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Tennis Taught NAU Athlete Finesse, Agility in Business

Northern Arizona University alumna Julie Link spent most of her time in college volleying between studies, competing on the tennis team, and trying to maintain some sort of personal life. The lessons she learned in time management served her well, propelling her to co-found an award-winning promotional marketing agency in California that serves clients around the world.

Julie Link (née Schmandt) grew up in Santa Barbara, part of a family steeped in athletics. Her father, Rodger, played minor league baseball in the New York Yankees organization and the family had a tennis court that they used regularly. Link started playing at the age of seven and was soon hooked. She and her sister, as well as an older cousin, all embraced tennis and played competitively. Each continued competing in college, with the cousin attending UCSB, her sister going to Vanderbilt, and Link to NAU from 2002-2006.

Link’s path to Flagstaff went through Tempe, where then-NAU coach Steve Bickham saw her play during a Fiesta Bowl tournament and recruited her. Link considered staying in California and attending Santa Clara or Loyola Marymount universities but chose NAU because it offered her a full scholarship. She also fell in love with the outdoors of Flagstaff, a nice change from the beaches of Santa Barbara.

At NAU, Link worked on a double major in public relations and advertising. She also played on the tennis team all four years. She found success in both scholastics and athletics, earning All-Academic Honors in the Big Sky Conference every year and three times being named to the All-Big Sky team. Her greatest moment on the courts came in her senior year, when she and her doubles partner, Susan McClelland, defeated the number one double team of Sacramento State 8-1 in the finals of the Big Sky tournament. Link accomplished this while not only trying to maintain a healthy social life, but also working through a number of changes to her campus experience, including the School of Communication moving into a new building during her senior year, several back injuries and the tennis team going through half a dozen coaches during her tenure.

“We really had to learn how to juggle many things,” she said. “You have to wake up at 5:30 and shovel snow off your car so you can go to practice and train, and then go to class. Plus, we didn’t have that many home games, so we traveled to compete on many weekends.”

The time management skills she learned proved critical after she graduated and moved into the working world. For a year, she served as the account coordinator for Machine Shop Marketing, a music company started by the Grammy Award-winning band Linkin Park. She then took a job with a Los Angeles-based marketing agency, Impact Marketing and Promotions. She worked there for four years and became the company’s expert on sweepstakes promotions.

In 2011, Link decided the time had come for her to start her own business. “A lot of people in my family are entrepreneurs and, like them, I got to the point where I wanted my own freedom and flexibility.”

She teamed up with Impact Marketing and Promotions coworker Jennifer French and created Sync Marketing. Operating out of California, they initially developed websites for local businesses but then moved to designing sweepstakes campaigns.

“When a company wants to run a contest or sweepstakes, say, for a trip to Jamaica, they come to us and we develop the campaign, from design and programming to legal and prize fulfillment.”

One of their first clients was with an agency that managed Chrysler, and now they serve more than 30 clients, including such companies as Crate and Barrel, Claire’s Stores and Celebrity Cruises. For the past two years, Sync has been recognized by industry analyzer Chief Marketer as a top promotional marketing agency in the United States.

The company has accomplished all this while staying small. “We are a boutique agency, so we don’t have a lot of overhead, which allows us to provide competitive pricing to our clients,” she explained.

A key to the company’s success traces back to lessons Link learned at NAU. “When I was a student athlete, I really had to learn to wear many hats, which required a lot of discipline. I now apply what I learned then to Sync Marketing, where I’m not just a manager, but have to do everything else for the company.”

From the beaches of Santa Barbara to the peaks of Flagstaff, and back again, Julie Link has turned life’s challenges into tools of learning and growth, which she has used to build a successful and satisfying career. FBN

By Kevin Schindler, FBN

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