Young Change Makers: Why and How Lara Vandenberg of ‘Publicist’ Is Helping To Change Our World
Hire a diverse group of employees and set them up for long term success at the company by creating a structure of support and clear growth trajectories.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lara Vandenberg.
Lara Vandenberg is the CEO & Founder of Publicist, the company redefining the way brands hire Communications and Marketing talent. Publicist is the online marketplace to source premium pre vetted marketing and communication experts on demand. Solving a major pain point for the industry and as a thought-leader in the Future Of Work category, Lara is on a mission to transform the inefficiencies in marketing. Prior to Publicist and over the course of her career, Lara has led Communications & Marketing from high growth tech and consumer startups to large enterprises. Vandenberg was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and the B&T 30 Under 30 list for innovation in advertising.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, which is a beautiful city and I was fortunate enough to have a relatively carefree childhood. My mum was a flight attendant and my dad actually had a communications agency, so I was exposed to the industry from a really young age. Both industries are rooted in curiosity which became a trait instilled in me from a young age. I went to high school and college in Australia before moving to NY at the age of 21 for a job opportunity to open Westfield World Trade Center.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
An organization that made the big difference in my perception is a US organization called Women for Women International. Their work is at the critical intersection of women in conflict and they provide the skills, knowledge, and resources that create sustainable change for women, their families, and their communities. When I was 16 I actually founded a charity. I was really disturbed by the atrocities happening against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and wanted to support these women however I could. I organized two fashion shows while I was in high-school, which led to a donation of over $100,000 to hospitals in the Congo that specifically helped women be rehabilitated. And, full circle, I actually reached out to Women for Women in the process who ended up matching our donation dollar for dollar.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think people associate making a difference with really grand gestures. I believe this is only a small part of impact and people can make a difference 10 times a day with intentional actions. My definition of making a difference is leaving something in a better place than I found it. This could be picking up trash, smiling at someone, or donating time and resources to support a cause that matters to you.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Our mission at Publicist is to democratize access to an equitable talent pool in the marketing industry.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I feel very strongly about making a difference in creating a just and equitable workforce. Women and BIPOC professionals have been underrepresented in the marketing industry for most of its history. While some progress has been made, the majority of the industry relies on a limited network and word-of-mouth referrals for job opportunities, which time and time again blocks premium qualified talent from having visibility and securing opportunities they deserve.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
That moment happened when I realized the problem was so much bigger than me. I had worked on multiple sides of the marketing industry for nearly a decade, from agency world to startup to enterprise, and I kept running into the same pain points when I was hiring contract and freelance talent. I knew the demand was there and wanted to create an online marketplace specialized in connecting marketing and communications professionals to brands in a streamlined, tech-enabled way.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I failed a lot and learned the hard way. Once I shifted my perspective to be grateful for failure and view it as a building block to move forward in a stronger and more focused manner, I embraced it and became more willing to take calculated risks. If a person with an idea stays in the mindset that failure is something to fear, then they will talk themselves out of doing whatever it is they want to do. If you can shift that mindset to embrace experimentation and all the peaks and valleys that come with it, then failure will be less of something to fear and more of a regular occurrence that’s just part of the process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Well, I launched my company in the middle of a global pandemic, which has certainly been interesting. The most interesting part is how and where the team has settled. Initially I had a vision for a NYC office but I ended up moving to Puerto Rico indefinitely and made a few key hires in London and Texas so now our team is quite global. It’s certainly changed my outlook and I think it’s made us all more adaptive and flexible.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I started a tech company as a non-technical founder and when I began the stubborn side of me wanted to be able to do it all. So, I tried to become a coder from zero to 100 and it did not go well, which was quite comical for those around me. It taught me to recognize and focus on my strengths and hire for my weaknesses.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Many! My boss from my last job before starting Publicist was critical in my development as a leader. When I came to her and told her I was leaving to start my own company she actually convinced me to stay and build on the side until I had a product that I had successfully tested in the market. It was the single best advice I ever received and allowed me to build from a place of intention rather than desperation.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We get client testimonials all the time on our website which mostly center on the ways Publicist has given them the freedom to work how they always dreamed and pursue a lifestyle they never thought was possible. The gratitude of our community when they share these stories about how Publicist supports them in reaching their career goals is what keeps me inspired every day.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes! When it comes to creating equitable opportunities there are innumerable ways to support but a great place to start is to:
- Hire a diverse group of employees and set them up for long term success at the company by creating a structure of support and clear growth trajectories.
- Address the gender pay gap and ensure equality, transparency, and accountability.
- Commit to more representation in marketing. Advertising has a huge impact on how society portrays cultures and underrepresented groups. When companies have a diverse group of leaders, creatives, and people in decision making positions, campaigns are also more diverse. The beauty of advertising is that it can be a parallel of culture, so as marketers we have a big job to drive an equitable society forward.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- It’s a long game. Go slow and do things well and thoughtfully.
- There is no startup handbook. You must create your own and learn by doing.
- Entrepreneurship can be really lonely, build a support system early and lean on them often.
- If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
- Understand your superpower and focus your attention on that. Hire for your weaknesses.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Everyone has unique gifts they’ve been given to use in this lifetime to leave the world a better place. Hone in on your skills, identify what lights you up, and use that to have a positive impact on society. When you have a purpose rooted in impact then even the hard days become a little easier because you know the why behind what you’re working so hard for.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
My family! I’m Australian and haven’t seen them in over a year due to the pandemic. A big lunch at my parents’ house with my brother sounds incredible.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me at @laravandenberg and follow @publicistco for marketing tips and some daily career/life inspiration.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!