Ashly Kilburn, B.A.J. ’17, started working as a hostess at the iconic Indianapolis steak house St. Elmo in 2016. Kilburn was able to use her experience working at St. Elmo, knowledge gained from her internships, and her IUPUI Journalism degree to break into Marketing at Huse Culinary — the restaurant group that runs St. Elmo, Harry & Izzy’s, 1933 Lounge, and HC Tavern + Kitchen. We asked Kilburn more about her career in restaurant marketing:
1. What are your typical duties at your job?
“I am a Marketing Specialist and my specialties are Advertising, Design, and Social Media Management. I create in-house designs or communicate with freelancers on special design projects, ads, and branding. I take lead on all advertising contracts, designs, and deadlines, and run seven different social media accounts.
My job is a little different than other typical 9-5s, though. I’ve gallivanted across Indianapolis to visit news stations and radio stations with Joey Chestnut (the world champion eater), picked out bourbon barrels (by a LOT of taste testing), and recently dressed up in a shrimp costume to show company team spirit.”
2. How did you land your position?
“I started my career at Huse Culinary in December of 2016 as a hostess at St. Elmo Steak House and held on to that job for a few years, even while I was working other 9-5 jobs. I loved the team I worked with (and the money was good, too!) so I stayed on the payroll, which helped me land my role in marketing in the corporate office. Having a degree in Journalism and Public Relations, experience from internships and volunteer work, and some street cred in the restaurants got me the job!”
3. What is your favorite part of your job, and what do you find challenging?
“I love working in digital marketing. This is a new pivot in my role; I’m interested in the performance analytics of our organic and paid social media. Creating the digital ad campaigns this year for special events has been super fun to work on!
Sometimes getting into a creative rut can be challenging. There are always ads, campaigns, emails, billboards, SOMETHING to work on that must meet a high standard, and when I’m not feeling as creative, design work can be a little tough.”
4. What classes did you take while at IUPUI that have been the most useful for your career?
“Intro to Public Relations (JOUR-J219) with Denise Herd helped me get an overall feel for how an organization (and anyone working in a PR, marketing, or business role) should present themselves, even in tough situations. When COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry the way it did, I constantly had conversations with my team about navigating through shutdowns and figuring out ways to make money while still supporting the Indianapolis community and the stewards of our restaurants.
Even though I don’t work in crisis management, Julie Vincent’s Crisis Communications class (JOUR-J460) was helpful to me. You should ALWAYS think of what can go wrong, be prepared to work through the chaos, and be as transparent as possible.
Another class that prepared me for my career was Bruce Hetrick’s PR Campaigns class. His class taught us how to deal with the pressure of leading PR for a company. We put together a large media kit for any company, celebrity, or organization we wanted, and our final exam was an interview with Bruce in front of our classmates. He drilled us with bad PR questions based on the organization or person we chose to represent, and we had to shine light on every negative situation without spinning, lying, or guessing. It taught us to be honest in all of our work and for anyone we represent.”
5. What advice do you have for current PR students and soon-to-be grads? How about recent grads still looking to land a job?
“I advise all current PR students, soon-to-be-grads, and recent grads who are looking to find work right away, to find a job or volunteer work that makes them happy and interests them. Sometimes graduates don’t find a job in their field for several years, or even find a job in their field at all, and that is OK! I recently had the opportunity to speak with young women who were finishing a marketing internship with Empire Marketing Strategies. I told them that life experiences outside of school and work are important; many of them had plans to travel abroad or had just come back to the U.S., which I believe to be beneficial.
Another piece of advice is to ask your current employer for some shadowing experience in the roles you are interested in working one day. For example, one of our restaurant managers is interested in accounting and has a Kelley School of Business degree, and she was able to shadow our CFO for several months for more experience. When I was still in school, I asked my restaurant manager (not with Huse Culinary) if I could begin an email program and start posting on the business Facebook page. She let me, and that was a lot of fun for me to do. It reassured me that I liked the eventual job I was working toward.”
You can connect with Kilburn on LinkedIn.