KC marketing leader brings her expertise to the classroom

Heather Physioc helps integrated marketing communications graduate students navigate the world of digital search.

KC marketing leader Heather Physioc

In today’s content marketing world, understanding search engines and how audiences find the content they need is one of the most valuable tools a professional can have. In a 2019 survey by market research software company SparkToro, over 1,500 marketing experts ranked the relevance of overall page content as the most important factor for high ranking in Google’s organic search systems. Knowing how to use the right search keywords to get a desired audience to find your web page is known as search engine optimization, or SEO.

Heather Physioc knows the world of SEO, better than most. Physioc is an expert in search engine optimization and the group director of discoverability at Kansas City marketing firm VMLY&R. In 2019, she was named one of the Kansas City Business Journal’s NextGen Leaders. Last fall, Physioc started sharing her knowledge with KUEC students as an adjunct faculty member with KUEC’s master’s degree in integrated marketing communications (IMC).

“I was honored to be asked to teach at KU. It's a university with a great reputation, and a lot of great talent is produced here,” Physioc said. “It can be really challenging for higher education institutions to keep up with rapidly changing digital marketing fields, so I love the commitment from the university to bringing in real professionals who are active in the workforce to keep the material on the cutting edge.”

Matt Tidwell, assistant dean for graduate and professional studies at KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism and director for KUEC’s master’s degree in integrated marketing communications (IMC), knew he wanted Physioc to be part of the IMC program when he first saw her present at a local industry conference.

“Our program is always on the look-out for top professionals in the field who can get in front of our students as instructors,” Tidwell said. “It was clear that she was not just a local, but a global authority in her subject area.”

Physioc says her interest in data-driven marketing stemmed from its practicality and applicability to helping people meet everyday needs. “Instead of big campaigns that push bursts of messages out to the world and hope audiences react well, search instead seeks to understand the people who turn to the web to get information, solve problems and complete tasks, and then meet those searchers where they are,” Physioc said. “Search does best at the intersection of what consumers actually want, and what brands want to say.”

In addition to Physioc’s work with VMLY&R and the KU Edwards Campus, she often speaks publicly about data-driven marketing and search engine optimization. Physioc incorporates her knowledge in this area into the courses she teaches for the IMC program.

“In my digital marketing class, we dedicate time to organic search, paid search, paid media and display, email marketing, lead generation, ecommerce, marketing automation, user experience, and other aspects that make up any brand's digital marketing portfolio,” Physioc said. “I try to give students an overview of each channel, knowledge on when and how to apply it, best practices and watch-outs, and then provide them with more tools to go deeper beyond the classroom if they choose.”

Tidwell says Physioc’s combination of enthusiasm and expertise are evident in her interactions with her students. “Heather is an outstanding adjunct professor,” Tidwell says. “She does it because she has a passion for the transfer of knowledge and engaging with young professionals. Students immediately connect with her and are so impressed by her credentials and subject knowledge.”

That knowledge goes beyond technical skill. Throughout her career, Physioc has also had to learn how to be strategic about her work-life balance, managing full-time jobs, speaking engagements and owning a business — experiential knowledge she tries to share with her students as well.

“When I was pursuing my Executive MBA, I had two full-time jobs, including owning my own business, plus going to school, plus being on the public speaking circuit, plus having a full-time home life. I was exhausted, constantly burning the candles at both ends,” Physioc said. “Then one of my professors, Craig Sasse, taught me, ‘Strategy is not just choosing what you will do, but also choosing what you won't do.’ Time is my most precious, non-renewable asset.”

Instead of breadth of experience, Physioc says, she recommends ambitious professionals make focus their mission. “I needed to be more mindful in how I spend my limited time, choose the goals and parts of my life that were most important to me, and focus my time and energy there instead of spreading myself super thin,” Physioc said. “I have also learned that everything I turn down opens up an opportunity for someone else to seize and shine. In that way, saying no can sometimes be an act of altruism.”

Physioc says learning specific professional skills and developing personal discipline is what makes graduate academic experience such a useful tool in the marketing field. “When I started grad school people kept telling me that you get out of it what you put into it, and that turned out to be very true,” Physioc said. “You don't always see it in the moment when you're grinding away at homework or if big change is uncomfortable, but when the dust settles, you'll be surprised at the value you take away from those experiences when you put everything you are into it.”

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