Faculty spotlight: Federica Ilaria Fornaciari, from consultant to marketing expert & professor

At HST, we’re proud to have sharp professors who are also industry practitioners. This allows students to gain real-world insights into the sector they’re passionate about. Federica Ilaria Fornaciari is one of them.

Federica Ilaria Fornaciari is a digital strategy director at Havas Media Group España and an adjunct professor at HST. We sat down with her to discuss her career shift from consulting into communications, the transition from IE University student to professor, and her take on the current marketing landscape amidst the global pandemic. 

Found in translation

On her career path, Federica took the road slightly less traveled in order to reach the world of marketing and communications. The transition was complex, but was facilitated by the large amount of overlap between the consulting and marketing industries. A graduate in management and marketing, her experience began in consulting agencies. This valuable experience gave her exposure to a multitude of clients and industries. She learned “to challenge oneself with different projects and managers, to become flexible, and to re-shape yourself when needed.” 

One main difference between the types of work are the stakeholders involved. In consulting,  there are partners, researchers, analysts, and internal and external stakeholders that differ greatly from marketing firms, which during “consulting life,” they act as the “clients.” Consulting work implies hard scheduling and long days. Yet, the similarities between marketing and consulting are striking, where both paths are about anticipating the needs of their clients and executing successful strategies. 

In both industries, you have to successfully manage strict deadlines, understand numbers, and maintain precision in all levels of work. Marketing agencies are understood as the world of ideas, where gut feelings turn into business models. However, in marketing, you also have to be very analytical, especially as a strategist or in the insight department, exactly like in consulting. 

A beautiful similarity between the two careers is the opportunity she had to share her work with amazing partners and brilliant minds. In marketing, she has had profound experiences with creative directors and strategic planners that are able to tell amazing and emotional stories that move people using facts and strategic communication.

From student to professor

Federica completed her MBA at IE Business School six years ago, and has been an adjunct professor at HST for two years, representing just a four-year gap between sitting in the classroom and leading the classroom. She believes that the greatest gift she can give to her students is real-life experiences and examples that will be useful to them in their post-master lives. 

Coming into the professor role so soon after finishing her MBA has given her a lot of advantages that have shaped her teaching style. Federica believes in having a robust understanding of the course material, but avoiding what she calls “being like a book.”  

Her fresh memory of her MBA experience allows her to utilize the things she liked, and omit the things she didn’t find helpful during her studies. She loved her professors who brought real cases into class and challenged the students as future professionals, which she tries to apply today in her own course, Omnichannel Media & Planning.

A day in the life

As a digital strategy director at Havas Media Group España, no two days are alike. This unpredictability counts as both a pro and a con. Federica doesn’t have time to get bored or suffer from monotony or slow-downs. Scheduling is key in her life—when working at the group level, agency level, or with multiple clients, she must plan her schedule well in order to ensure a successful workflow that steers her towards her long-term goals. 

She always keeps a free hour in her day to act as a buffer when random meetings inevitably pop up. The rest of the week is jam-packed with activities—typically meetings and presentations with clients, CMOs, and media directors, among others. These presentations are about campaign proposals, annual strategies, and measurement plans. 

In a role like hers, Federica has to strike a balance between short-term and long-term strategy, making sure they’re working in unison. In a similar vein, every team member in the agency has a complementary set of skills. 

COVID-19’s role in the marketing shift

In the marketing world, we’re seeing a shift in focus away from the customer journey and toward customers’ feelings. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are running rampant, and now more than ever, brands should be there for consumers. 

Federica stressed that this is a time for brands to highlight that they recognize their customers as people and not just consumers. Brands should not be divesting away from advertising because this is a perfect opportunity to not only send a power message, but to let their actions speak for themselves by DOING rather than telling. 

Consumer intimacy in the era of social distancing

Social distancing has greatly disrupted the flow of business in marketing strategies. Federica thinks that the major challenge is finding a middle ground between being rational and business-oriented, and showing authentic empathy. 

“We had this notion of immortality,” she explains, “and the pandemic has become a game-changer. We are all in the same boat now.” 

Tackling issues right now is a serious exercise in business psychology. Right now, Federica is trying to give consumers actionable, empathetic content, with the right tone of voice and timing—without leaving out important facts. 

It’s difficult to be rational at a business level while living through this global crisis. It’s also a huge managerial challenge. But the communication flow is now less about selling, and more about being there for consumers, and fostering a sense of community.


federica iliariaFederica is an Italian-American comms professional who previously worked in consulting before jumping into the communication world as a digital director. Former Bain Consultant and IE MBA graduate, she was CDO of Young & Rubicam in Milan, and is now Digital Strategy Director of Havas Media Group. Adjunct Professor of Digital & Mobile Marketing in Liuc Milan since 2015, she is also part of the IE HST faculty, a mentor in the IE Venture Lab, a startup advisor, and a lecturer and keynote speaker in the field of digital business and transformation.