Alumna comes back into the ASU fold — now as a teacher

Nicole Macias leads the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Communications Initiative for the Cronkite Agency as its director and professor of practice

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Editor's note: New Faces on Campus is a new monthly feature by ASU News showcasing faculty members who have been hired in the 2022–23 academic year.

Nicole Macias grew up in a newsroom, made a career in advertising and has landed in academia.

Through it all, she’s managed to stay connected to her Arizona roots. That includes both her immediate family as well as her Sun Devil family.

Macias graduated from Arizona State University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. After two decades in strategic marketing and communications, she returned to the campus this year, landing at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Since spring 2023, she has served as the director and professor of practice for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Communications Initiative for the Cronkite Agency, a communications agency where students serve real clients with public relations, digital marketing, brand content and bilingual campaigns.

Teaching now at ASU holds another special significance for Macias: She is instructing alongside her father, Albert Macias, a 1975 Cronkite School graduate, longtime Valley journalist and an adjunct professor at the school.

ASU News recently spoke to Macias to ask about her life, career and return to campus.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you’re from and how you ended up in academia?

Answer: I’m a native Phoenician. My family is originally from Mexico, but I was raised in the Tempe/Ahwatukee area and went to high school at Xavier College Preparatory in central Phoenix. I graduated from ASU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in Spanish and communications.

Academia is fairly new to me — I’m a whole five months in. I joined the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as director and professor of practice for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Communications Initiative, which is part of the student-powered Cronkite Agency. While my time here has not been as long as most, my professional and personal interests and passions have definitely helped pave a path leading me to this role.

As part of the BIS program, I obtained an internship with a local Hispanic advertising agency, Arvizu Advertising. It was a great way of applying my two concentration areas as I worked on culturally relevant English and Spanish campaigns for clients like McDonald’s, Girl Scouts, PetSmart and the Arizona Diamondbacks accounts. There began my interest in working in marketing and communications, and specifically with diverse audiences.

After five years at Arvizu, I moved to New York City and worked at another agency, D’exposito & Partners, also on the McDonald’s business, where I managed the Hispanic marketing for the New York metro, central Massachusetts and Connecticut regions, which included 160 franchises and 760 restaurants.

My interest in how people communicated was further peaked when I was exposed to working with the LatineA gender-neutral version of Latino. community in NYC who were predominantly Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban, which was very different from the mainly Mexican community I was used to working with in Phoenix. While at the foundation Spanish was spoken, pronunciation, dialects and sayings differed tremendously. I learned quickly that if I was going to be a strong communicator, I had to understand more than differences in words, but also the ethnography of the communities I was working with and for.

After a few years in NYC, I moved to Washington, D.C., and made the move from the agency to client side to work for one of the largest nonprofits in the U.S. – AARP. In my 11 years there, I worked in various departments developing community-informed and -based programs targeting multicultural audiences. I was able to apply my initial expertise around communicating with and to diverse populations, with my passion for volunteering and strengthening communities through education.

When I moved back to Arizona in 2018, having been gone for 10 years, I knew I wanted to find an opportunity to work locally either through volunteering or a career move. The pandemic and becoming a mother put search plans on hold, but when I saw the opportunity to return to my alma mater and share with students my experience as a strategic marketer and communicator, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.

Q: What is your area of research or academic focus? What are you most excited about regarding your academic focus?

A: My official area of academic focus is in strategic marketing and communications for multicultural audiences, however it’s much greater than that. I really love people. I can — and will — talk to anyone. I enjoy observing what makes people tick. I take pride in executing strategies and plans that at their foundation, have been informed by listening.

Both on the agency and client side, I worked in audience strategy, diving deep into understanding a target audience. I was often given the opportunity to be creative and innovative and I am grateful for that. I am extremely excited to share both these sides of strategic marketing and communications with my students, helping to inform and prepare the next generation of digital marketers and strategic communicators.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to study this field? (What was your “aha” moment?)

A: Our agency was conducting focus groups for PetSmart in Miami. This was my first time sitting behind the double-sided mirror and observing. We asked the participants what their favorite thing about their pet was. There was an older woman that told a story that transported me. She spoke about her pet birds and described their singing in the morning and how they reminded her of her childhood back in Cuba. I made a connection to pet birds that my grandmother used to have when I was a child. I was filled with fond memories of us feeding them, their singing and the excitement to see little baby birds being born. This woman and I shared so many memories; while we had never met, I felt connected to her.

