Pivoting With Purpose

The trailblazing career shift that led Vannesia Darby ’12 to Shondaland.

By Emily Potts

Vannesia Darby has always been a woman of ambition and determination. A former campus leader and past president of the

Bradley University Black Alumni Alliance (BUBAA), her unparalleled work ethic and innovative ideas have catapulted her career in entertainment marketing. Following graduation, Darby went straight into the music industry before founding her successful digital marketing agency, Moxie Nashville in 2014.

Darby and her team developed countless brand strategies for her clients over the years, including Sony Music Entertainment, the Online News Association and the YMCA. She also became a sought-after speaker and workshop facilitator and is often called upon to share her marketing and entrepreneurship insights. However, a turning point in her life came unexpectedly during a church service—a time when she usually unplugged from work.

She received an email from one of her biggest clients saying they weren’t renewing their annual contract. Surprisingly, instead of feeling disappointment, Darby felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, that she didn’t realize she was carrying. “I actually exhaled,” she recalled. “I didn’t know I was holding that in.” Darby interpreted the audible sigh as an opportunity to reevaluate her career.

“After I received that email, I started wondering what else was out there,” she said, “I had been scaling for six years and could have kept going but didn’t feel the need to. I soon realized I had accomplished everything I set out to do with my business and began to envision what a career pivot could look like.” Intrigued by the idea, Darby began researching and created a short list of companies that aligned with her values and would offer her a fulfilling role.

One of those companies was Shondaland, a media juggernaut known for its groundbreaking television productions, like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and for challenging traditional stereotypes. Darby saw an open position for a social media manager—the only remote job on the site—and decided to apply. After an in-depth interview process, she was offered the role and happily accepted.

In her role, Darby and her team strategize and execute the social marketing for the Shondaland brand, collaborating with partners such as iHeartMedia, Netflix and more. Between reaching millions of fans on a weekly basis and launching global campaigns for productions like Queen Charlotte and their podcast Unpacking the Toolbox: A Scandal Rewatch, joining the creative machine was just the change of pace she desired.

“It was an incredible pivot that was truly in alignment with my goals. I could cry about how great of a fit it is. I’m amazed that every single day I get to bring these incredible ideas to life,” she said.

A Lifetime of Inspiration

Darby’s love for music and media started as a child. A classically trained pianist, Darby played the keyboard in church and school productions in between coding MySpace pages for her friends and teaching piano lessons. While playing piano for Bradley University’s gospel choir, she met alumni Jeremy Treadwell ’09 and Shayla Jones Treadwell ’08 who owned a production company and suggested she become an intern for them. There, she got her first taste of marketing, which led to another internship at the record label, EMI Gospel in Nashville.

The exciting pace that came with working with entertainers, publicists and record executives provided Darby a backstage pass into the world of music entertainment, and she loved it. After graduation, she worked for gospel industry titan Tracey Artis, whose marketing firm in Cincinnati, Ohio represents award-winning gospel artists. Darby called it a crash-course in entertainment marketing and was mentored by Artis while promoting artists and events and working with their management teams.

A year later, Motown Gospel (formerly EMI Gospel) came calling and asked her to join their new media department in 2014, which she did, moving to Nashville where she’s been ever since. Darby attributes her ambitions and drive to a mix of faith and her no-nonsense rearing from her parents. The daughter of a preacher and a probation officer, and the sister of a psychologist, Darby’s family dynamic included excellence as the standard.

“My Dad is a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and a Pentecostal preacher and my mom was a probation officer—I grew up with church and state in my house! My parents taught me how to use what others might perceive as weakness and turn it into a strength, and to always leave places better than when you found it.”

Although accustomed to pivoting, Darby knew there were discernible differences between owning her own agency and working within an established ecosystem. Creatively trusting others has been a new muscle she’s been able to flex.

“I was used to running everything, and now, being able to rely on the brilliance of my coworkers and their creativity is really incredible,” adding how the collaborative environment has sharpened her skillset.

One of the perks of her new role is traveling with her team to industry events like the music and arts festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, and the Hollywood premiere of Queen Charlotte in Los Angeles. Darby and her team produce digital content for events, posting pictures of the fans’ favorite stars, providing event recaps and giving viewers a boots-on-the-ground experience of the red carpet and backstage happenings. “Everyone doesn’t get to see what happens when the TV turns off,” Darby said.

Staying inspired is integral to her job as a digital marketer. Luckily she’s able to find inspiration in everything she does, from taking a walk and observing nature, to attending live concerts in Music City with her friends, to starting a Ph.D program. The key she says is to pay attention to the details and to always keep learning.

“I truly believe we are all put on this earth for a purpose and we’re not limited to one path. When one door closes, I have faith that another door will open. That’s how I ended up at Shondaland.”

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