Keys to Growth in a Marketing Career: A Conversation with Tara Wacks
I got the crazy good luck of finding out about an NYC best-kept networking secret for “young leaders”. The She Runs It Silent Auction.
A few months back, my CEO gave me a much-appreciated nudge to look into finding an advisor to help me with marketing strategy. After reaching out for help on the AMAZING slack channel Ladies Get Paid, I came across She Runs It, formerly Advertising Women of New York (AWNY), the oldest organization in the city for women in advertising.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but within about 5 minutes of arriving at their new member event, I had an amazing conversation with Julie Rollauer, Head of Industry at Google. And by the end of the night, Katharine Ricci, Director of Social at OMD agreed to be interviewed on our blog, and Priscilla Valls, VP National Vertical Sales at Pandora offered to help me in my search for an advisor. Like, whaaat? It was the most productive, least nerve-wracking networking event I’d ever been too.
That is until I attended their Silent Auction for Young Executives. Basically, if you’re under 30, you can go to this event and bid on spending time with “VIPs” who’ve donated a dinner, coffee meeting, or coaching session. This year they had 140 VIPs, and they were not messing around with who they invited. The bids started at $25 and by the end of the night, one of them went for almost $200.
My goal was to meet as many leaders in the marketing field as I could within a roughly $200 budget total. I thought this is a once a year chance to be able to meet and learn from industry leaders and get a better sense for what a creative/marketing career track might look like down the road. Apparently, I got a little carried away and managed to win 6 meetings! But, I’ve always felt behind on the mentorship, I figured, why not catch-up all at once.
So, I’m kicking off my Medium with a series highlighting what I’m learning from these amazing industry leaders. Let’s be real, my goal is to help this shit sink in and maybe really learn a thing or two.
So, here are some key points I picked up from Tara Wacks, SVP Marketing & Strategy at Medicx during our 2 hour (thank you Tara!) coffee chat.
Offer to help, and then over-deliver.
One question I asked Tara was, what were the biggest contributors to her career growth? Her immediate response, #1. People. #2. Being open to giving your all to whatever those people throw at you, even if it’s outside of the scope of your work. Early on in her career, Tara invested in building relationships with the people she admired at work by taking the time to strike up conversations outside of the day to day and making it clear that she was available to help them with whatever they needed. And, when they finally mentioned they could use some help, she always said yes, without questioning the scope of her work. And then, she over-delivered.
I have seen people, time and again, say “That’s not my job”. Whether it’s pitching in to clean up before a party, or helping out with a last minute proposal. Side-note, these people are rarely women.
And then, there are the kind of people who do whatever needs to get done. I’ve always felt conflicted on this issue because obviously, job descriptions are a crucial part of the contract an employee makes with an employer. But, when I’ve seen people push back on what isn’t in their “job description”, it seems so lazy. 99% of the time they are trying to get out of something they think is beneath them in some way, putting other people down to elevate themselves.
I can’t agree with Tara more, from a cultural and professional development standpoint.
Learn a lot of different skills early on, specialize later.
There are countless opinions out there about what the right career path in marketing should look like, and everyone does it differently. But, coming from the perspective of an industry veteran, Tara recommended taking the time your early to mid 20’s to be open to learning a variety of skills, and specializing in a track that you enjoy, or a type of company, later.
This point was particularly driving for me as I’ve been pretty nervous about having stayed at one small startup for 3 years now, when my friends have jumped around, building their networks and experiencing different environments. But, in talking with her I realized, I’ve actually been able to try out a lot. That’s one of the amazing things about finding a solid small start up and taking the risk of joining. In those three years, I’ve had direct experience working on:
- Sales pitches
- Investor decks
- Brand Guidelines, Strategy, and Positioning
- User Personas
- Marketing Events
- LinkedIn, Google and Facebook Ad Campaigns
- Inbound Marketing
- Gated Content Strategy
- Email Marketing
- A/B Testing
- Team Management
I could keep going. Point is, startups are an amazing place to wear many hats and get a breadth of knowledge, quickly.
Find something that drives you personally, not only will you find more success, you’ll be happier doing it.
I have been wondering quite a bit lately about how to take a more proactive approach with my career, or really, when to take it. I got the amazing good fortune of first working for my current CEO back in college as a freelance designer before he even started a company. When he got seed funding and wanted to bring me on full-time I was like… hell yea, let’s see what this startup thing is about. Which was totally the right move for me at the time.
But, thinking about what’s next, I’ve always wondered how to go about it. Tara’s recommended to first come up with a list of companies whose products, mission, or effect on the world drives me personally, then, think about the skills I want to improve on. This, of course, sounds amazing, and I definitely believe that the best way to get what you want is to put what you want out there. Now just to decide… what do I want?
Be open to where advice and mentorship might come from, think about the kind of expertise you’re looking for, not the surface level indicators like gender or job title.
Those who know me personally, know that I am a feminist and I’m pretty blunt about it. So I regularly get some kind of comment from guys at work about holding the door, or not knowing if they should let me off the elevator first, or whether they can call their laptop ‘ol girl’, on pretty much a daily basis. It’s a bit awkward but, if my presence can encourage people to think about gender dynamics more actively, I’ll take it.
In any case, this piece of feedback from Tara came up because I mentioned that I’d like to find mentors who are women. Since I started 3 years ago, my tech startup has been unable to hire a single senior level woman on the team. While the all dude leadership team is very well meaning, and generally, a pretty progressive group, there is something about being inspired by and learning from a bad-ass senior woman that I’ve really wanted to find.
But, Tara advised that I shouldn’t really think about it that way. Of course, she agreed, seeking out people with common experiences is important, but in terms of career growth and learning opportunities, some of her own best mentors are men, and opening my narrow field of vision is crucial to personal development, and definitely something I need to work on.
This is probably the piece of advice from Tara that I’ve continued to think about most. I know I have so much to learn, from so many places… maybe it’s less about having to let go of my search for more women who inspire me, and more about being open to inspiration and learning coming from anywhere. Or that, maybe I don’t need to intimately identify with people to embrace learning from their experiences. This looks so obvious writing it down but, some days, it’s less clear.
Fingers crossed I don’t get too many “why do you hate men” comments. For reals, I don’t. But maybe I am a little hungry for a different flavor of work environment because I’ve been in male-dominated companies for over 5 years. #life
This is my first piece on Medium so I doubt the algorithms will pick it up but, if you do happen to read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts! And follow me to get the rest of the posts in this series! Assuming I don’t spill coffee on them, coming up I’ll have some crazy great advice from Carl Fremont, Chief Digital Officer at MEC, June Wallach, SVP at GfK Consumer Life, Anna Griffin, SVP Corporate Marketing at CA Technologies, Rona Wexler, Career Coach, and Kinjil Mathur, CMO at Squarespace.