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Q&A with Tonise Paul ’79 BS ADV, ’80 MS, Illini Comeback Guest
Illini Comeback guest, Tonise Paul, shares stories, insights and advice.
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. On the northwest side of Chicago, so I am a Cubs fan.
Q. Who was the most influential figure in your life growing up?
A. My Mother. I observed my Mom overcome great adversity and triumph by holding fast to her values, her faith and her family. She was my greatest supporter, harshest critic and most insightful consigliore. As an Italian mother, she also taught me the joy of cooking. I am told that I effectively uphold her tradition of overfeeding people!
Q. What did you want to be when you grew up as a child? What did you want to be when you were in college and did that answer ever change?
A. Growing up I wanted to be a teacher. Being a parent and a business leader has allowed me to be that to some degree. In college, I wanted to be an advertising leader who did some good for the world. I am still at it.
Q. Why did you come to the University of Illinois?
A. I was attending a small Liberal Arts College in Winona, Minnesota. Two professors in the Psychology Department, for whom I worked, sat me down before the Christmas break of my sophomore year and said, “Kid, it is time for you to go to the Big U”. They had just gotten their PhD’s from U of I and so inspired me with expectations of the University’s highest academic standards of excellence and it’s large, vibrant and diverse community.
Q. Where did you live freshmen year?
A. I transferred to U of I as a junior. I was one of a handful of Catholics living in Bromley Hall. It made for some great 3 a.m. discussions on faith with my Jewish friends and roommates.
Q. What was your favorite place to eat?
A. Before these existed in the world at large, there was a Frozen Yogurt shop (Dannon!) off of Wright Street where you could sprinkle carob chips and raisins on your yogurt. I was obsessed.
Q. What was your favorite place to hang out?
A. Anywhere with my friends. Okay, Kam’s.
Q. What was your secret study spot?
A. The Illini Union. You could be anonymous or social and the din suited me better than silence at the library.
Q. What was your favorite athletic team to watch?
A. Fighting Illini Football (unfortunately, I missed the Mike White turnaround).
Q. What was your favorite class and why?
A. Kim Rotzell, former Dean of what was the College of Communications, taught a Graduate class on the impact of self-interest on the economy and society. I have spent my career observing and contemplating that theory.
Q. What organizations were you involved with? What did you enjoy about being involved in these organizations?
A. I joined the Daily Illini as the Ad Director for the Illio. I loved the vibe there. The role was a stretch at the start so I learned hard and fast!
Q. What was your biggest regret during your time at the University?
A. I was a Graduate Assistant to Professor Gordon White. While I got to grade essays and work one-on-one with students, I never taught in the classroom. I wish I had.
Q. What was your favorite memory during your college years?
A. Impossible to answer! One surreal flashback is the night before graduation, dancing the last dance of the evening at Kam’s to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”. It was an ever so 70’s moment filled with happiness, sentimentality, fun, and great anticipation of the next day (graduation) and of life to come. It was also filled with love as I eventually married the guy I was dancing with. (Am I really sharing this?)
Q. What do you remember most about your time here?
A. Learning more and growing faster than I had ever before.
Q. What was your first job after college?
A. Client Services Trainee at Leo Burnett. My training started in the Research Department so I had the opportunity to immediately apply research methodologies I had learned in Graduate School. In addition to the excitement of multivariate statistics:), I got up close and personal with consumers and learned how they responded to communications. It was a great foundation for my entire career.
Q. How has your Illinois experience helped shape your professional life?
A. I was a Bronze Tablet graduate with two degrees from the best Advertising/Communications College in the country. This meant I had the very best jobs available in my field when I graduated. Starting my career right made all the difference to my long-term professional success. Beyond this, my world has been blessed and propelled, both personally and professionally, by countless fellow Illini who are at once incredibly talented and incredibly wonderful people.
Q. What have been the most dramatic or interesting changes you’ve seen in the industry over the years?
A. The most exciting change has been the quantum shift in what we do. We used to make ads, now we create meaningful interactive brand experiences. With the profound changes in media and technology, we are now able to engage people with our brands in ways we could only dream of before. This is both a great creative opportunity and a necessity. With the vast and overwhelming amount of information, media, brands and life vying for people’s limited time and attention, we have to do more to reward them for their involvement with our brands. Great ads can take you part of the way there but, to win today, a brand needs to create meaningful interactive experiences that add value to people’s lives.
Q. Any advice for today’s students?
A. This is the time a creative soul can truly flourish in our business. With constant changes in technology, you can live at the edge pushing brand engagement to innovative new places on a daily basis. There has never been a more fulfilling time to express oneself creatively and to make an impact in our business. So think really big, and go for it!
Follow your gut. When making decisions, people tend to think more than they feel. To make the best decisions – of the small everyday variety or of the big business variety – make sure you read your feelings as well as you read your “data”.