Although they may sometimes be underrepresented in the sector, thousands of women are leading incredible portfolios within the marketing ecosystem and many of them are quickly changing the narrative in North America. On this International Women’s Day, The Sponsorship Space had a chance to gather career insights from 20 leading female sponsorship executives who are smashing the glass ceiling in our industry. Our team asked each executive to answer the following:
Question #1: What advice to you have for the next generation of female marketers?
Question #2: If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you do differently?
Here’s what they shared!
#1: My advice for female marketers entering the industry is to quite simply work hard and find ways to create your own opportunities — this will pay dividends. It’s also important to build and nurture your network, while always remembering to pay it forward by taking the time to meet with other women who may be curious about your career path. Finally, be authentic and stay true to yourself.
#2: Looking back at the beginning of my career, I underestimated the importance of creating deeper connections with my colleagues and partners. In meetings I was always striving to be efficient with others’ time, and tended to jump right into the work content, which meant missing the opportunity to get to know the person on a more human level. My advice- Take the time to ask somebody how their weekend was, before launching into the meeting agenda- they will appreciate that you asked, and you will be on the road to building a meaningful relationship with this colleague which will be rewarding for you on both a personal and professional level.
Jacqueline Ryan (Vice President, Sponsorship and Philanthropy at Scotiabank)
#1: Build your list of advocates and look outside of your organization to do so. I recently made it a priority to diversify my circle of who I was doing business with to include volunteer work with various Advisory Boards and the like. By doing this, I have broadened my learning opportunities by seeking experience or relationships with people I may not otherwise have had access to. I learned a ton about fundraising from my kids school, continue to keep my PR skills sharp by serving on a Communications Committee for Music Canada Live and work alongside industry leaders I was dying to meet when I first started out, with my work on the MusiCounts Advisory Board. Identify people to advocate for you, help you navigate the landscape and point out opportunities you may not necessarily have thought of for yourself.
#2: I would probably have sought out opportunities earlier in my career to oversee P&L responsibilities. My most recent manager has a serious finance background that I know I will benefit from. While I have always effectively managed budgets, the more quantitative part of your business you can oversee will only benefit your profile, skillset and future opportunities.
Melissa Bubb-Clarke (Senior Director, Global Partnerships at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment)
#1: Stay ahead of technology and trends by continuously reading various trade publications and leading business sources. Embrace and study industry-specific analytics, but make sure you know your customer personally! Be open to change, try new ideas and never underestimate the power of technology and novel concepts. Stay on top of influencers in your marketplace and deliberately target them to earn their attention.
#2: I would have been better prepared to develop business strategy, if I worked in multiple departments within the companies I worked as opposed to working only in sales, marketing and advertising. I would have learned to play golf right out of the gate. I would have pursued self-promotion and leveraged social media to promote my professional successes and unique ideas that I developed for the female sports fan industry. I would have taken on as many public speaking opportunities as possible early on in my career. Finally, I would have taken Warren Buffett up on his offer to mentor me!
Laurie Miller Voke (Founder and President at Female Fan Association)
There’s not necessarily anything I would change, but my advice is to start networking and getting out to as many conferences as possible. There are so many great, progressive conferences for women, especially women in sports and technology. There is a movement of women supporting each other in the sports and technology space, so take advantage of all the tools you have to network. And look for women mentors. There are more of us emerging, so don’t be afraid to reach out and network with as many women as possible in your field.
Angelina Lawton (Founder and CEO at Sportsdigita)
#1: Just as you think about the brand essence of your clients, and about developing campaigns that highlight that brand essence, think about your own personal brand and how you market yourself in the professional community. Take some time to identify what your personal and professional strengths are, and where you want to go in your career. From there, think through what “grassroots” marketing you can do to help elevate your own profile within the industry and to start on the road towards your career goals. As you develop your plan, highlight what is authentically you, and use that as the basis of your profile; you don’t need to be someone other than you to be successful, but rather the best version of yourself. For example, if networking isn’t your strength, focus on writing client alerts to showcase your work product. Finally, think about what it is that you hope people are saying about you when you are not in the room; what do you want to be known for? Use that as a guidepost when you are shaping your own behaviors (and, in particular, when you might be discouraged); your impact on others is one of, if not the, most important thing you can contribute through your career.
