Excellence in Action

Natalie Kim ’08

Natalie Kim ’08 is the founder of We Are Next, a dedicated resource that helps students make their way into the advertising and marketing industries with more confidence. She’s spent 10 years in advertising, most recently as Director of Strategy at Firstborn in New York City, and has partnered with clients such as L’Oreal, HBO, Coca-Cola and Bacardi. She’s been recognized on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in Marketing & Advertising and awarded the GenNext Award by She Runs It for young women who are already making their mark on the industry. Natalie graduated from UCLA in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies.

How has your UCLA experience helped shape your success?

The social science courses that I took as a Communication Studies major helped to build the foundation for what I do as a strategist in advertising—namely gathering information on people and culture, analyzing why it’s important and then deciding how these insights can be used and applied to the brands that we work with. My involvement with the Bruin Advertising & Marketing team really was a three-year crash course on how to work as part of a creative organization. It was a simulation of what’s involved in an actual pitch so I graduated familiar with the language and structure of agencies. That was hugely helpful in setting me up to start my career.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Communication Studies at UCLA?

I actually came into UCLA as a Comparative Literature major because I was a huge English nerd in high school, and I thought that was something that I wanted to continue to study. I took an intro course in communication studies and found myself leaning forward in my seat in every lecture and being totally fascinated by the basics of mass communication. I knew instantly I had to switch. It was more of a gut instinct rather than something that I came into UCLA planning to do.

What was your favorite course at UCLA, and why?

I took a Communication Studies Honors Seminar with Professor Steen that was all about imagination. It was a really small group, and I have a distinct memory of us sitting around a table being asked to imagine a small elephant walking on our outstretched hands. We then had to describe what it looked like, what it was doing and how we thought that image was being drawn from in our minds. To be able to spend time studying something so intangible really stretched my own thinking—I really loved that class.

What is your favorite UCLA memory?

One of my favorite UCLA memories was being holed away in a remote room in Broad and working on the pitch book for AdTeam over spring break. On the surface, that sounds really awful but those were the moments—when it was down to the wire with a team coming together to get work done—where the magic happens. The hours and emotions poured into a joint effort are really what bound us together as a team. So even though it felt really painful at the moment, the amount of time and energy that we put into it created something special.

Another memory would be coming home from being out on a Thursday or Friday night and eating late-night food at Puzzles. It was at the bottom of the Rieber stairs and used to be this fast food place where you could get burgers and curly fries. It was all the worst kinds of food for you, like really fatty fast food, but it was the best thing when you came home after a night out.

How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?

I recently moved back from New York to Los Angeles, and I’ve really enjoyed being close to the school again after being away for 6+ years. I do some guest speaking in some communication studies classes now, and I’ve made myself a resource to the AdTeam. I’m also a big fan of Dinners for 12 Strangers which I’ve both attended and hosted in the past. I feel like, even as an introvert, there is something so special about sharing a meal with 11 totally new people that are all connected through UCLA and hearing what they do and what they’re up to. I really enjoy that.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry? 

My best advice is to know yourself. The industry isn’t expecting students to have loads of experience or know-how coming out of college. This means they’re hiring you for who you are and your potential. The more you can find ways to demonstrate self-awareness of who you are, what you’re passionate about and what you do and do not know, the more companies understand whether you’d be a good culture fit and also whether you’d be able to apply the same kind of empathetic thinking and awareness to other people. At its core, this is really what advertising and marketing is all about—understanding the needs, wants and behaviors of people who are not us, and then finding the best way to communicate with them. Knowing yourself is something that’s totally in your control—it’s not something you have to go out and seek or a specific class that you have to take. It’s really just the act of thinking about who you are and what’s important to you and being able to express that on your resume. This is so much of what gets those coming out of school into the industry.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I’m constantly in awe of how much Bruins take on. I feel like Bruins are really hungry, not just for what we study, but also for what’s done in those four years outside of the lecture hall whether it’s forming a new student group, championing a cause or trying to bring about change on campus. I really feel as though there’s nothing that we cannot do if we put our mind and energy towards it. I love seeing that in the students I interact with and seeing what they do after they leave UCLA.

What’s next?

I started my own business earlier this year which is a big new step. It’s called We Are Next, and it gathers insight and advice from the industry to help the next generation of advertising and marketing professionals navigate their careers with more confidence and less fear. It’s really built on a strong belief in mentorship and that the more information from the industry that’s made available, the less stressful getting your first job will be. It’s a free resource for students, and you can access all our resources at We Are Next. The next big step in my career is to be the intersection between academia and the industry and try to bring them closer for the mutual benefit of both groups.

Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza, Business Economics student (exp. ’18)