Natalie Smailis never envied her father’s 60-minute commute to work each day from their home in Highland, Ind.
But it has made the Indiana State University graduate more appreciative of the two-stop, 10-minute train ride she has taken to her job for nearly two years at Yelp’s downtown Chicago office, where she serves as an account executive for the online directory.
“As an account executive here, I cold call small businesses, build a rapport with them and pitch them on Yelp advertising to grow their businesses,” said Smailis, ’12, GR’14, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations and a minor in marketing. “Sometimes I talk to businesses that don’t know they have pages on Yelp, and sometimes I talk to businesses that are really engaged with their page. Every conversation I have is different.”
After graduating with her master’s in sport management, Smailis moved to Nashville and began a career as a marketing coordinator for Simon Property Group’s Opry Mills, where she was promoted to assistant director of marketing for new development.
“I did a lot with tourism, sales development and marketing at the property,” she said. “I learned how to sell and how to market a huge property that has 18 million people come through the doors every year.”
Eager to move to the Chicago area, where her family has roots, Smailis began a job search and made contact with Yelp through a friend of her brother who worked at the company.
“The job and the location were perfect, because I always wanted to say that in my life I lived and did the whole downtown Chicago deal. And I’m doing it,” she said.
Although her current position isn’t in public relations, Smailis said the coursework helped mold her professionally.
“I came to college not really knowing what I wanted to major in, so I took a couple of business classes, and one of my friends said I should look into public relations,” she said. “I shifted over and really liked it. It was a lot more creative but still business-driven.”
Smailis learned to be a go-getter at Indiana State, where she played soccer, co-founded ISU Dance Marathon and participated in the Public Relations Student Society of America.
“ISU has so many organizations that students can get involved in, which I think helps make you stand out. Because it is a smaller campus, you are able to get into a leadership role and drive an organization to be what you envision it to be,” she said. “I tried everything and got involved. If I didn’t like it, that was OK. But I tried everything, and I still do that today. I try new things whenever I can, especially fun things to do in Chicago. I’ve got to try it all out.”
That “jump in with both feet” attitude Smailis nurtured at Indiana State served her well in the transition to Yelp.
“The best thing about Indiana State is that you are encouraged to reach out to people, try new things and learn about different positions,” she said. “I never thought I would be doing cold calls when I graduated, but I have learned so much about myself and what I can accomplish. I was able to get promoted to a management role at Yelp within eight months, which I think is really difficult with a company of this size. There is a ton of growth and opportunities within the company, though, if you work really hard, trust the process and focus on what you’re doing.”