Marissa Ryan is the Co-Founder of VisualFizz, a digital marketing agency, and is also on the founding team of Commoot, a startup aimed at bringing brand messaging to eye level with drivers on the roads. Marissa got her start in Northern Wisconsin studying marketing and design at St. Norbert College, but her love of city life brought her to Chicago. Marissa is a traveler who loves experiencing new cultures, eating new food, and meeting new people. Based in Chicago but serving clients all over the world, Marissa continues to bring excitement and authenticity into digital marketing channels, from social media and social advertising to PPC, SEO, and branding.
My journey in marketing actually started out with a non-marketing focus. When I originally entered college for my undergraduate studies, I started out studying Psychology. Psychology has always interested me, and it opened up my eyes to the incredible amount of information that we as humans take in with our sense and from the world around us. However, I grew up in a family-owned business, and I couldn’t imagine separating my drive to create something big from my career. Additionally, the arts and my creativity have always been an integral part of my identity (I paint in my extremely little spare time!). Based on these factors, I decided to ‘create’ my own major in Advertising, studying both Business Administration/Marketing and Graphic Design.
It’s incredible how much overlap there truly is between Design, Psychology, and Marketing. The line that landed me my first internship in the city was “Marketing is using design and an understanding of psychology to influence a consumer to take an action.”, and I definitely still believe that to this day, I was lucky enough to not only truly and deeply enjoy what I was studying, but also to go into a field where I actually do use the majority of what I learned in my career.
I didn’t have a job lined up (or a plan at all) when I graduated college, but I knew I wanted to trade in small-town life for the energy and opportunity of a large urban city. New York, Boston, and Chicago were all on my radar. Something about Chicago struck me as ‘home’; maybe it’s the midwest vibe, maybe it’s the people that make up Chicago, maybe it’s a million other things – but I fell in love after my first visit.
I found an unpaid internship with a small agency on Craigslist. They asked me if I could start in 5 days, and I said: “Yes of course!”. When I left the interview, I realized that I didn’t live in Chicago yet. I didn’t have an apartment, I didn’t have any cash, and I certainly didn’t have experience in city living. I drove from Green Bay Wisconsin to Chicago for my first week and moved to the city shortly after.
From there, I worked in a variety of other agencies, even moving into the house in the marketing department. I learned an insane amount of information about digital marketing, advertising, and web development. Though I am quite grateful for my early career, all of these experiences helped me learn what I did NOT want to do. I did not enjoy the slow, unexciting pace of in-house work. I did not enjoy the ecosystem in which your worth was based on how well your boss or coworkers liked you. I did not enjoy doing the same task day in and day out.
I eventually left an FT position to freelance full time. I left a very difficult environment under stressful management without a plan lined up because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what I would end up doing, but I knew that whatever it was would be a better fit for me. Two years later, VisualFizz was born. My co-founder and I were both ready to do more, be more, create more. The rest is, as they say, history.
VisualFizz allows me to bring my true passion for business and advertising to the table in a new way every day. When you run the agency (or help run it), each day has a different goal, a different face, a different approach. But it all stays centered around one thing – brand success. Our client base and our team are growing, and even though the days (and nights!) are long and can be exhausting, watching something you built grow makes it all worth it.
The primary marketing channels that I work on are Google (and all subsidiary Google products, from search engine/SEO to Youtube to Google Ads, etc.) and other search engines, WordPress (for development, e-commerce, etc.), social media platforms for both organic branding and paid social media, and the web in general.
I would actually highly recommend young marketers who are interested in web-based advertising, e-commerce, social media, and the like to become familiar with the internet and how it works at its most basic level. The web is a tool, and a deep understanding of that tool is absolutely invaluable in today’s day and age. Even if you aren’t in digital marketing, understanding how to brand your business or company, how to get it noticed, how to draw consumers to you – all of these skills are extremely valuable regardless of the industry you go. Oh, and if you’re still in school or pursuing a career, PAY ATTENTION. Talk to people. This matters. I’ve gotten clients 7 years after I met them on my college campus. I’ve worked with past classmates. Use the internet to stay connected!
We use SEMrush to monitor SEO performance, Yoast for SEO on WordPress, Adobe Suite to create branded media + video, and WordPress in general for web builds.
We’ve found WordPress to be the best option for our clients and their needs. It’s powerful, well-supported, and there are plenty of ways to make it very secure. Sprout Social is our go-to social media tool – I love the platform, the reporting, and all of the knowledge resources they provide.
I actually have yet to find the perfect marketing tool that does everything I’d like it to, while also giving me the insights that I’d like to see. I plan on creating software that can guide marketers through this process and make it easy for them to work on multiple platforms from a single location…but that’s a story for another day!
My advice to marketers would be to try a little bit of everything, and don’t be afraid to work in industries that aren’t “sexy”. The majority of my personal clients have been in the manufacturing space; there’s nothing sexy about paper, blade sharpening, or machinery that cleans the air, but all of these industries exist and have an audience they want to reach. Don’t be afraid to work on non-glamorous, boring industries – you’ll be surprised at how much of an advantage it is to be creative in these spaces!
My second line of advice would be to stay open. Stay open to new conversations, stay open to new ideas, stay open to doing things a different way than the way that you think is best. When I was younger, I preferred to do things exactly the way I wanted to do them, and I would push back or even argue when things weren’t done the way I thought they should be done. That really limited me to new opportunities until I figured out how to stay open and flexible.
My third line of advice (more than 2 lines, I apologize!) would be to put yourself as a priority. If you’re burned out, make a change. One of the biggest changes in my life was when I started to take my lunches AWAY from my desk. Sometimes, I ate with others, sometimes by myself, but get away from that screen for a little bit of time. It’s really, really easy for marketing folks to run themselves into the ground. The work never feels “done”, and there’s always something else you could be doing. Do work you feel good about, and then unplug.