Looking back to that experience, it was definitely an “aha” moment because through listening and having a desire to learn, so much was uncovered. It really instilled in me the power of a story.

Q: How do you want to see this field advance to the betterment of society?

A: The field can advance by knowing as much as possible when it comes to every aspect of technology with a connection to communications – which is most everything – while also staying rooted in principles like practicing journalistic truth, making sure various perspectives are considered and balancing what people want to hear with what they may not know they need, just to name a few. The way we communicate will always evolve, the ability to listen and story tell will remain.

Q: What is something you wish more people realized about what your academic focus?

A: Traditionally people associate Cronkite with just journalism, however there’s much more. As an interdisciplinary communicator, you wear many hats and the more you are connected to others, the more you are informed, the stronger your network and ultimately, as we prepare students to enter the workforce, the better we prepare them for success.

I came into this role seeing obvious connections to so many other programs within Cronkite, and to other colleges as well. From nonprofit innovation and management to narrative media, to event planning to finance to design — in my role as a communicator, I’ve had the privilege of getting to work alongside other professionals in these areas and I hope to be able to share the benefits of these connections with the students and ultimately partner with other faculty across ASU to deliver a more robust and inclusive learning experience.

Q: What brought you to ASU, and what do you like about the university?

A: I come from a Sun Devil family — minus my sister who went to 'that other school' down south — so there’s always been a connection. I had always thought about coming back to ASU for a master's and am grateful to teach here now. 

I am so impressed by the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with. They’re knowledgeable, innovative, professional, hardworking, empathetic and, very importantly, funny. Working in an agency environment, while I am their professor, I’m proud to also call them my colleagues.

Q: What specifically would you like to accomplish while at your college/school/department?

A: I was brought in as the director and professor of practice for RWJF Health Communications Initiative, which is directed from within the Cronkite Agency, an integrated communications agency where students serve real clients with public relations, digital marketing, brand content and bilingual campaigns. Spring 2023 was the inaugural semester for the agency, and it was such a great experience for me as a professor and also for the students that received real life experiences.

The initiative’s purpose is to teach students how to build campaigns that address health disparities in underserved communities in the Southwest. The RWJF team partnered with the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Edson School of Nursing (and Health Innovation), St. Vincent de Paul’s Ivy Center for Family Wellness and the Valley of the Sun YMCA to rebrand and build both a digital and PR campaign to promote their Type 2 diabetes prevention program, Every Little Step Counts.

The students have written scripts, shot, produced and edited commercials in English and Spanish, managed earned and paid media campaigns, built social content and calendars — all skills that are transferable to their future careers.

It makes me so happy to help the students find internships and jobs where they can apply these skills. Having been in the industry for 20 years, I have made some great connections all around the country, and I truly love the idea of sharing our student’s knowledge and abilities with my network.

Q: What’s something you do for fun or something only your closest friends know about you?

A: I’m proud to say that I get to teach alongside my father, Albert Macias, who in addition to being an adjunct professor at Cronkite and veteran journalist/editor, is also an amazing mentor and teacher to many and someone I have looked up to all my life.

My dad graduated from Cronkite in 1975 and worked in various news stations around the Valley. I actually made my television debut at 1-day-old when my dad used my birth as a story to report on a mini baby boom that was happening at the time. I basically grew up in a newsroom listening to the police scanner, trying to use a green screen, stealing all the goodies from press releases and probably listening to more profanity than most 10-year-olds should.

I thought I wanted to be an anchor when I was a kid, but as I got older, the idea of being in front of a camera was less enticing. Now, 30 years later, I find myself at Cronkite, just in a little bit of a different role. I am forever grateful for my newsroom upbringing and to my father and all my family for supporting me in this journey.

I’m a proud, and often tired, mother of a 4-and-a-half and 2-year-old, who both keep me very busy outside of work. I enjoy traveling and I make it back to Italy often, as my husband’s family still lives near Milan. In a previous life I ran marathons and I dream of completing the Abbott World Marathon Majors — Tokyo, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York and Boston.

Top photo: Nicole Macias and her father, Albert Macias, are both ASU alums and faculty members of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The two are photographed outside the downtown Phoenix-based school on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Nicole is a professor of practice and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Communications Initiative at the Cronkite Agency. Albert serves as an adjunct faculty associate. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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