Ja’La’s Graduate Project: An Interview with Debra Stewart

This is where we’ll talk about the first of our graduate students’ projects/presentations, this one an interview with Debra Stewart by Ja’La W. What I would recommend is that you all go read the interview that Ja’La has set up on her web site and then come back here to comment (so I can keep track of participation and the like). As you’ll see, Stewart is an entrepreneur running a local marketing company called Triad Marketing Solutions. I think there’s some interesting insights here, especially in the ways that some of the advice Stewart has about doing this work squares with things we’ve read and discussed.

Anyway, read on, and thanks to Ja’La, too. It’s often tricky to go first!

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35 Responses to Ja’La’s Graduate Project: An Interview with Debra Stewart

  1. Scott says:

    This is a really great interview. The flow of questions works, especially how Ja’La uses leading questions to dig deeper into what Stewart was getting at. It’s interesting to hear a real life professional perspective from someone that works within a nearby community, how she uses social media to help build her company and to find insight into what different social media different “demographics” use. When Stewart talks about the different functional and visual appeals of website, it reminds me of what we read by Redish in this class. Again, this interview is very insightful and well done.

    • jmoss9 says:

      I agree–the leading questions make all the difference in the interview. That is something we learned about in the journalism class I am taking this semester. In order to get good answers, one must first ask good questions.

  2. jjwourman says:

    Thanks Scott! I enjoyed the interview myself and learned so much from our short 40 minute conversation. I thought it was interesting when Debra described to me how her clients distinguish the social media platforms they like to use and why. What I found out from her was, when it comes to businesses, they LOVE using social media — especially for advertising because of the low costs. This is really important for small businesses because as she said, their budgets are small so putting an ad in a magazine or large scale corporation usually is not even a factor (because of costs.)

    • Joan Kwaske says:

      I totally agree with Scott, the structure of this interview felt smooth and natural.
      One of the things that jumped out to me was about the small businesses. It seems absolutely true. My parents are self-employed in construction and they actually encouraged me to take this course with the hope that I could help them run their website, as their current situation isn’t working out well. Given that they’re part of the older “which button do I click to download this” generation, I think they underestimate exactly how much work goes into online marketing. Like Debra Stewart said, a lot of small businesses expect a miracle with a small budget. (I may actually bring this up to my parents and see if they want to check out a new option for their website.)
      Overall, I really enjoyed reading this interview, Mrs. Stewart seems like a wonderful person!

      • Steve Krause says:

        I always like hearing how stuff students learn in classes I teach might actually translate to a real-world thing. So I hope you do that web site and some social media marketing for your parents, Joan!

  3. Jaclyn Y says:

    This was really cool! It’s interesting to me because I am graduating in April and this provided some insight into a field that I may consider for my future, so thank you for that!

    I think what I found the most helpful was her advice about staying relevant and asking what makes you different. It’s very useful to think about when we think about things like branding a website. That’s a great starting point when trying to figure out where the website fits in the web.

    • jjwourman says:

      Relevancy is key! I loved that piece of advice she gave, which is why I waited till the end to ask the question (I figured any answer she gave would be helpful to us in some way.) I

      I’m starting to learn as I pursue projects outside of my academic studies that it’s not about what you do, but WHY you do what you do. If you can clearly articulate that vision and recognize that you have something to add to a field that would benefit many people — by all means go for it!

      I’m glad this was a helpful tip for you because it also was for me 🙂

    • Marianne says:

      I thought that was really great, too. Relevance is so important and something I never really thought about before starting this Written Comm. program.

  4. ReneeG says:

    I really enjoyed reading this interview! It was very interesting and I think that what Mrs. Stewart does is fascinating. I love how she decided to do this to help people. I love supporting small businesses, so I thought that was really cool.

    I think that she made some really interesting points about social media. I work for a small company as well and we heavily rely on social media for our marketing. I felt like I could relate to this interview, at least a little.

    Well done!

  5. aderengo says:

    I really enjoyed reading this interview. It was interesting and intriguing. I love small business, because I think that majority of the time you get slightly better service from them than from a huge marketing firm.

