New AMA Chicago President Leslie Marshall: “We want to do big things.”

On July 1, Leslie Marshall will begin her one-year term as President of AMA Chicago. Marshall, Head of Experiential Marketing at Morningstar, Inc., has served on the AMA Chicago Board for three years and has been a member of the organization for eight years.

As the first President of the (let’s hope) post-COVID era, Marshall looks forward to in-person events resuming their prominent role in supporting the health and culture of the Chicago marketing community.

“To me, big events like BrandSmart epitomize the best of AMA Chicago—bringing big ideas and marketing leaders together on one big stage,” she says. “while other AMAC events give you that chance to develop deeper, more personal connections. There’s something for everyone.”

Here’s a closer look at Marshall’s ideas about the organization, how her involvement has impacted her role at Morningstar, and why she owns seven Christmas trees.

“The energy in the room was amazing.”

BrandSmart 2022, held April 27 at Navy Pier, was AMA Chicago’s first large-scale live event since 2019. Planning the event while the COVID-19 omicron variant was still making headlines, the organization’s leadership knew they needed to be bold.

“When I think about the team effort involved as we came out of the pandemic, it was a huge undertaking,” Marshall says. “We wondered, ‘Are people going to come back for a live event? Is this really all going to work? But we knew the programming, content, and the venue at Navy Pier would be appealing’”

The planning team—including Marshall, current President Shannon Lee, past Presidents Harvey Morris and Bonnie Massa, and many others—decided to remake BrandSmart as a continuous, quick-paced event, with shorter, TED-Talk-style sessions instead of breakouts and everyone in the same room throughout. Marshall says, “I think that was symbolic—coming out of the pandemic, being all together in one place was really important. And the energy in the room was amazing.”

She believes BrandSmart captured the essence of AMA Chicago as a career resource for marketers.

This year, BrandSmart captured something for wherever you are in your career. If you were newer in your career, there was aspirational and inspirational content. If you were more experienced in your career, you saw other people like yourself on stage or sitting next to you at the tables that you could talk shop with and talk about how you’re solving similar problems.”

“We can all learn from each other.”

BrandSmart 2022 was a huge event—and a huge success. But Marshall sees the organization’s smaller events as just as important.

“I also get a lot out of Connex,” she says. “Connex is a much smaller event. There may be fewer than 50 people in the room, but I remember the people that I met those evenings. Connex is that connective tissue.

“And our workshops strive to reach people at all different levels. It’s not just an organization for someone who’s at the top of their career. Marketing is multifaceted, right? There are lots of different types of marketers and different types of experiences, and we can all learn from each other.”

“I’m a more confident presenter and speaker.”

Marshall encourages her colleagues at Morningstar—even out-of-towners—to attend AMA Chicago events. Why? Because “I like being able to take new ideas back to my team. They’ve become a resource for me to bring back content, ideas, and connections for the whole marketing organization at Morningstar.”

Those ideas often resonate with her day job, which includes overseeing global events such as the flagship Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

She explains, “My team and I think about the brand experience from the time someone registers for the event, to the emails we send, to the mobile app for event engagement. What’s that experience like when they get on-site and check in at registration? Sitting down for the first keynote? Even the lunch experience. We want them to feel inspired, to feel informed, so they can have a better understanding of the markets and how to help investors.”

She also says, “The opportunities I’ve had to be a leader on the AMA Chicago board have helped me develop confidence in my own leadership at Morningstar. The board works closely together to create value for the members, and I’ve enjoyed working with so many peers from other companies, agencies, and organizations. Before the pandemic, I had a hard time presenting on camera, and now it’s just become part of our daily life—I’m a more confident presenter and speaker because of my experiences with AMA Chicago.”

About those 7 Christmas trees …

Outside work, Marshall points to gardening as her biggest passion. “Since I moved from the city to the suburbs, I really enjoy gardening—digging around in the yard and figuring out what works in what kind of dirt and seeing things grow! It’s a great stress reliever. When you give yourself a mental break, you can kind of come back to things and have a fresh perspective on how to tackle them.”

She’s also especially fond of a certain time of year. “I love Christmas and the holidays,” she says. “I have seven Christmas trees. I love to decorate. I love bright colors. There’s  practically a Christmas tree in every room.”

“It’s never been more important to connect with other people.”

Marshall’s overarching goal for the next year at AMA Chicago might come down to one word: Connections.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it’s never been more important to connect with other people. AMA Chicago offers so many different ways for people to connect. Find your tribe, find a group you can connect with that inspires you to do new things.”

She adds, “The people on the Board and all the volunteers care about members’ experiences. We want you to have a great experience. We want to do big things and help members get more out of their careers. And we’ve got to all work together to get them done.”

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