Focus On Faculty

Joe Phua

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I received my bachelor’s degree in cinema and media studies from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2002. After working in the Hollywood film industry in Los Angeles for a few years, including stints at MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures, I returned to graduate school, where I earned my master’s and Ph.D. degrees in communication from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2011.

Since 2011, I have been an assistant professor in the department of advertising and public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. I am also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, the UGA Obesity Initiative’s Persuasive Health Communication Strategies Team, Owens Institute for Behavioral Research, and a member of the UGA Graduate Faculty. Additionally, I am also a Center for Teaching and Learning Lilly Teaching Fellow.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I started at UGA as an assistant professor in August 2011, my first tenure-track job right after graduating with my Ph.D. degree. I took a cross-country road trip, driving from Los Angeles to Athens with all my belongings in the back of my SUV. Quite an adventure, it was.

My department (advertising and public relations) is one of the top-ranked programs in the country, so I am really glad to be here. I am very lucky to be able to work with some of the most prolific, well-known advertising and PR scholars in the field and call them my colleagues.

What are your favorite courses and why?

The courses I teach in digital and social media advertising strategies are pretty awesome. Every semester, students apply concepts from the class as they work in small groups to design a digital advertising campaign for a local small business. I think this gives them a real-world perspective on how advertising campaigns work, including interacting with a client, assessing their needs and suggesting feasible digital advertising ideas based on the client’s budget and concerns.

In the classes, we also examine and discuss the latest digital technologies used for advertising, including mobile apps, virtual reality games, social media, viral videos, native advertising and more. Digital technologies keep evolving, so I have students keep up-to-date with the latest digital advertising news through hashtags and articles I curate on Twitter. We discuss the latest news during class and brainstorm ideas about how to incorporate these technologies in real-world, feasible advertising and marketing campaigns.

What interests you about your field?

I am interested in the psychology of persuasion and social influence through digital media. If you are at all familiar with advertising, or if you are a fan of the TV show “Mad Men,” you will know that advertising is about persuading someone to like a brand or product through paid messages in the media. There are various techniques used by advertisers to achieve this, such as through establishing authority, social proof, scarcity and consistency.

With the advent of social media, mobile devices and wearable tech, people are becoming increasingly connected to and engaged with others, as well as brands, online. My research is concerned with finding out more about how people psychologically connect with brands and products online, including ways to engage and influence an audience to like and follow brands digitally, such as through social interaction with friends, celebrities and other opinion leaders.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

I have grown tremendously as a teacher and researcher at UGA. For teaching, I was named a CTL Lilly Teaching Fellow in 2012. Being part of this prestigious teaching fellowship has been awesome because I get to meet and learn from some of the best teaching faculty at UGA, including many Russell and Meigs award winners. The program, led by Jean Martin-Williams and John Schramski, has helped me hone my teaching skills and has made me a better teacher.

For research, I have been lucky to be accepted into the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research (OIBR) faculty Grantsmanship Development Program. Working with faculty, including Lillian Eby and Steve Kogan, I have been able to build my research portfolio through learning about and applying for extramural research grants from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

My research is very forward-looking, as it involves examining digital technologies and their applications for advertising and marketing. Therefore, I am inspired to share my research findings with my students and encourage them to always keep learning about what is new out there and come up with ways to harness these emerging technologies for advertising and marketing. The key, I believe, is to fully embrace the future, and to always keep an eye on what is in at the current moment and what is next.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

Through their classroom experience with me, I hope my students gain a thorough understanding and knowledge of how to build a brand online and how to harness emerging digital technologies to advertise and market the brand. It is also important to me that they understand that we are living in an increasingly globalized world economy, and advertising and marketing impacts economic activities all over the world. So they should keep up with world news, tech news, industry news and pop culture news and have a pulse on what is happening around them at any moment in time.

Describe your ideal student.

My ideal student is creative, forward-thinking and an innovator. He or she thinks outside the box to come up with creative, innovative solutions to solve world problems.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

Running is one of my hobbies. On Saturday mornings, I usually run on campus with a group of UGA faculty, whom I consider my close friends. It is nice to explore UGA at this time because you get to admire so many gorgeous parts of campus you don’t usually notice, particularly the historical buildings and beautiful gardens around North Campus, the Arch, the tranquility of Lake Herrick and Memorial Park, and the lovely antebellum houses around Milledge Avenue and Five Points. During football weekends in the fall, campus also lights up on Saturday mornings with lots of tailgating, music and festivities, which is really awesome to be part of.

Every October, I take part in the Athens half-marathon. The route cuts through campus and ends with a victory lap around Sanford Stadium. It is an awesomely cool experience. I highly encourage everyone to try it.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and I have two toddler boys, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, so they keep us pretty busy. During the weekends, you will usually find us outside with our kids, like going to the Athens Farmers Market, feeding ducks by the pond at Memorial Park, admiring bears and owls at Bear Hollow Zoo, and checking out local attractions like the State Botanical Garden. We also enjoy walking around our neighborhood in Five Points. My boys currently love when I pull them around in their favorite little red wagon. Besides that, we love good food, so we are always checking out the newest, trendiest restaurants downtown during the weekends. 

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

“Confessions of an Advertising Man” by David Ogilvy. Pearls of wisdom from the godfather of modern advertising. A true inspiration.

Proudest moment at UGA?

I am proud of every moment that I get to work with colleagues and students in my department and at the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Ever since I started as an assistant professor here in 2011, I have been extremely blessed to be in the company of such a great group of people. I go to work every day with a wide grin on my face, and I am truly thankful for my fellow faculty, staff and students at Grady who make my job so enjoyable and satisfying. Therefore, every moment at UGA is my proudest moment.
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