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Making Complicated Messages Easy to Understand: The Role of Today’s Communicator

Simplifying the complex: That’s how Sonny Sultani ’11 views his role as a communicator.

After earning a BA in Communication Studies from Northwestern in 2007, he began his career journey, working in engineering and sales before partnering with a family member to form SONNY+ASH, a Chicago-based augmented and virtual reality company serving the real estate market.

His love of academics eventually led him back to Northwestern to earn a master’s degree in 2011 via the Custom Leadership Program. “I had no intention of switching jobs or anything like that,” Sultani explains. “Originally, I set out to get an MBA. But I realized that soft skills are important to me. With an undergraduate degree in communications, I wanted to continue my communications journey. I felt it was something important to the working world.”

Sultani believes that most people already have the tactical skills they need to perform their jobs effectively. Instead, what they often lack are the soft skills to make a leap from manager to director or director to VP. “You need to know how to manage people, processes, and emotions. That’s all managed through communication,” he says. “And there’s something about Northwestern that’s different when it comes to learning this. The professors aren’t intimidating. You can approach them. I’ve never experienced classrooms that were so inviting and fun to be in.”

Earning his MS in Communication at Northwestern while also forming SONNY+ASH inspired him to focus on growing the company, so he joined the firm full time and turned it into one of the fastest-growing companies in its category. “I used everything I learned in class to do that,” says Sultani. “To this day, I go back to my notes. One of my classes taught me how to run a meeting, and I still use that information. I still look at my change-management notes.”

Last year, he sold the company and opened his own digital agency focused on SEO and SEM work for healthcare institutions. There, he quickly found his sweet spot: Analyzing performance of the ad agencies his clients worked with, as well as the results of the digital advertising campaigns they created.

As he helped brands improve their advertising performance, he realized he wanted to return to work for a company so he could focus more on communication and worry less about the day-to-day operations of running a business.

Today, Sultani is the vice president of business development at Grand Marketing Solutions (GMS), an agency that focuses on digital lead generation and nurturing. “I purposely chose a small agency because I love growth,” he explains. “It’s fun to be in high-growth mode. It feeds into who I am.”

In his role, Sultani helps GMS find unique approaches to cater to clients’ needs while also uncovering new skills the company needs in order to provide even better service.

Although the job transition wasn’t the reason Sultani pursued his MS in Communication, he says the program prepared him well. “A lot of what I’m doing involves making sure everyone is aligned, which ultimately comes back to communication. Because of this degree, I have the skillset now and can leverage it within this organization. Having soft skills really helps. Communication is extremely complex at the organizational level because people and emotions are involved. If you can simplify and control something that’s complex, then the world is yours.”