#2: If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would avoid being known as the person who says “yes” to everything. While being a team player is critically important, balance being a team player with what it is that you are interested in and what will help you grow and develop in your career. Overall, bolstering your own skills and putting your talents to the highest and best use will help strengthen the team more than if you just say yes to whatever is asked of you.
Megha Parekh (Senior Vice President & Chief Legal Officer at Jacksonville Jaguars)
As I reflect back on my career, the one thing that I wish I would have started much earlier was building my network. When I started my career this wasn’t a key area of focus for me and I was late out of the gate in the networking. Having a solid network is key for multiple reasons; knowledge exchange, best practices, business opportunities, etc. For those young and comers, my advice is to build your network early, nurture it and make sure that you have a diversified background. Marketing is weaved into every aspect of business and its key to be part of every side of the conversation.
Elisa Padilla (Chief Marketing Officer at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment)
#1: The next generation of female marketers has a huge opportunity. The momentum is shifting in their favor. My advice is to take advantage of this change in our culture, but do not take it for granted. No matter what the mainstream narrative around equality for women, you are the person responsible for your own career. Prove your value to a company by generating results. Also, be authentic. Customers, employers, media and the general public are all demanding authenticity these days. Plus it is a lot more fun to go to work when you can just be yourself.
#2: I started my career 20 years ago with extreme ambition and intense focus. I knew exactly what I wanted and I went after it. I wanted to climb the ladder and do it quickly. I was the definition of overconfident. Looking back, I should have been more patient. Even though my intentions were good, my tone often came across as too aggressive or arrogant. I had not earned the respect of my peers yet. That takes time. It is OK to be assertive, but there is a fine line, especially for women, between being assertive and being that ugly B word.
Kimberly Meesters (Sponsorship Consultant & Former General Manager of the NASCAR Sprint Cup sponsorship)
Always maintain your integrity and values. The business world, and sports business world, is a very small one. How you treat people and how you support others will ultimately matter more than the latest corporate ‘win’ that you get. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Lift as you rise. Every step leads to the next and there is value to every experience, whether you see it immediately or not. Trust the process and be true to your values.
Jillian Svensson (Vice President, Business Development & Operations, You Can Play)
#1: Looking back on my career gives me a sense of satisfaction to the point where even if I had the chance, I would not go back and do anything differently. I am proud of my accomplishments and the hard work it took to realize them, but even more than that, I am thankful for the people who helped me get where I am today. Nobody gets anywhere without the help of others and some great mentors, and I consider myself and my career to be a example of this fact. I feel like I earned my success, but I also credit my success to the many extraordinary people who have guided me both personally and professionally.
#2: The best advice I can give future female marketers is to learn from your superiors/mentors and always challenge yourself to do more and to do better. I have found that the quickest way to the top is to emulate the most successful people around you. These people are successful because they have made the right moves and do the right things, and although mistakes are inevitable and learning from your mistakes is critical, the best thing is making as few mistakes as possible. This can only happen when you pay attention to what the masters are doing right. The other thing is to make sure you are always challenging yourself. Ultimately we need to grow our career and our abilities beyond what we have learned from the masters, and the only way to accomplish this is by setting a high bar, and then exceeding our own expectations.
