What do people think of first when they see a headline about the British Royal Family?
For many it’s probably the tradition, the glamour, or the rumor and scandal drummed up. But for Gies College of Business alumna Caitlin McQuiston, ’13 ACCY and BA, any reference to the British Royal Family conjures up memories of Anthony J. Petullo Professor and current Business Administration department head Cele Otnes.
Not even a month into Otnes’ Principles of Marketing course, McQuiston wondered if she could help with the instructor’s research. Luckily, Otnes was looking for eager undergraduate research assistants, and McQuiston’s stint in that role impressed her professor.
Close ties between the two continued when Otnes invited her pupil back to help with research and writing. This turned into a book chapter on the “Enchanted Palace” exhibit, published in a book on contemporary tourism titled Encounters with Popular Pasts. This was also incorporated into the 2015 book Royal Fever: The British Monarch in Consumer Culture by Otnes and her co-author Pauline Maclaran (University of California Press).
Looking back, McQuiston remains amazed that she gained such access to research conducted by a preeminent authority on this topic.
“When I think of Cele I’m reminded of her passion, her dedication to craft, and her easy-going, fun personality more than anything else,” McQuiston said. “In a short time, she taught me a lot about marketing, branding, and writing.
“I’ll always be thankful she let me help with her research.”
For all those reasons and more, McQuiston wasn’t at all surprised to see Otnes on a nationally-televised two-part documentary from ABC.
The Story of the Royals aired on August 22 and 23 to explain the family’s evolution into what we know today. It also covered the influence this brand has over consumer action, which happens to be Otnes’ wheelhouse.
Smiling every time her former professor spoke on the documentary, McQuiston couldn’t help but feel proud.
“Gaining recognition as an expert on a particular subject is an outstanding accomplishment. Inclusion in a national, prime-time documentary shows she has reached a certain status,” McQuiston said. “Cele earned her reputation because she’s passionate about uncovering the how and why behind royal consumption.”
After immediately accepting, the student began researching the rebranding of Kensington Palace through the “Enchanted Palace” exhibit staged during its renovation. The royal family utilized this centuries-old retreat to varying degrees of importance over the years. According to the chapter, this rebranding “was designed to counter the perception of the palace as hard to locate and harder still to understand and enjoy.”
The fact that her research and writing ended up in the finished book thrilled McQuiston. It also cemented her interest in the business behind the royal family.
“From a marketing perspective I learned how a brand can evolve through its lifetime,” she said. “Kensington Palace first opened its doors to the public in 1899. To stay relevant for 100-plus years, a brand must innovate and have a strong understanding of the consumer.”
This experience promoted a dedication to higher education that propelled McQuiston’s career progression.
As a digital marketing and recruitment strategist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she remains devoted to principles picked up on at Gies Business. She also will be joining the MBA program at UIC.
“I would not be where I am today without Gies College of Business,” McQuiston said. “Not only did I receive an excellent education, I met many connections that have been valuable in the business world and in my personal life. Multiple professors, including Cele, have answered questions and guided me even after I graduated.
“That type of commitment to students is a rare quality at such a large university.”