Meet Management: Director Of Marketing & Communications, Nicole Johnson

We all have that one charismatic friend who is guaranteed to get the room roaring in laughter. You know THAT person I am talking about! Their stories captivate us and the energy they emit is noticeable and contagious. Well, if you are in need of a good ol’ belly laugh with a jaw dropping story to accompany it, let me introduce you to Nicole Johnson, Director of Marketing & Communications at Innovate Marquette SmartZone.

I first met Nicole in March of 2020 when she was hired by Innovate Marquette SmartZone to manage the student marketing team at Invent@NMU. In case you forgot, March was quite an interesting time to be a human being on this planet we call Earth. In a proactive response to COVID-19, our team quickly switched over to 100% remote based work. This uncanny timing meant that I only saw Nicole in the Invent@NMU office twice before we became pixels on each other’s computer screen.

When I think about the relationship between Invent@NMU and Innovate Marquette SmartZone, I picture in my mind a parent teaching their child how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. With two hands firmly grasping the handle bars, the child has complete control over the direction they are heading. Behind the bicycle is the parent supporting the child with one hand on the bicycle seat, allowing the child to make mistakes without getting hurt. Then, when the child finds their sense of balance, the parent releases their grip and the child sets off on their own with a newfound sense of confidence. This cheesy analogy accurately depicts Nicole’s role of guiding the Invent@NMU student team while promoting independence and competence.

The entire Invent@NMU team can agree that Nicole swiftly became an integral part of the Invent@NMU family. Nicole is a master of balancing life and work, a skill that is crucial when working from home. Due to her nature, Nicole became a beacon of light to many during a time of great change and uncertainty. Putting her years of remote work experience to use, Nicole helped guide our student team through what felt like uncharted territory.


Born and raised in Manistique, MI, Nicole is a Yooper through and though. Much of Nicole’s childhood was spent exploring the beautiful ecosystems of the Upper Peninsula. A running joke in the Johnson family is that Nicole learned how to paddle a kayak before learning how to walk! It was during these formative years that Nicole became interested in writing. As a kid Nicole was often found wandering through wooded areas journaling about bugs, sticks and all the obscurities that float about in a child’s brain.

When the time came to pursue a college degree, Nicole kicked off her college career at Bay College with intentions to become a nurse. It only took Nicole one semester of chemistry and biology classes to find that the nurse life was not for her. After completing her general education requirements, Nicole was accepted into Western Michigan University’s College of Business and made her way downstate to the city of Kalamazoo. As a very driven student, Nicole was quick to throw herself into multiple internships, held an executive board position for the Western Michigan Chapter of American Marketing Association and studied abroad in China. A couple of years later, Nicole received a Marketing and International Business degree from Western Michigan University. Post graduation, Nicole worked a big corporate job in the food marketing industry. What Nicole learned from these diverse set of experiences is that big corporate America is not the correct fit for her. This insight profoundly influenced the rest of her career as a marketing professional.

As a bit of a free spirit myself, this is where I find Nicole’s story fascinating. In search of self-realization and career direction, Nicole quit her job in 2017 and received a working holiday visa. A working holiday visa allows travellers to receive employment in the country issuing the visa to supplement travel funds. It was in this season of life that Nicole booked a one way ticket to New Zealand and started a new life. In New Zealand Nicole worked on a sheep farm, brewery, winery and hostel all while starting up a freelance marketing business.

Following her time spent in New Zealand, Nicole moved to Fort Collins, CO to receive yoga teacher certification at a holistic yoga school. After receiving yoga teacher certification, Nicole traveled around South America working for Combining her love for yoga and SEO, Nicole worked as a SEO copywriter before being promoted to Managing Blog Editor where she researched and planned blog content for a team of writers to curate.

Spontaneous in nature, one day Nicole found herself sitting in the Chicago airport in January of 2019 where she received an email from Yoga Trade about their Deep Ecology of Wellness retreat happening in Punta Mona Costa Rica in April 2019. Having always wanted to write for Yoga Trade, Nicole took a leap of faith and immediately booked a flight to Costa Rica having no previous connections to the country. Nicole ended up landing a content writing role with Yoga Trade as well as industry connections for other personal writing projects.


So… how did Nicole end up back in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan you ask? I will let her tell you herself!

“When I came back from Portugal in September of 2019, it was supposed to be for just one month before going back to Costa Rica. Now, if you would have told me that 6 months later I would be working a nine to five job, paying rent at an apartment, have a car and be a marketing manager in Marquette, Michigan, I would have told you, you were absolutely crazy and that’s not happening. But I fell in love again. I was standing on top of Sugarloaf. You know, one of the most touristy places in Marquette, but I was standing and I was looking out and I was just like, I, I can’t leave. It doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to leave. I truly trusted my gut and the process and couldn’t be happier”


Tidbits of wisdom Nicole collected during her time spent on the road.


“Remote work is great for those who have or are working toward self-discipline and organization. You have the ability to start work at three in the afternoon. You can travel freely, seeing all that there is to see in the world while making money. You have a lot of flexibility. With freelance work, you can also take on projects you’re passionate about which allows you to feel that drive in everything that you do.

If you want to work on the beach, go for it. A coffee shop? Heck yeah! Even in your pajamas. But know it can get lonely and procrastination can be lethal in this environment so get yourself a physical planner, sync your calendar across all devices and be sure to set reminders on important deadlines.”


“One of my favorite parts of working remote as a freelancer is that you have the means to take on projects that you’re incredibly passionate about, but you also have to pay the bills… right? At one point I think I was working a waitressing job, for 4 clients and was teaching yoga. The money was rolling in BUT my mind and body definitely took a toll. Set yourself live-able wages, even if that means loosing a project or two. Your talent is worth something.”


“I think remote work and freelance work is something that every marketer and communications professional should try because your communication style will grow 10 fold. Working remotely you come across so many communication styles and have to quickly figure out how to read and respond without being able to read facial cues and body language, it’s all about the voice tone.”


“I think one of my favorite parts about working with the Invent@NMU team as well as the SmartZone team is learning from the people that I’m surrounded by. A lot of mentors feel that they’re the ones who are needing to share resources all the time and that they’re the ones who are needing to teach. Constantly. And while that’s really important, I think that as a manager, I’m learning constantly from the students that I’m mentoring, especially because of what they are now learning in college. I mean, I graduated six years ago, so the things that they are learning in school right now are very different from the things that I learned because the digital world is moving so quickly. I’ve learned incredibly useful information from those who are in their 80’s as well as from those who are 16. I don’t see the students I work with as “my employees” but as my teammates. True teams know no hierarchy”


“I’ve learned the most from situations that made me the most uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or admit you don’t know what you’re doing. Our culture makes asking for help seem like a shameful thing but in reality how are you going to learn if you don’t ask? Everyone should do at least one thing not just in their professional career but in their life that makes them truly uncomfortable. It changes the way you think, perceive and respond. It made me not only a better marketer but a more open person.”

Nicole is a talented globe-trotting, SEO writing, strategic thinking yogi and we are so thankful to have her on our team. To read more about Nicole’s professional experience check out her LinkedIn profile HERE.

About Micah Carroll – Micah Carroll is a student at Northern Michigan University studying environmental public relations & design. He has been employed at Invent@NMU as a marketing assistant since his first year of college. In his free time Micah enjoys rock climbing, walking slacklines and capturing memories via photography.