Andrea Pagnanenlli (Executive Vice President, Venue & Event Strategy at Los Angeles Football Club)
As I reflect on my career in sponsorship, I feel very lucky to have worked for strong, smart female leaders that believed in my abilities and gave me opportunities to be challenged. Per Sponsorship Space’s request, here are some random thoughts for those female marketers just starting out in their careers…
As you consider positions / organizations, look for women in the organization that are 5 years ahead of you and ask yourself is that where you want to be? I was lucky enough to find that in my first job in music sponsorship with Marlyse Fant — whom I’m now lucky enough to be working with again. And as well at the NBA, having the opportunity to learn from the talents of Amy Brooks and Rachael Jacobson who are still there and leading departments. This was the main reason I stayed at the league 10+ years before leaving last year for the more flexible lifestyle of a consultant.
As you jump into your first role, make sure you make every interaction count. Think of all of the people that dedicate time to provide you with informational interviews and introductions to colleagues/friends. Write hand written thank you notes — a lost art form and always appreciated. Pay those coffee meetings forward by taking time to help others looking for opportunities. As people advance in their careers, they will remember your kindness. I still have an executive who brings up my hand written note from 15 years ago whenever we meet.
Early in my career, I was so focused on impressing my boss with how hard I was working and the pressures of the job that I wasn’t as diligent with networking OUTSIDE the organization. Make sure you’re making contact with at least one person per week OUTSIDE your bubble. Attend local marketing professional mixers, ask a former colleague you admired to coffee, reach out to your former professors and ask them for interesting alumnus to meet in similar fields, ask your boss for ideas on who would be valuable to meet — it’s so easy and you never know what doors these conversations open down the road. Take the time to thank and check in with those contacts that impact you most from time to time. And always offer in the conversation if there are ways you can be of help to them with introductions and ideas. They will appreciate the offer!
Happy International Women’s Day to all!
Wendy Morris (Sponsorship Consultant & Former Vice President, Team Marketing & Business Operations at NBA)
#1: My general advice to businesswomen starts with the idea of not settling. Women have a tendency to underestimate not only their value, but also their skills. We are driven to be “perfectly suited” for every opportunity when that perfection is likely not required to get what you want. This involves taking risks, being confident and knowing in your heart and mind that you can handle whatever is put in front of you. Walk the talk and the rest will follow.
Ask for what you want, don’t limit your request to get an easy “yes”. Create your opportunities and don’t wait for them to fall into your lap. There are numerous factors that contribute to your success. It is not solely dependent on skill, relationships, timing or luck. It’s a mix of all elements and you must be alert and aware in order to capitalize on opportunities.
And ultimately, treat people with respect whether they are above you or below you in the hierarchy. The best results come from a team of people who are not only talented, but are willing to rely on and trust each other to gain the best outcome.
#2: There is no question I would take more vacations. I became an expert at never taking vacations. They are important for recharging and reconnecting with the people and things that are important. I would also have taken more advantage of my business travel and extended it for leisure purposes. It’s great to take an extra day or two and explore some of the interesting cities and countries that I have visited in my career.
Jennifer Carper (Chief Client Officer at Engine Shop)
#1: Don’t be so focused on doing your job that you forget to build relationships and learn from your peers, Directors, VPs, your executive team. So much of upward progression is not only through learning and experience, but being at the right place at the right time. And when that time comes, you want to make sure you have a good rapport with the decision makers.
#2: Don’t change a thing! Every step you take or mistake you make builds your character and expertise, so keep taking chances and learning new things, you won’t regret it. Keep focused and go all in, but once you’ve learned what you can from a role, look for new opportunities to build who you are and what you can offer to continue developing a career that’s unique to only you.
Chloë Pugh (Acting Director, Corporate Partnerships — Sales at Toronto International Film Festival)
Reena Chohan (Acting Director, Corporate Partnerships — Accounts at Toronto International Film Festival)
#1: While you build your career, build your life. Make time for the things that matter to you…friends, family, travel, fitness. I see too many people so focused on their careers that they become unhealthy, lose touch with important relationships. Plus having a wide range of interests makes you a more interesting and happy person which reflects well in the workplace.
