Remote Career Development: Erin Hutchinson Of Merkle On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

David Liu
Authority Magazine


Leaders need to be open to adjusting and have a certain level of flexibility and willingness to change where needed to meet market shifts, customer demands, and employee needs.

Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaborating with others, and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Hutchison, Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Merkle.

With 19 years of marketing experience, Erin has spent her career developing brand marketing strategies that create better user experiences, extend marketing thought leadership across media and channel, drive awareness, and ultimately connect consumers with a brand.

A recognized marketing leader with cross-industry experience in developing marketing strategies and building high performing teams, Erin has built and developed several award-winning marketing programs, which are consistently recognized as best in class in the industry.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Growing up, my dad was a commercial pilot for a Canadian airline. He frequently invited me to join him on his international trips. In our travels, I saw countless historical landmarks, cosmopolitan city centers, and rural villages in countries all over the world. I was exposed at a young age to so many different cultures and languages and ways of thinking.

Looking back, it all drives home the message that this world is a very big place, and B2B marketing is a very small piece of my bigger worldview. But it is what I do for a living, and it’s no surprise that this life of travel has had a big influence on how I do it. I still love to travel. I love to study people. I enjoy talking to people in other countries and learning from their experiences. It helps me to understand how campaigns resonate in one country and not another, how customers behave in different markets, and it helps me remain grounded in what customer experience management is all about, which is people.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

I believe change has always been at the center of our work in the marketing industry, and it always will be. Changes in technology and society have always led to shifts in customer expectations and in the ways that marketers deliver their messages to people. We’ve always strived to stay ahead of these demands, and in recent years, the pace of change has only accelerated. So, as we look ahead 10+ years, what will stay the same — or more likely increase — will be the need to focus constantly on innovation, collaboration, and an enthusiasm for new perspectives.

One area where I think we’ll continue to see differences is the role that sustainability will play in business. We’ve already started to see an emphasis on it in recent years, but the responsible use of the planet’s natural resources will no longer be a “nice to have” but a baseline requirement. It will be a focal point, both for the companies we work for and the companies we do business with. Within our organization, there is a consistent drumbeat and expectation from our CEO, Wendy Clark, that as marketers and advertisers, we must play a critical role in shaping consumer behavior to encourage conscious consumption. People will be expecting offices to be powered by renewable energy and their business practices to be supported by sustainable practices. The “carbon neutral footprint” will be more than a buzz phrase, but an achievable state of being. And clients will expect measurable and reportable results. Merkle’s parent company dentsu has committed to reducing our emissions by 90% by 2040 and continuing to pursue the decarbonization of the remaining 10% until we can claim net zero.

Another growing trend that will continue to evolve over the coming decade is the practice of machine learning and ethical artificial intelligence. It’s incumbent on users of ML and AI to use it responsibly, in ways that can identify and weed out biases in algorithms and avoid discriminatory actions, providing the best, most ethical experiences for customers. We’ll see this across marketing and also in the workplace, informing and driving meaningful recruiting, employee communications, and human resources experiences.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Especially in this time of the “Great Resignation,” it is important to focus on the total employee experience. Reflect on what’s important to employees and understand the market forces and trends that are driving their satisfaction levels. For example, for many employees, aspects like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and sustainability have become as important as compensation and advancement potential. Employees want to work with organizations that are doing this work, measuring it, and showing the results.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Staying in the same vein, it will be imperative that employers keep up with employee expectations around culture and sustainability. It is a new world of hybrid working, and that brings with it certain challenges and opportunities when it comes to maintaining and meeting employee expectations.

As we’re settling into this next phase of the pandemic, organizations are realizing that remote and hybrid working have become a more permanent business construct for many, and what originally began as a temporary state of adaptability has become a more permanent reality. Managing the processes, procedures, and expectations of all employees, including those who are fully remote, those in offices, and those operating in a hybrid way, across the long term will continue to be an area of focus that employers will need to be constantly focusing on and adjusting to..

As a very foundational step, as businesses work to reconcile constant, sweeping market changes as well as evolving employee and customer expectations, it’s imperative that 5–10-year plans are set, are solid, and are communicated. In order to remain focused on the business while keeping up with changing expectations, companies will need a clear North Star that they unwaveringly navigate toward, even as short-term adjustments are made to react to more immediate market and social changes that arise along the way.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

There are many positive outcomes that have come out of working from home for the past year. I think organizations and employees should be extremely proud of the work that was accomplished and the new ways of working that were imagined, implemented, and will be part of how we do business for the foreseeable future. This “global experiment” has proven to be a successful option and offers a great deal of opportunity and flexibility for employees. It also opens employers to a virtually limitless pool of qualified employees, no longer bound by geography. And for both employees and employers, it has prompted a focus on developing and learning about their organization’s corporate culture and finding ways to share that and be part of it in a virtual environment.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

I have been keenly aware of a shift in the workplace toward purpose. Employees, customers, vendors, and partners want to know that an organization’s cultural identity represents the qualities that are important to them. Qualities like compassion, empathy, social awareness, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and so on. And in today’s market, these qualities really do have a material impact on decisions and how we feel about the organizations we work with and work for.

