Outperforming and Including Others
Mar 14, 2019 09:54AM
By Leo Adam Biga
Marketing whiz Makayla McMorris became executive director of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Office of University Communications in December 2018.
The Omaha native hopes to elevate her hometown community, leading by example as an African-American female in UNO’s executive ranks. “Being in this position is a huge hope for the community,” McMorris says. “It’s difficult in Omaha. A lot of people from the community leave for better opportunities. ”
She and her husband, Charles Drew Health Center CEO Kenny McMorris, have spurned offers to relocate.
“We both are very committed to the success of Omaha,” she says. “We see where change is starting to happen. Networking and understanding how things work here has allowed us to stay in Omaha and thrive.”
The Nebraska Wesleyan graduate’s local professional life began as a Hearst Television Broadcast Sales Academy Fellow, where she found herself to be the only African-American in local media marketing. She often exceeded sales goals, surpassing her new business goal alone by 30 percent in 2007.
The position at Hearst empowered her to be an entrepreneur. That two-year experience helped her relate to clients when she joined Cox Media in March 2009.
“I could talk to business customers about things other consultants couldn’t—about how to write a business plan, supervise construction of a physical space, hire and train employees, make payroll,” she says. “I had a connection with, and understanding of, small- to medium-sized businesses and what the value of a dollar means to them. It put me so far ahead of other consultants.”
Over the next few years, she climbed steadily in her career, and in 2013, exceeded her first quarter goals by 12 percent for new business, and by 139 percent for digital. But it took time to for McMorris to overcome stereotypes.
“When I would go into a business for the first time I could see they didn’t expect a black person,” McMorris says. “They were like, ‘who is she to tell me how to run my business?’ I felt like I was always under the microscope. I had to perform at a higher level. I had to break down barriers to get them to understand I’m of value to their company.”
She out-performed revenue targets by devising integrated media campaigns across broadcast, publishing, and digital platforms. Word of her achievements led KETV to recruit her back into the Hearst fold. As the KETV senior marketing executive, she led multi-million dollar integrated sales campaigns that grew station revenue by millions.
She’s also grown her circle of influence, serving on the Omaha Women’s Fund and Metro Community College Foundation boards, doing professional meet-ups, and encouraging peers.
“You just really have to be connected,” McMorris says. “This position at UNO came to me because of those things. People I had worked with who I stayed in connection with vouched for me in this role. It’s a testament to that networking.”
That’s one reason she brings a democratic, inclusive leadership style to “the UNO family.”
“I lead a team of 21. I want to be someone they actually feel connected to,” McMorris says. “I like to sit back and listen. But when I do have something to say, it’s effective. I want it to be relatable. People don’t respond well to jargon…I prefer one-on-one, intimate conversations.”
McMorris believes UNO is “a premier institution for higher learning, not only on a local level, but on a national level.”
And with her track record for marketing, she will certainly help elevate the school into an even more premier institution.
Visit unomaha.edu/university-communications for more information.This article was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.