#2: Ask for help. Now that I’m almost 50, I spend a lot more time mentoring others, particularly women and I really do enjoy it. I wish I had reached out to people I respected for advice earlier in my career. I assumed they were too busy but I’ve learned that leaders are pretty generous when they are being asked for their help. Don’t be afraid to ask for their time, pick their brains and learn from their experience. I first saw this quote before my first big trek a few years ago and it really resonated with me, “Facing a challenging climb isn’t always about making your own path. Sometimes the best guidance comes from those that have walked before you”.
Monique Giroux (Vice President, Sponsorships & Strategic Partnerships at CIBC)
#1: As marketers, it’s so critical to leverage insights to know your consumer, their world, their dreams and hopes — find a way to put yourself in their shoes. It’s so easy to jump on board with the hottest technologies, but you shouldn’t forget where all of the richness and strategy originates from. In terms of your career, try different things — find a company that is a great fit for you and you will thrive. This starts at the interview process, so look for companies with values that match with your personal values and goals. For me it was based around collaboration, a winning mentality, teamwork, ambition, values innovation, and putting consumers first. If people value what you bring and bringing out the best in you, you are free to think about producing amazing work. Your time as a young marketer is all about learning, practicing and building your toolbox of skills.
#2: In the beginning, I was different from my peers. I was concerned/trying real hard to be more like others and beating myself up. In the end, things that make you different, will make you great and interesting. Embrace those qualities. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but if I learned to embrace my unique qualities, I would have doubted myself less and been more confident in bringing ideas to the table.
Emma Eriksson (VP Marketing, Cereal & Snacks at General Mills)
My advice is to be more fearless and take risks. I think many people early in their careers play it safe because they are scared to make mistakes and often shy away from taking risks or sharing their opinions in fear of “looking stupid.” You should focus on doing the things you are good at really well, but also there is so much to learn by voicing your thoughts — you show initiative, passion, interest and its perfectly OK if you’re wrong — you are learning. Ultimately this openness will help you establish your credibility to become an expert in your field and to grow in life and career.
Take risks, use your voice, fail often, be humble and LOVE TO LEARN!
Kathleen Onuma Murray (VP, Global Sponsorships at SAP)
Business is ultimately about getting results. What’s equally important, and how great leaders set themselves apart from the rest, is how they go about getting these results:
- Proper work ethic, attention to detail, process and preparation
- Acting with integrity and treating others with respect
- Exercising humility and restraint
Nicole Bienert-Metzger (Former VP Global Partnerships, Activation and Analytics at Miami Dolphins)
#1: My advice for the next generation of marketers — female or male — would be never to confuse activity with progress. Marketers often believe the more noise you create, the greater the potential you are surrounding your consumer, but fewer, smarter, more impactful efforts will always cut through more meaningfully.
#2: I would spend more time thinking about the long game, which sometimes means doing the parts of marketing that aren’t as much fun or don’t allow you to stretch your creative muscles. Being a well rounded marketer before you make the decision to focus on a niche subset of marketing will allow for greater career momentum down the line.
Lauren Fritts (Director, Global Marketing at Gatorade)
#1: Be authentic and know your audience while relaying a message that the consumer wants. Knowing wants and needs is essential for us as individuals and marketing is just that concept amplified by millions. See people as your allies and while we are in a “selfie” era, true strength and leadership comes in working as a team, and through the leveraging of assets such as human capital, technology and the power of passion.
#2: Be fearless, listen to my inner gut, speak up more, ask more questions.
Elisa Gaudet (Founder of International Women’s Golf Day & President at Executive Golf International)
#1: Find an industry you are passionate about and find a career in it. When you live, breath and believe in what you do it doesn’t seem like work. Once you are in, be human. Scientific studies show females on average have a higher EQ than our male counterparts. Use this enhanced social awareness to read customer demands and to lead your organization.
#2: If I could go back, I would ask more questions and listen to the answers. I thought I had all the answers and that asking for help would make me seem week, but now I realize soliciting input could have helped me avoid some wrong turns along the way!
Brandi Bloodworth Connolly (Head of Global Marketing at Connor Sports & Sport Court)