How 3 Women Broke Barriers in the Marketing World

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Throughout life, we get asked that question a zillion times. The cowboy answer was adorable when you were five. An Instagram star was apparently “unrealistic” when you were fourteen.

Then we get to that stage in our lives where we actually have to answer. A real, practical answer. We’re 18, 19, 20 years old and are supposed to know how we want to spend the next 50 years of our lives. It’s a daunting question if you ask us.

On second thought, maybe it’s not the right question at all. What do you want to be? Nah, instead ask yourself what do you want to achieve. Ask how you want to impact people’s lives. Ask how your accomplishments should be heard in the workplace.

This month we are highlighting three women who have made strides to become leaders within the marketing industry. These ladies are spilling the beans on the questions you should be asking yourself. Especially, if you’re just starting out in your career.

Hear more from Sofiya Deva, Vice President of ZenMedia; Leilani Williams, Director of Social Media at Artisan Council, and Cassie Gonzalez, Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch.

Q1: What goals did you give yourself at the start of your career to get to where you are today?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“I found my entry point into thinking about my career by thinking about communities of purpose. In other words, I thought more about who I wanted to surround myself with and what change I wanted to create in the world than just what I wanted my job title to be.

I knew I wanted to be intellectually challenged, creatively engaged, and help shape culture. I cared about the arts, the way we communicated ideas, and what norms we implicitly agreed on.

When I conveyed as much during job interviews, I remember it was a little confusing for the interviewer because it disrupted the usual script.

Eventually, I learned to bridge, so I could express both what kind of enterprise I was interested in being a part of and what specific skill sets I brought to the table, and of course, the kind of compensation I felt I deserved.

Looking back, I’m really glad I had a sense of the big picture though because it’s helped me to not limit myself prematurely and to discover fulfillment in unexpected places.”

Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“I don’t remember setting any exact goals right at the beginning of my career, because I wasn’t 100% sure if the path I was headed down was the right one for me.

Straight out of university with a Communications degree, I wanted to work in the music or entertainment industry (I thought in PR), and so I landed a job at Universal Music in administration. But when I got the lay of the land and realized the role that the marketing team played as opposed to the publicity team, I knew it had more substance that felt right for me.

Despite not knowing exactly where it would take me, the goal I stood by was just to keep doing my best. I try not to compare myself to other people in similar positions, because every human is so different, and if I can just be the best I can be I will be satisfied.

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When the music industry wasn’t feeling right for me, I used it as an opportunity to travel and explore, which eventually put me on my path today. My boyfriend (now husband) and I moved to New York, fell in love with the city, and 5 years later, we’re still here. I set personal goals every year now for the agency and for myself; now that things are clearer in my career path. In the beginning of our agency, those goals were mostly to just give it all we had (whatever that meant), and if it didn’t work out, we could always go home. That evolved into things like signing more clients, diversifying the type of business we brought in, specializing, identifying a strong mission and vision.

My major underlying personal goals have evolved into helping others grow in their careers. I didn’t have a strong mentor in the early stages of my career, and I envied those that did, and want people to think of me that way when they look back at their early career in 10 years.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“When I first started my career, I promised myself three things:

  1. Flexibility – I wanted to find a job that allowed me to live my life and make time for my family.
  2. Creativity – I needed a position that would allow me to be creative and exercise the right side of my brain.
  3. A Challenge – I never wanted to be too comfortable and bored.”

Q2: How do you keep yourself and your team motivated?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“It’s a question I ask myself regularly and don’t pretend to have fully figured out. I start, however, by recruiting people to join my team who are passionate about what we do, who would read marketing blogs for fun, for example, and are genuinely curious about the ins/outs of our business. I look for natural learners, critical thinkers, and collaborators.

Beyond that, I try to motivate individual team members according to what’s important to them. For one person, that may be recognition. For another, it may be the chance to do interesting work or build their portfolio. Whenever there’s an exchange of real value, I think motivation follows.”

Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“Positive reinforcement is key to encouraging good performance and motivation. You need to call out even the obvious moments when someone has done well or achieved something.

I went to a really inspiring leadership training earlier this year, and it made me realize that my team seeing me work late into the night and over the weekends was anti-motivating; that’s not the type of leadership that would inspire them. Even though I still work long hours and every weekend, since then I make sure to schedule emails and IM’s so as not to disrupt people’s off-work hours, and to really celebrate them taking time off, and leading by example by really disconnecting when I am on vacation.

Our team is really incredible; a majority-female team with diverse strengths, but every now and then it’s certainly a challenge to keep them all motivated, especially when dealing with tricky situations.

I’m really proud of all of the work our agency puts out into the world, so I make sure they know when they have done a good job. In times when I’ve had to work extra hard to keep my team motivated, it’s particularly hard to stay motivated myself, but I find it helpful to focus on being practical and grounded, and taking stock of what really matters. Things happen that can feel like the end of the world to someone on the team, so it is important to me that they feel heard, and supported.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“At OnePitch, we understand a “WHY,” or reason for doing something will always guide us to figure out how it will be done. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or feel like quitting, I always have to come back to my personal ‘WHY.'”

Q3: How do you communicate the worth of your work to a male majority board that doesn’t fully understand your job functions?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“I’m fortunate enough to work for a women-owned and women-led firm, but I do think in the business world at large, there’s a clash of masculine and feminine values and I care deeply about integrating the best of both viewpoints. Being in a leadership position teaches you that logic and emotion, relationships and self-sufficiency each have their own place, and diversity (of thought, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race) enriches the conversation and directly and positively impacts the bottom line.

If the worth of my work is in question, I want to first question the assumptions that are determining what’s worthy and bring any implicit biases to the surface, then reference the key goals of the organization, and advocate for how my efforts are translating to impact.”

Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“I’m fortunate in our agency that the male leadership is on the more aware and inclusive end of the spectrum, so thankfully I don’t run into this issue too often. We have a strong feminist attitude at our agency, so we strive to be extremely aware of issues and needs.

I feel valued in the sense that they really listen to me when it comes to understanding the needs of the team, but I’m aware our agency is unlike other agencies in that sense, so I do like to prepare my team for a time in the future when they might encounter such things.

I make sure they know that men are more likely to promote their own interests and celebrate their wins than women are, so they’ll need to call out any wins, big or small, more often than they think necessary. Women traditionally expect management to notice their good performance, but generally speaking, it’s not always the case.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“Regardless of who you are talking to, male or female, old or young, numbers do not lie. If you can translate your efforts to align with another person’s goals, use hard data to back up your claims, then you can justify your worth.”

Q4: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken within your career?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“The biggest risk I’ve taken in my career is being authentic. Nothing feels scarier, especially if your interests, feelings, and strengths don’t fit neatly into a pre-determined mold.

The irony of course is that authenticity paves its own path. I’ve gotten to marvel at how being an itinerant poet, yoga teacher, and community organizer has helped me build the very skill set I need to thrive as an executive at a cutting-edge new media consultancy.”

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Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“Quitting my stable job to try my luck in a new country! I knew at my first job in marketing at Universal Music that it didn’t feel right for me. I didn’t feel challenged in the right ways; I just couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was until I had left and started to be challenged in a totally new way.

We’re constantly challenging ourselves to innovate and be the best, and that makes me happy. When I quit my job at Universal, I was told it was an interesting move at that stage of my career. That decision now has me managing a team of more than 20 people in 4 cities around the world, winning agency-level awards and making waves in the digital scene in New York City. If a risk feels right, bet on yourself; you know yourself better than anyone else.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“Joining the team at OnePitch was a huge risk for me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Growing up, I was always encouraged to pursue careers that guaranteed stability and comfort such as medicine, law, or financial services (I was actually a nursing student before I switched to business).

I left my very safe insurance industry job to join a tiny company that hadn’t launched yet and instantly fell in love with the startup mentality. I became fascinated with finding creative ways to reach a common goal, even if it means failing a few times along the way.”

Q5: Where do you see the future of marketing going? And what has you excited now?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“I think we’re at the beginning of a golden age of marketing right now, because brands have more direct access to their consumers than ever, and with that access, comes a new code of ethics and a new strategy for success: empathy, and meaningful connections become imperative.

These ideas that sounded good in the past but didn’t always make business sense now directly impact the bottom line and help a brand stand out in a values-based identity ecosystem.

I see the future of marketing as essentially integrative. It won’t just be about the “packaging” or the pitch; marketing will need to be baked into product development, company culture, and customer service. What excites me about this is that marketers will continue to inhabit a really dynamic position in this space. We’ll need to become more and more adept and agile storytellers, and weave together different forms of media to create a total experience.”

Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“New York City can really be a bubble in terms of how progressively people are thinking. When you step away from the city, you really do notice how other countries and cities do have a long way to come in developing their way of thinking or being more inclusive.

I’m really excited about the opportunities available to people in New York City in terms of the diversity and empowerment of women. It needs to go further, for sure, but we’re doing some great things now that should have happened a long time ago, and I’m excited for that movement to spread further.

Sometimes I reflect on the velocity at which our agency produces work, but also at how much more could be automated. I’m excited to be a part of optimizing how robots can help improve what we’re doing, without losing a human touch. I don’t think robots can replace our roles as marketers, but they can certainly be used more and more to help us do more and more at scale.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“Marketing is all about creating a message that resonates with an audience. The future of marketing is going to be focused on creating highly individualized experiences and focusing on quality of reach over quantity.

What gets me excited now is the technology being developed to give each customer a unique experience.”

Q6: If you had all the marketers in the world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would you say?

Sofiya Deva VP of Marketing at Zen Media

“Provide conscientious counsel to the brands and businesses you work with. Help them make real connections and a real difference. And on a more tactical note – find ways to show your work!  Marketing is an art and a science. Its practice should be shared and celebrated.”

Leilani Williams Director of Social Media at Artisan Council

“Don’t underestimate the power of women. Pay them more (the same as their male counterparts), hear their ideas, build them up, and most importantly, realize their needs and emotions are different to those of men. Don’t ask to or let them carry you. Diversity and equality in your workplace are key to the most innovative of ideas.

Be more aware of sensitive issues and find new ways to say things that aren’t ingrained in a culture that has traditionally torn women down, torn down people of different colored skins or races or religions. People are all people; make sure you think of everyone.

And finally, robots are your friends, let’s work together to use their help, but remember to always think about your human touch.”

Cassie Gonzalez Community/Brand Manager at OnePitch

“The beautiful thing about marketing is that although there are a ton of “best practices” and guidelines, at the end of the day, there are no set in stone rules. The best tactics are those you test and find work best for you and your audience, which is what allows for so many creative ideas to develop.”

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Did you enjoy this edition of Marketing’s Leading Ladies? We sure did. Now that you feel inspired, take the next step. Share this article with your bestie, co-worker, or anyone you feel could benefit.

We need your help to spread the wise words of these brilliant ladies!

Want more advice? Make sure you read up on the past to editions and get excited for December’s edition with Kristal Howard, Noorjahan Akbar, Danielle Ryan, and Victoria Ekwenuke!

6 Pieces of Advice from Marketing’s Leading Ladies

3 Impressive Women Paving the Way in Marketing

One last thing. Our team is super pumped to sponsor Pittsburgh’s Women in Digital for the month of November! If you’re looking for a killer impressive group of women and men to grow your professional network, check these folks out. They’re the real deal.

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