While out in Chicago one evening in 1998, Michael D. Armstrong and his sister ran into an acquaintance from MTV Networks who mentioned an opening in the Chicago office. "It was too much for a 26-year-old to resist." Armstrong eventually accepted a role at MTV Networks, and while there he earned his Chicago Booth MBA, which he says grounded him in “incentive thinking,” and the ability to understand the other side’s goals and motivations.
Armstrong, ’02, now executive vice president and general manager, International Brand Development, Viacom International Media Networks, visited campus last week as part of a speaker series put on by the Kilts Center for Marketing, to share with students his career journey, hard-won career lessons, and advice to aspiring marketers.
During the fireside chat with marketing faculty member Øystein Daljord, Armstrong reiterated to students the importance of having full understanding of a brand, using data to deliver what consumers are telling you they want, and appropriately reacting to that information. When asked by a student how a large multi-channel global media company can really figure out what its customers’ preferences are, Armstrong said, "The challenge is how to look at the data, get through the noise, and look at what are the patterns that emerge as to who our consumers are… really good data science gets rid of the noise.”
This includes the significance of social media listening. “Social media gives us a very direct line of communication to consumers around the world, instantaneously. We need to look at that with an analytical eye and understand what it means.” Today at Viacom, Armstrong is responsible for identifying new market opportunities to launch BET, Paramount, and Spike internationally in addition to overseeing the strategy, branding, and operations of those launches.
Armstrong didn’t always work in media. His professional career began at Baxter Healthcare in the Dietary Products' sales division. After his tenure in sales, he joined the national marketing group at the company's Illinois headquarters where he was responsible for creating marketing applications for products as they emerged from the business development process.
"My connection of leaving healthcare and ending up in media is entirely interconnected with Booth." With aspirations in management, Armstrong told students, “I knew I needed to have the analytical rigor and be able to build my financial skills — build my toolbox to make me more viable for general management… I attribute a lot of my success to what I learned here.”
Looking back on his time at Booth, Armstrong said, “In my favorite class, strategic leadership, I learned how to build network structures within an organization. Those skills have helped me to get a unique position within my organization.”
In closing, I had the opportunity to ask Armstrong the last question of the day—any parting words of advice for students preparing to graduate in just a few short weeks, or those considering an MBA? Armstrong offered two thoughts on how to sustain success after your MBA. “Stay in touch with one another. This is your lifetime network. And don’t get caught up in what industry you’re going into…have an open mind.”