    Social media is huge in marketing, and I should know. The points she made about social media I completely agree with. Its nice to see the stuff I am learning in college put in use in the workplace. I also thought it was cool that she self-taught herself Photoshop. That’s a program I am currently trying to teach myself for a marketing class in direct marketing, and it can be a little overwhelming at times.

    • jjwourman says:

      Photoshop is something I would also like to learn. What difficulties have you encountered do far?

    • Steve Krause says:

      And just to underscore the method to my madness with this class here a bit: this skill-set– a willingness to jump in and trying to teach yourself/learn new technical things that might be outside of the typical writing major’s “comfort zone”– I think that’s really really important. So that’s one of the reasons why I assign all of you to work through the Codecademy HTML/CSS exercises, and it’s why I also have asked all of you to complete (or at least work through) one of the other sets of exercises on the site and to reflect on that experience.

      By the way, there are a TON of tutorials out there on Photoshop, on YouTube and on other sites for free– though you kind of get what you pay for there. There are also a lot of online “courses” of sort where you can pay and get lessons/support. My skillz with Photoshop have lapsed quite a bit– I used to be able to do some stuff with it– but it is indeed a super-powerful application.

  6. LouiseWrites says:

    This was a well-done interview and it brings the idea of what we learn in class that much closer to reality by having experienced advice from our own neighborhood. It also stresses the idea that the whole class emphasizes learning how to use social media on your own and taking advantage of the simple technology offered to us. Staying Relevant could be the title of this course. Good Job!

    One thing to note is that you stated you conducted this interview on November 17th at the very bottom of the page. You may have meant to write October, or another date. Overall, everything else was important and written in a nice, easy-to-read-through style.

  7. jmoss9 says:

    Scott mentioned it earlier, but the part of the interview that jumped out at me was the leading questions. That is critical when conducting an interview and it would be a disservice to the interviewee to ask non-leading or non-specific questions that are difficult to answer. I also liked the follow up questions to Ms. Stewart’s responses. It is much easier to brainstorm and make a list of questions to ask before the interview, but follow up questions have to be done on the fly.

    I also found it interesting that Ms. Stewart mentioned some of the aspects of web site designs that we learned about earlier this semester, like visual appeal and users scanning the site for the information they want and if they can’t find it quickly they leave. And her assessment of social media is spot on. My mother is a Facebook junkie and my stepchildren who are in their late teens and early 20’s rarely use it.

    The fact that Ms. Stewart attended EMU and operates her business in Ypsilanti was another aspect that made this interview enjoyable and gave it extra relevance. Well done.

    • Scott says:

      I have a question for Ja’La: Did you have all of the questions planned out for the interview or did some of the things Ms. Stewart say inspire you to think of new questions on the spot? There is a conversational aspect to the interview that makes it effective.

      • jjwourman says:

        I had a list of about 15 questions, but during the interview if Deb addressed a later question I cut it and instead asked a follow up question.

        So yes, her answers did inspire me to ask some questions on the fly which is why it comes off as conversational.

        • Marianne says:

          The last interview I did I ended up throwing the list of questions out the window because the answers just seemed to lead things down a path I never expected. I thought you did a great job of follow-up questioning.

  8. andrew says:

    I thought this interview was very informative. What stood out to me, and to others, is the importance of self-learning. I have noticed that a lot of web developers spend a lot of time teaching themselves the tools needed to construct websites. There are quite a few applications that I want to learn to get involved in the design side of techcomm.

    I was also interested in the discussion about how competitive the market for this kind of work is. Developing a visually appealing site is something that is becoming more accessible to people who have the time to learn some of this design software. What I think the Written Communications program does is learn ways to set our work apart from others. Learning rhetorical design can give us an edge in this type of work. But that edge comes because we are able to provide our clients with an increase in agency. Knowing how to better communicate through web writing, and staying informed on how this medium is used, will allow us to show our clients (or employers) that the work we do is vital to how the user interacts with their product.

  9. rachel says:

    I thought it was particularly enlightening (though it’s obvious in its own way) when Ms. Stewart talked about how advertising on social media is really helpful for small businesses in how cost effective it is for how many people they can reach when doing so.

