Melanie Sims learned about advertising from the red carpet.
As a music reviewer, she spent time in the midst of celebrities like Jay-Z, John Legend, Keke Palmer and Ne-Yo and learned that they think like advertising executives.
“I think that actually the celebrities, they’re trying to sell a product,” said Sims, BAJ'06. “They’re about messaging.”
As a music reviewer, Sims interviewed artists and worked red carpets in New York City and Chicago. As she observed celebrities, she began to see patterns, noticing that they structured the narratives of their interviews around whatever they were selling at the time.
“They’re sewing a thread,” Sims said. “If they’re selling an album about a breakup, they’ll open up a about a heartbreaking time in their life.”
Sims points to Beyoncé as a celebrity who does this particularly well. As a musician and businesswoman, Beyoncé is known for advertising her music across multiple platforms to create a narrative, Sims said.
“That’s exactly how big brands wish they could do it,” she said. “Eventually all these parts come together, and they flow into this big release.”
Today, Sims works for the international advertising company Leo Burnett, which boasts clients such as McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and P&G. Prior to her time in advertising, however, Sims majored in broadcast journalism at IU and worked as a reporter.
Before college, Sims worked on both her middle school and high school newspapers and attended IU’s High School Journalism Institute.
“Journalism had always been my dream,” Sims said. “And I fell in love with the IU campus. It’s so green. I thought, ‘This would be the best school to go to.’”
During her college years, Sims worked at the Indiana Daily Student and for Bloomington’s PBS station WTIU. She also interned at the Bloomington newspaper The Herald-Times.
Sims says adjunct instructor Scott Burgins, who continues to teach at The Media School, helped launch her career as a reporter while she was still a student.
“He helped me get this internship at The Herald-Times, and that was the first time I really felt like, ‘Wow, I’m a real reporter.’ I think that kind of set me on the path,” she said.
Sims graduated in May 2006 with a degree in journalism, and by June, she’d moved to New York City, where she jumped into internships at popular MTV show “Cribs,” helping in the post-production phase, and Complex magazine, which targets a young male audience interested in streetwear and music.
“The publication is strictly digital these days, but back when I worked on it, Complex hit newsstands,” Sims said. “I transcribed interviews and put together a little in-house newsletter, and in the fall after my internship my name appeared in the masthead of an issue featuring Pharrell – I was so excited to pick up a copy.”
During that summer, she landed an editorial assistant job with the Associated Press in New York, where she reported on a variety of topics. By that time, her ultimate goal was to become a music reviewer. Before the year was through, Sims had succeeded.
At the AP offices in New York, Sims ran into music editor Nekesa Moody in the restroom and struck up a conversation about entertainment writing.
“I credit her with helping me get my foot in the door as far as entertainment journalism goes,” Sims said. “She assigned me the music stories and music reviews that got me started.”
Sims spent three years in New York before transferring to the Chicago AP in 2009. A native of Gary, Indiana, she said she appreciated the opportunity to move back home.
From the AP, she moved on to ABC News Radio in 2011, where she covered breaking entertainment news and interviewed artists like A$AP Rocky, Big Sean and Kelly Rowland.
“That was my job, to cover R&B and hip-hop,” she said.
A few years after returning home, Sims decided to attend advertising portfolio school, thanks in part to the popular TV show “Mad Men” and her experiences interviewing celebrities.
“It was a different kind of storytelling – one I thought I had skills for,” she said.
Though she has always loved music and still reviews today, she felt that entertainment writing wasn’t giving her the opportunity to use all of the skills she possessed.
“It was fun to interview celebrities, but I think the part of me that really loved to hear human stories, that part of me didn’t really feel satisfied. You get more vulnerability and poignancy from everyday people,” she said.
As she moved on to advertising, she felt it allowed her to explore a new skill set. She said advertising is about telling a story, while journalism is about capturing a snapshot of something as accurately and honestly as possible. For now, she’s enjoying that storytelling aspect.
Her advertising career has involved copywriting for Commonground/MGS, where she wrote for clients like American Family Insurance and Bombay Sapphire, and Walton Isaacson, where she worked with Tony Roma’s BBQ, Miller Lite and Terremoto tequila. From 2017 until this summer, she worked at Chicago-based advertising compnay We Are Unlimited, working on various campaigns for McDonald’s, including promoting the Happy Meal, McDelivery and McRib.
As for the future, Sims plans to stay involved with advertising for a while. She continues to review music for the AP and hopes to someday finish a TV script. She also occasionally returns to IU, where she speaks with students about her career.
“When I come back to IU and talk to students, I say, ‘Think about what kind of experience you’ll have. Think about what you love,’” she said. “You can do all those things. Keep a list and as you are thinking about your next move or looking at next jobs – think about those experiences you’re going to have.”