Mandi Engram, '03
on May 3, 2010
Growing up in Columbia, Mandi Engram, '03, initially wanted to get out of town for her college education. She would later reconsider, and she now makes a living promoting the capital city and what it has to offer.
Mandi graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. She’s now the director of marketing for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism in Columbia. In January 2010, Mandi was recognized by The State newspaper as one of the "Top 20 Under 40," which showcases young professionals in the Midlands under the age of 40 who are making an impact and look like they will continue to do so for years to come.
Staying Close to Home
Raised in Columbia, Mandi looked at many colleges around South Carolina. She first thought leaving the area would be the fit for her. However, the more she looked around, the more she realized how much the University of South Carolina and the city of Columbia had to offer compared to other college cities and towns.
“Being from Columbia and growing up a Gamecock fan and going to the football games, USC just seemed like a good fit for me,” Mandi recalls. “USC was certainly the most well-rounded of all the colleges and universities I considered in South Carolina, in terms of quality and cost of education, things to do in the area, proximity to the mountains and the beach, cost of living, and opportunities to get connected into the business world in the state’s capital both during and after college. Initially, I think I fell victim to an internal perception problem of ‘there’s nothing to do here,’ but I found out that is so far from the truth.”
Mandi started out as a secondary English education major at Carolina because she enjoyed her English classes while growing up. She would later change to journalism.
“My problem is that I have so many interests that it was extremely difficult for me to decide which direction to take and what I wanted my career path to be,” Mandi explains. “Ultimately, I remembered my high school English teacher telling me that I should major in advertising when I went to college because my presentations and class projects were always so creative. I really had no idea what that meant at the time, but she was definitely right and I’m so glad I made the decision to switch my major.”
A member of Alpha Delta Pi, Mandi reminisces about living on the sorority hall in South Tower, enjoying numerous friends and walks to all ends of campus. She was also active in intramural sports, and of course lived for Saturdays in the fall during football season.
“I think the best memory any true Gamecock football fan can have as a student is being crammed into the student section and jumping around and cheering the football team,” Mandi says. “It’s just not the same after graduation.”
In addition to being part of a sorority, Mandi was involved on campus as the president of Promoting Educating and Encouraging Realistic Self-Image (P.E.E.R.S.). She also holds fond memories of many of her professors from a wide variety of fields.
“My favorite class was the graphic design class I took with Van Kornegay,” Mandi says. “Even though I wasn’t the best designer in the class, it seemed more like a hobby than work, and I wish I could have taken about ten more design courses. I’m showing my true inner geek with this one, but I loved the research class I took with Ran Wei. Research and the ability to find information is such an important part of every job in every industry, whether it’s market research or something simple such as looking up how to do something in a computer program. I think it should be a requirement for every student in every major.”
It should come as no surprise that one of her other favorite classes would also help guide her career path.
“I took Robbie Butt’s senior ad campaigns class, and it eventually led me to this career because our campaign was a competition to come up with a new marketing campaign for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, where I am now employed,” Mandi says.
Taking It to the Next Level
Not long after graduating, Mandi was hired to work for Healthy Learners and Sisters of Charity Providence Hospitals in the development department. Her responsibilities included accounting, reporting, developing annual fund mailings, assisting with event planning and promotion, designing brochures and proposals for potential major donors, and general office tasks.
Mandi’s interest was later piqued by an opening in sales with the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau because of an assignment in her senior advertising campaigns class to develop a new marketing campaign for the organization. After being hired as a sales assistant, she was soon promoted to sales manager.
“Selling a destination is much different than most traditional sales jobs,” Mandi explains. “I had a variety of responsibilities as a sales person, which included researching and prospecting potential groups that could bring their meetings to Columbia; working with hotels, meeting facilities and attractions to put together proposals for clients; planning site tours around Columbia; attending tradeshows; and a variety of other responsibilities.”
After that, Mandi was selected as the director of Internet marketing with the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, which is the parent organization for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sports Council and Convention Center. Since taking that position, she has also taken on additional responsibilities as director of marketing.
“In simple terms, I promote Columbia,” Mandi says. “But I work for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Columbia Regional Visitors Center, the Columbia Regional Sports Council and the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center to promote Columbia as a destination for meetings, sports events and leisure travel.”
Mandi has enough responsibilities to fill a convention hall. In addition to managing all of the organizations’ websites, social media profiles and blogs, media photo libraries and requests, and database, she also handles email marketing, search engine marketing, marketing reports and presentations, surveys, and works with the sales staff in all of the organizations to develop marketing materials and presentations to help bring meetings and events to Columbia.
While being named to The State’s "Top 20 Under 40," Mandi was cited for her expertise in social marketing and is noted as one of South Carolina’s most prolific users of Twitter.
“Before I made my way into the marketing department, I was in sales,” Mandi explains. “I guess I felt like I needed to read and learn as much as I could about marketing and social media so I could prove myself, and somehow it just kind of took off from there. Since social media was new to everyone at the time, and still is to many people, anyone who knows a little about it and is successfully using it for business purposes is often looked to for advice. Because I’m involved with so many organizations through work and outside of work, I somehow became one of those people.”
Mandi adds that social media isn’t just for “techies” who want to stay on top of celebrity gossip, but that it serves a function as the new telephone and email, and often as a news source.
“The average age of social media users continues to rise well beyond my generation,” Mandi says. “I started using social media before I really knew what to do with it, but it has become extremely useful in all aspects of my life.”
Outside of marketing Columbia, Mandi uses social media to research marketing ideas, learn new skills, find potential vendors, connect with others in the industry, keep up with local news, or get quick answers to questions throughout the day.
“Twitter is kind of like Google, but you’ve got live people there who are willing to help you,” Mandi says. “I can’t count the number of times social media has helped get me out of a bind or the amount of time it has saved me. One of the best things about social media is that you’re always the first to know breaking news and information that is relevant to your business and the community. If you aren’t using and leveraging social media today, you’re truly at a disadvantage. It’s no longer optional--it’s expected if you want to keep up with your peers, your family, your competition, and the rest of the world.”
It’s easy to see that Mandi truly enjoys her job and working with people in the community. Working for four different organizations means she doesn’t have any “typical” days.
Mandi is back on the Carolina campus at least once a month giving presentations on destination marketing or social media to journalism and hospitality classes. She has also served as a panelist on several occasions to discuss career advice with student organizations. Mandi will also be serving on a panel during May Carolina Alumni Weekend titled, “The World According to Twitter and Kindle.”
Mandi also remains connected to her alma mater with the local Alpha Delta Pi alumnae association and is a member of the Carolina Alumni Association. Of course she still tailgates for football games in the fall and enjoys going to Carolina basketball and baseball games as well as other events at the Colonial Life Arena. As you might expect with her aforementioned job responsibilities, she remains connected to the University through a large number of outlets.
“The University really does a great job keeping in touch with graduates, and I love reading up on everything that’s happening on campus, what’s going on with the Alumni Association and my former classmates,” Mandi says. “I get email newsletters from the Carolina Alumni Association, the J-school, and general University emails and alerts. I also get the Carolinian from the Carolina Alumni Association and Intercom from the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, and even though I might be considered a 'techie,' I still enjoy flipping through an actual printed magazine. I follow several University profiles on Facebook and Twitter to get up-to-the-minute news and event information, and refer to the website pretty often. Oh, and I also get the occasional postcard in the mail, which is a nice reminder for upcoming events and campaigns.”
So Mandi Engram is glad she stayed home in Columbia during and after college. With all the work she does promoting the city of Columbia, the University should also be glad it has a terrific advocate for singing its praises right in her own back yard.