipped to pivot and make a shift quickly. I thought, “Take the time to really do the work and figure out where it is that you want to not only work, but think about what you want to learn, how you want to grow and where you want to carve out a path.” After I started interviewing with this in mind, trying out several different areas of concentration with many firms, the job description I felt most passionate about was marketing. That was truly the beginning of my career.
I’d like to start by telling you about the most impactful experience I had on campus. I was a campus phone-a-thon coordinator. I loved it. It taught me how to be creative in fundraising. I’ve never been shy or afraid to ask for what I want, professionally or personally, but this job showed me different facets of my personality and helped me hone my “ask.” Plus, fundraising was a challenge, and I love a challenge.
Now, going back to the curriculum itself, in the School of Management you are required to take courses in all areas of business – some were required classes that I didn't really want to take. However, these absolutely assisted and contributed to my success in becoming an entrepreneur. The fact of the matter was that even if I had the drive – and I did – it was that firm understanding of how business works, that foundation that I received in the School of Management, which helped propel me along and educated me to the many facets, the many layers, of the business world. And, yes, if I had to pick a course that truly made an impact, it was accounting. Bottom line, those classes were the most helpful in the end.
Event planning seems glamorous, but it’s meticulous work, often quite arduous. You have to be really quite “Type A” to do it well. That image of someone backstage with headgear on speaking calmly to colleagues as models or celebs glide on and off the stage? That’s just for movies. In reality, you are putting out fires and multi-tasking and shifting focus, all at the same time, and yet you do have to come off as calm, cool and collected, because not only is that the image you want to project, but being harried and crazy just makes everyone else more so. So it’s a tough balance and not for the faint of heart.
I had a great teaching assistant, Robyn Rosen, who was a women’s studies major. I loved learning from her so much that I considered switching my own major to hers, since I found her to be so inspiring and wise. But she discouraged me. She said that I had talents in business and that I should make a difference in business for women. The more successful I could become, she said, the more I could encourage women and take them along with me. She was spot-on. It is exactly what I did. I built a firm of all women, and continue to encourage and train them to be the best businesswomen they can be.
It’s funny; you could say that every degree prepares you to produce or enhance creative experiences, yet at the same time, there really is no degree that focuses exclusively on experiential marketing. I’d say that a finance degree helps you with preparing budgets; an art degree naturally preps you for design/creative work; English and communications enhances the way you interact with the world (and in this age of social media, etc., that is crucial); and traditional marketing, of course, fills in the gaps and gives you a solid foundation. But in order to succeed in experiential marketing, you have to be open to learning a lot on the job itself and applying those new smarts to your classroom knowledge. There are things I’ve learned while working that could only be gleaned in this manner, so hands-on work is key here. That, and having mentors and role models who do the work well. I hope I fill that role for many of the women on my team.
Another piece of advice is to always be thinking about reinvention. For an established client, you must reinvent what’s new and fresh each time you work together, which is fun and challenging and in many ways, a collaborative effort since you know the rhythms and patterns with an older client – like you’d know an old dear friend. When it comes to new clients, however, even though it’s great to enjoy the “victory” of landing the account and wanting to get down to business as soon as possible, as you prepare to “dazzle” the client with your expertise, it's really important to take the time and learn about the brand, consider different strategies for the brand and be able to shift quickly if a strategy doesn’t net the expected or wanted results. So, again, reinvention is key and is always in the back of my mind.
I believe strongly that most mistakes are learning opportunities. It may be uncomfortable in the moment, but if you can stomach the disappointment and really sit back and look at what happened, mistakes do indeed help you grow professionally and personally.
A mistake I made that ended up being an important career lesson for me was when it was early in my agency and a client wanted to hire us for a portion of the event—just to produce the show, not oversee the details like the seating, the pre-event activities. Our production went off without a hitch, but the rest of it was a mess. The client’s mistake – to only task us with a portion and not the whole project – made us look bad. We are perfectionists in the best way possible and we want our clients and their projects to shine, and in order to do this we need to wrap our arms around the entire event. So our mistake ended up being a golden rule for us going forward, which is: We learned to only take on full projects now. It’s all or nothing.
Carolyn Bernardo is the advancement communications manager at Binghamton University. As a Binghamton native, she is passionate about the area and about the University.
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