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Oct 29, 2020 2020-10 Business Administration Faculty

Giving students a sporting edge in the digital world

Just months after completing an advertising degree at Illinois, Steve Raquel was living the dream. He had a cool job at a hot agency in Chicago, working on the new products division of McDonald’s. Then the global marketer became a sponsor of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, and a great job got even better. Within weeks, he was on the ground in Atlanta, crafting McDonald’s presence for a global event and starting an exciting new career in the sports marketing world.

When the Olympics went to Salt Lake in 2002, so did Raquel, assisting sponsors on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee. After that, he helped guide the sports marketing efforts of other major brands, including Allstate and State Farm. From the X-Games to bowl games, he helped companies develop and implement their strategic vision at major sporting event. And then, he decided to go in a slightly different path.

“I was part of a startup that was basically the equivalent of Facebook for sports,” said Raquel. It was called, and as the VP of marketing, Raquel helped raise $2 million in seed money for the fledgling operation, which successfully engaged more than 25 athletes from across the sporting world. Unfortunately, they couldn’t compete with the large tech behemoths already dominating the social marketing space. “Everything we would create, they would just throw a bunch of code monkeys on and come up with the exact same thing the next day,” explained Raquel. From that experience, however, he eventually created his own company, Illinois Online Ventures, a digital and social media marketing consulting company with more than two dozen local and national clients. With his fate now firmly in his own hands, his career took one more subtle twist.

“In 2014, I had an opportunity to teach a class as an adjunct in the College of Media, and I’ve been teaching ever since,” said Raquel. For the Illinois alum, it was basically a homecoming, since the college now houses the advertising program where he completed both his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees. Excited to teach next generation of graduates the lessons he had learned, he quickly went about developing a number of courses on brand strategy, sports public relations and media sales. Two years later, he made his first connection with Gies, creating BADM 395: Digital Marketing Strategy, which he continues to teach to this day.

“Digital marketing provides an overview of the various digital platforms and the tools that companies use to effectively market in today’s environment. So, we look at everything from website creation to influencing and viralness,” said Raquel, explaining that the course helps students better understand how digital marketing fits into the overall marketing mix.

Now fully on board at Gies, the digital marketing executive is bringing his expertise to a number of courses, including three courses he’s teaching in the iMBA program along with Hayden Noel and Aric Rindfleisch. “The thing I bring to the table as a clinical practitioner is that I do what I teach and I teach what I do. There’s a kind of symbiosis of that,” said Raquel, who says he enjoys bringing real-world examples from his latest projects into the classroom, as well as guest speakers who can share their expertise.

His commitment to students doesn’t end at the classroom door. During his time at Illinois, he’s created a network of more than a thousand current and former students that offers advice and support to students just starting their professional careers. Membership comes with just two rules, says Raquel. “When I call you, you have to pick up the phone, and if I help you, you have to promise to help another student that’s coming up.”

Raquel says he enjoys the students as well as the collegial atmosphere he’s found in the faculty at Gies. “I feel like I’m part of this body that’s really flexing its capabilities in a lot of areas, including digital marketing,” said Raquel. “I’m looking forward to adding my practical experience and understanding of the world to help students be even more prepared as they transition into their professional careers.”