    On the topic of website design, it was also interesting to hear Ms. Stewart echo a lot of the same concepts that we’ve been learning in class. It’s nice to have an outside source confirm some of the things we’ve gone over and further validate them.

    Also, when Stewart touched on site colors that were specific to the industry the site was supposed to be for, I remember having a similar discussion in one of my classes at SVSU regarding tapping into what colors we associate with different industries and which ones are professionally appropriate for each instance.

  10. Debra says:

    I thought you did a great job on your interview. It flowed really well, and I could tell that you were actually listening to her answers and forming follow-up questions based on her answers — not sticking to a prepared set of questions.

    When she explained that users quickly scan websites for what they need — the site needs to be functional and appealing. It almost seems like she’s read our textbooks!

    I also really liked your closing question about advice. That’s a great way to end this type of interview. The Q&A format to capture the key points of the interview was also an easy-to-read way of communicating the results of your interview.

  11. ZoeBelle says:

    I thought the flow of this interview was great. Some interviews I’ve noticed can sound too scripted and like the interviewees are strictly following a set of questions without really caring about the responses they’re getting. I didn’t get that impression at all from this interview. It was professional but it also sounded like a real conversation, which I appreciated.

    I loved the content of the interview as well! I’ve always been one to support small businesses and this interview was extremely fascinating to read. The use of social media in marketing has always interested me and it was really cool to see the things we’ve been learning about throughout the course illustrated in this interview.

    Great job!

    • Jaclyn Y says:

      Yeah, flow can be weird sometimes, but I agree that Ja’la did a great job. I studied journalism for a bit but quit because I am very bad at interviews. It’s hard to maintain a flow when you have a set of questions in front of you that you want to get to but don’t have enough time. This definitely felt more like a conversation.

  12. haniam1315 says:

    This interview was really good! I think your flow was great, and the way you transitioned from one topic to another was fairly smooth. It’s definitely really hard to keep up with a flow when interviewing (since sometimes there’s the tendency to drift off in a conversation), but I think you handled it very well. Your acknowledgement of each of her responses helped with that as well, and I’m glad you actually wrote that out.

    As a graphic communication minor, I enjoyed the content of the interview as well. I don’t really hear much about the business side of this, so it’s not to hear a direct point of view on it.

    Like I said, from start to finish, you definitely held a good flow. You started off well, and you finished smoothly too, your last question being a good way to wrap things up. It was all very nicely written up as well. Great work!

  13. MattZ says:

    That was a well-done interview that was fun to read. It flowed well and I could tell that you were really interested in what she had to say. I’ve done interviews before and it can be difficult to keep the conversation going at times, but you did a great job of it.

    It was an interesting read because it comes from an industry that not a lot of people think about. I always enjoy getting inside the heads of people that work “behind the scenes” so to speak.

  14. Marianne says:

    This was such a great project to read, Ja’la. I have actually been thinking about doing exactly what she has done — helping small businesses with their technical and written/graphic communication and design needs to improve their bottom lines. I was a little sad to read that it is a crowded market to get into, but who knows what will happen?
    When I was reading I felt like I was right there with you having a conversation with her and your questions, especially follow-up, were so natural and relevant. I have done a handful of interviews now for 3 or 4 different classes and I never feel like they sound so great or that I asked questions leading to the most useful information. I think you asked everything I would want to know. Thanks so much.

  15. swilso93 says:

    This was a very good interview! It flowed well and was very informative. I don’t know much about this industry so it was very interesting to me. Doing so much at a young age is amazing. I loved that you acknowledged each of her comments before asking another question; made it feel like a real conversation not just an interview. Your questions were well thought out and relevant.

  16. totallykyle94 says:

    This interview was a good read because I could tell how engaged/interested you were in Debra’s responses, and her insight into the marketing business is applicable to what we are learning in this class, so I was interested throughout the interview as well. I thought it was cool how Debra’s interest in design and marketing began with something as simple as wanting to design graphics for her church, and her drive to learn more and help others was inspiring. Nice job!

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