From UC to D.C.: How One Alumna Went from Graduation to Inauguration

In the 1970s it may have seemed fairly preposterous to draw any sort of line from Monica Seebohm’s childhood in the Cincinnati suburb of North College Hill to the fast lane of 2016 national politics and the inauguration of the president of the United States. But Seebohm’s story is the latest to confirm UC’s role as a powerful life-changer.

For the last decade, Seebohm, A&S ’83, ’84, has been a leader in the digital advertising industry. In essence, her expertise at helping businesses connect with their customers is part of the reason internet users can access a range of content at no cost. She doesn’t know what course her life would have taken if she hadn’t become the first person in her family to graduate college. She only knows she’s a very grateful Bearcat.

“I had never really left Cincinnati growing up, and I didn’t take any college tours, which has become a rite of passage these days,” Seebohm said. “It was going to be UC if I could go at all — and attending college was certainly not a guarantee at that time. I started in the fall of 1979 as an undecided major and a commuter, where my first challenge each day was finding a parking spot on campus.”

Seebohm became a member of the UC band, pledged a sorority and moved onto campus her second year. More importantly, she came to realize the world offered much more than she had known. It wasn’t until she became a UC student that Seebohm realized the opportunities available to her.

“UC really opened my eyes to a world of possibilities,” she remembered. “The guidance I received at UC gave me the feeling, ‘I can do this.’” That feeling really took hold after she took a speech class professor’s suggestion that she major in communications. She adapted to the field, earning her bachelor’s degree along with a certificate in business, and was awarded a full scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at UC. Seebohm then found her first professional role as a sales representative with Xerox Corp. through the UC on-campus recruiting center. A year later, a transfer to Los Angeles provided an opportunity to grow her professional experience and, as it turned out, enormously expand her world.

Seebohm stayed at Xerox for five years but was eventually recruited away by Pacific Bell (now AT&T), where she spent a dozen years until technological advances created an opportunity she felt compelled to seize.

‘I Gotta Go to the Internet’

“The internet happened,” she said. “I had increasing responsibilities in my job and loved what I was doing, but I could see that the whole model was going to change. So I thought, ‘You know what? I gotta go to the internet.’ I was in my late 30s and could make that sort of move, so I did.”

That meant joining AOL as regional director of sales — “This was in 2000 when AOL was everything” — and moving to San Francisco, the epicenter of the internet revolution. Companies were flush with new money but a little lean on understanding how best to spend it.

“I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it was sure interesting to be in that scene,” she recalled. “People would get funding to start a business and throw a wild launch party … I went to one where they had bears and lions in cages like a zoo, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m not sure that’s the best use of your resources.’”

Seebohm continued to grow her career in this new industry, eventually moving from AOL to several senior roles at mid-size and start-up digital companies. She worked with global ad agencies running national campaigns, selling increasingly innovative advertising products.

“The media industry was changing,” she said. “Media started to be bought and sold via ‘programmatic platforms,’ similar to how stocks are handled by eTrade.”

Watching such changes take place, Seebohm continued to want to be where things are going, rather than where they’ve been. Four years ago she joined New York-based Telaria, which specializes in the expanding world of online video content. As Senior Director of Global Demand, she works with Fortune 500 clients to run their advertising through Telaria’s platform. The work has made her an international traveler and recently thrust her into the heart of national politics, thanks to the popularity of online advertising for political campaigns.

Ms. Seebohm Goes to Washington

“About 18 months before the 2016 election, I was asked to go to D.C. to evaluate the market opportunities,” she said. “When I visited and saw the massive potential, I wound up taking that on as a special project. It was really intense.”

She called on the Republican and Democratic National Committees and the agencies that were placing their ads — not just for the presidential races, but also for Congressional and statewide down-ballot races.

“I spent a lot of time at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn and the RNC headquarters in D.C.,” she said. “I basically knew what each side was doing as far as advertising strategy, so I had to sit on all that information. I remained neutral on the parties and focused on meeting my clients’ needs for getting the right message to the right voter.”

On election night, Seebohm was at the Midtown Hilton in Manhattan at what became Donald Trump’s victory party. With all the polls predicting a Clinton landslide until key states’ results came in, she expected to simply soak up the magnitude of the scene. Instead, she found herself standing in the crowd, ten feet from the president-elect as he took the stage for his acceptance speech. Ten weeks later she was attending the inauguration as a guest of the new administration.

“It was a profound experience,” she said. “We kept hearing about the ‘peaceful transfer of power’ and I remember thinking, ‘I’m really watching this happen in person.’”

It was a long way from North College Hill, working 20 hours a week as a cashier to help pay tuition, and fighting for campus parking spots. But as they say, UC changes lives. And, Seebohm points out, it generates outstanding students and young alumni.

“My core values were formed in Cincinnati. Since then I’ve lived on both coasts and have a broader perspective on the challenges facing young people entering the workforce. I spend a lot of time working with big advertising agencies that have developed internship programs, and I tend to see interns from the same colleges every year. I think if these organizations knew what your typical, hard-working UC student would do in some of these roles, they would be eager to hire our students. So I’m trying to do all I can to expose our students to the people who are doing the hiring in the media industry and vice versa. I’ve been given great opportunities, and I want to pay that forward.”

That drive is a genuine outgrowth of the gratitude Seebohm feels as a Bearcat. Years ago, she was that hard-working, ambitious student, and she wants her fellow alumni to have their turns to make a splash. Seebohm is an active alumna in New York City and works with the university to place students in key media internships. She also makes a significant gift each year to the Communication Department to use wherever it can make the most impact. Call it part of her happy responsibility as an alumna who wouldn’t have her career and priceless experiences without her hometown university.

“UC made all the difference in the direction of my life,” she said.

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