This notion spans all industries. Socially conscious organizations should be sure to find ways to communicate their involvement, how they’re measuring, and provide updates on their progress along the journey with their stakeholders — both internal and external. And two-way dialog should be encouraged, considering different viewpoints and encouraging respectful conversations in which everyone feels heard and learns from one another.

It’s important to reflect your organization’s human side. Let your employees and customers know your values, your focus on and work toward being a positive contributor to society, and how you’re celebrating the important contributions of a diverse workforce. This focus progresses organizations to a place where they have employees who are proud to work with them, and where they have clients, prospective clients, and partners who are aligned with these beliefs and serve as advocates.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We’re in a different place than we were two years ago. We were forced to adapt, and we did it with a great deal of success. And many of the most reactionary changes that were put in place have now been adopted as the norm. My greatest source of optimism is knowing that there is no end to innovation. Necessity truly is the mother of invention, and adversity, like we’ve seen over the past two years really, can bring out the best in your teams, shed light on the unique strengths in each team member, and create an environment ripe for accelerated innovation. I can only expect that we are going to continue to innovate, find more efficient ways of working, continually improve processes, and develop the future of elevated consumer and employee experiences.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

As we are all collectively recognizing that mental health is just as important as physical health, many organizations are making it one of their top priorities. My organizations (Merkle and dentsu) are offering expanded access to tools, apps, programs, and benefits for employees to focus on their mental health and spiritual wellbeing. Employees can access resources on topics like nutrition, motivation, and developing healthy habits. They can attend virtual sessions featuring meditation, yoga, stretching, and virtual team workouts. They can even get counseling through employee assistance programs.

When we focus on awareness of mental health and make it part of the employee experience, mindsets will shift, helping to remove the stigma of mental health issues. Acknowledging the need for employees to take the time they need to recharge, and making space for them to do that, especially during these times of collective stress, creates a positive, supportive, and inclusive environment. Dentsu and its member companies have also adopted a Mental Health Awareness holiday with an extra day off in October, which coincides with World Mental Health Day, to do just that.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines?

  • Leaders need to approach their jobs in ways that build the optimal experience for the people they lead (employees) and serve (customers), while simultaneously being mindful of their business commitments. With the right mindset and planning, it sets up a win-win-win situation, where all parties benefit from successful outcomes.
  • Leaders need to be open to adjusting and have a certain level of flexibility and willingness to change where needed to meet market shifts, customer demands, and employee needs.
  • Leaders need to ensure that they understand what employees want and need — not only for their current jobs but for their career paths — and do their best to meet and exceed those expectations to retain their best talent. Employees should feel like they’re in a space where they are valued, respected, and can do their best work, and where there’s an opportunity to advance in their careers.

How do company cultures need to evolve?

Throughout corporate history, until our whole world went virtual, culture was largely built around in-person moments, rituals, and totems with co-workers, as modeled and rolled out by leadership. This time together and these shared experiences helped shape attitudes and behaviors that reflected the collective values of the organization. The hybrid workplace has meant a major shift in the way companies build and radiate culture. As we made the transition to virtual working, it became important to adapt and find new ways for culture to be felt by employees, including involving employees in owning that culture and finding new ways to make it real. As leaders, we must empower this change. Encourage people to take initiative to make connections with coworkers and to help us craft the next generation of an organization’s culture, based on where employees are and how they engage.

As an example, even with a decrease of in-person interactions since we’ve been working from home, our video conferences today often connect co-workers more closely by making space for them to provide glimpses into aspects of their personal lives — virtually inviting each other into our homes, complete with families, pets, our children’s friends and more! With changes like this, also come a great sense of humanity in our new way of working, through which we have the opportunity to get to know our co-workers in a different way than we ever did before, and these connections, though not taking place in person in an office, are a new way of building strong relationships and team dynamics.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“One small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.” Coming into the day with a positive outlook can change your whole mindset — or at least offer a way to frame your perspective in a positive way! By going into the day with a positive mindset, you set yourself up to see things & respond to those things with a positive lens. I try to carry that mindset with me throughout my day, both from a work and personal perspective.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.



David Liu
Authority Magazine

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication