Women In Events: A Course In Confidence
MOIRA FORBES: Let’s begin. How do we make sure that we’re doing the day-to-day but giving ourselves time for vision? As a leader, I would say that’s my main priority: How do I focus on trying to be tactical, but also what are the most important things that are going to move the needle, and are all of the things that I do during my day actually achieving the larger goals?
SUSAN LUEHRS: My role is not all event marketing, it’s all aspects of the marketing mix from the consumer standpoint and small business standpoint and all of the things that come through our stores. There are a lot of sales reports and in-store marketing materials. It’s a lot of community outreach and the community face of Wells Fargo. Making the brand relevant in each community that we serve is the job responsibility. And events and marketing is part of what we do in order to accomplish that goal.
What keeps me up at night is that the financial industry has been turned on its ear, so we have a lot of challenges in terms of reputation and keeping up with the changes in a world where we’re not in control of the decisions being made.
So how do we stay limber enough to change and not let those things control what we do? And how do we define the company but know how to stay in front of those things?
KAREN ZUNKOWSKI: I don’t know that the tech industry has really been turned on its ear like other industries, but it continues to develop so quickly. As a leader I feel like I should have a grip on all of the latest technology, but it’s hard to keep up with it. We have to try to understand how much we really need to know about, versus knowing enough to do our jobs effectively.
LAUREN MIRELES: We’re a global company of about 5,000 people focused on providing test and measurement equipment to engineers a very technical audience that we focus on. One of our pain points is that we’re starting to see this shift in audience. Many of our engineers are older males and now the next generation is coming in and we have different behaviors in terms of the way they learn, the way they interact and what they expect from companies. So we have to balance the two and make sure we’re addressing both of their needs.
ANNE STUBINGTON: What keeps me up at night is much the same as you. New technology is moving so fast. Trying to stay on top of it and how it’s going to affect what my team is doing, so I’m trying to be the calm in the storm for my team and have it make sense to them and keep everybody focused on the task at hand.
JANE HAWLEY: We’ve been trying to come up with innovative solutions that are still creative and cutting-edge while our clients want to do more with less. And now that people actually are spending more, we realize how much can be done for less while we’re still pushing the envelope, and coming up with new innovations in creativity, and new experiences.
But also because of the economic situation, I have felt that I need and want to spend more time with my staff to continue to help them come along in the world. We all get so busy doing what we have to do that sometimes we forget about the folks who we rely on to do the other day-to-day work for us. And especially at the junior levels, they need more mentoring. And as a leader, that’s another area I think we need to continue to work on.
ANNE-MARIE MEREDITH: Events have had to become more strategic. If they don’t have solid measurement or ROI behind them they’re likely not going to happen anymore. My role is to look across the company to improve the way we do events. I am looking at efficiency and effectiveness. If there are five events targeting the same audience, we need to make sure there is a strategic plan and reason we’re doing them.
From a leadership perspective, I’m working across the company with all of the other business group senior leaders of events and trying to pull them together and share best practices.
FORBES: Each of you touched on the fact that we’re living in a world of constant change, and leadership now means leading through that change. As you’ve navigated your career over the past couple of years, what experiences or strategies have you found to be effective at helping you be more flexible leaders?
ZUNKOWSKI: I subscribe to our cmo’s law of “Good Enough.” Sometimes, “good enough” really is good enough. That’s hard for people in the event industry, especially- a lot of us are perfectionists. You just have to get to the point where it’s more important to do something than it is to wait until you get it perfect and you’ve missed your opportunity. That’s the kind of thing that I’ve had to learn, to just swallow hard and say, “It’s good enough. Go.”
LUEHRS: Another point is that you can’t be so in love with an idea that you’re not willing to listen to other people’s viewpoints or not able to change quickly. You have to be adaptable and be open- minded enough to say it may have started this way but it’s OK for it to end another way. And the more ideas you can take in the bet- ter. I’ve always found it turns out much better than the original one.
FORBES: How do you create a culture where execution is key but where it’s also OK for people to take risks, which can be daunting, given the scrutiny so many of our industries are under?
MEREDITH: I think it comes from top management—from the way top down. First of all, you learn from your mistakes. Every one of us has made a mistake. You sit there and you beat yourself up and you remember every detail. But your wins? You’re just like, “Yeah, it was great.” And then you move on. But that one mistake, it sticks in your craw. And you’re going to learn, you’re not going to do that again. But if we just tweak it this much it’d be perfect. That’s how you innovate; that’s how you come up with new and better ideas.
But you have to have management who’s willing to stand behind you and say, “Let’s try it.” You have to have that confidence in your management, so for me it comes from the top down.
MIRELES: Part of the foundation of our company is innovation and collaboration. We’re very much a consensus-driven company, which presents its challenges, but it’s great for ideas and getting buy-in. And that there are people who are held accountable to the objectives and goals you’re trying to hit.
But it’s top down. It starts from the ceo and it infiltrates the entire company. Everybody has that same enthusiasm and desire to be a part of pushing things forward, which is good once you get them on board.
The other part of that is that it is an environment of acceptance for learning from mistakes. I think people are very willing to try in that environment because, yes, it might work and we’ll have great successes. But with the failures—or, the “learning opportunities” are what we call them—we can look at what we learned, where we can fix things and how we move on.
FORBES: When you’re a perfectionist—and I think all of us focus very much on the details and want to get great results—do you think that sometimes the focus on learning from mistakes drains you? Or are those kinds of lessons of the magnitude that will really be game changers for you in the future?
ZUNKOWSKI: If you are so worried about correcting those smaller details, it can take up too much of your time and cloud your vision of the more strategic view of things. That’s something I have to remind myself about.
FORBES: Women have a hard time being self-marketers. It’s almost a dirty word. Has that been a challenge for any of you all in terms of navigating your career? Are you good at taking credit for yourself— at saying, “I did this?”
STUBINGTON: I manage a team of women and don’t have any men on my team, and I think that’s fairly common in the events industry. And it’s always, “We. We make it happen.” It’s not, “I.” I think it’s a very collaborative approach and at least in my case I’m terrible at marketing myself.
My team’s got a great reputation within the company for just getting stuff done. They know that if they give it to the team that it will just be handled. I think we’re the behind-the-scenes team, the puppeteers. I always say that if an event goes smoothly, you never really realize that it was managed. But the minute it screws up, it’s like, who did that? And we’re all masters of looking around corners and figuring out how to fix something if it’s going wrong before anyone else notices.
FORBES: And you need to make that known. When it’s seamless, it means that someone’s done an extraordinary job.
MEREDITH: Well, that’s the nature of the job—executing for some- thing or someone else. You’re not executing for yourself unless it’s your wedding. I think that’s just part of an event person’s personality—you are behind the scenes and you like to execute. I will never be the spokesperson standing out there doing the spiel. I will set it up for them but I do not want that job.
FORBES: I’ve met so many women, and I was of this mindset, too, that thinks if you just put your head down and you do a great job you’re going to be successful. And that’s not the case. How have you actually brought attention to what you’ve accomplished or mentored others to do so?
LUEHRS: I’m much better at helping my team tell their story than telling my own. But I have found if you find a mentor or somebody within your company, they can guide you in how you should be telling your story. And you tell it in not a boastful way, but by put- ting yourself on projects that put you in the places where you want to be seen.
And then because I struggle with it, I have team members who I need to help promote throughout the company. So I guide them and tell them where they need to put themselves and help them do it and probably be much more successful for them than myself.
HAWLEY: One thing we’re starting to do as a company—and I think it’ll certainly benefit the women leaders in our company as well as everyone company-wide—is really starting to set goals. Because then you can say, without boasting and without marketing yourself, “This is what I’ve accomplished.”
One thing I did with my team this year was not only provide goals for them that might be out of their comfort zones, to sort of push them, but also ask them, “What goals do you want to have? Pick two or three that you really want to aspire to.” They could be personal; they could be professional. Doing that and then having checkpoints throughout the year can help push people out of their comfort zones and help them market and prove what they have been doing and how busy they have been and what they have accomplished.
FORBES: Obviously ROI numbers are becoming more tangible in event marketing. Have any of you felt that trend has hindered your career? Are there instances where you’ve seen someone move past you because they embraced it in an authentic way—or even in an inauthentic, political way?
MEREDITH: Microsoft is about 80 percent men. So you have to fight. They also have a rigorous [performance] review cycle where you have “commitments,” and your commitments lead into your manager’s commitments and so forth, all the way up the organization—and everything’s online—and you can see what Steve Ballmer’s commitments are.
So that forces you to speak up and say, “This is what I did.” But that can be hard if it goes against your nature. And it’s hard to go head to head against a technical person in a technical company if you’re not technical. If you’re doing events, even if your event rocked, how do you rate against someone from the group that develops software?
But that’s where your numbers (ROI) come into play. That’s where you need to have really good research and measurement to back up what you’ve done.
FORBES: I find this so ironic because you all are so fantastic at marketing brands, yet we all struggle with marketing ourselves. When you look at your careers and your goals from a professional perspective, do you ever apply the same due diligence in terms of how you think about your career with how you think about an event? Do you actually think about where you want to go and map out what that looks like?
STUBINGTON: I don’ t think I really stop long enough to think about it. You know, we’re just so busy.
MEREDITH: I think I know where I don’t want to go.
MIRELES: I think, in theory, we’ve all thought, “Oh, that’s something that after all these other things are taken care of….” The challenge is that it’s three to five years later and you’re wondering where the time went.
STUBINGTON: I work hard at bringing my team along, nurturing them, getting them to stretch and take on new challenges. Not so much for myself.
FORBES: I read an interesting statistic, that if a man is asked to do something, he’ll do it if he feels 90 percent sure he’s capable. If a woman is asked to do something, she’ll say yes if she feels only 30 percent sure she’s capable. With that in mind, I want to ask how many of you lead with a yes when a new opportunity presents itself?
LUEHRS: I generally do lead with a yes. I don’t necessarily know the complete plan for my career but I have led with my family. So I have taken steps or not taken steps because of family, and that has been a driving force.
FORBES: So you’re willing to say, “I’m going to jump in—it might be crazy, but I’ll figure it out.”
HAWLEY: I actually got into this business by taking a left turn, by saying yes. I spent about 17 years in the news business. I was a news reporter and producer, and in my last 10 or so years I was doing mostly feature stories. I had some friends who were in the industry and friends I knew at one of the leading agencies at one point in the late ’90s ask, “Did you ever think of leaving the news business and coming to work for us?”
And I said, “What the heck would I do there?” I know how to produce and report on stories. And he said, “The industry is seeing a great shift where advertising dollars are now going more toward experiential, b-to-b events or targets are starting to become more b- to-c. And our group here doesn’t know how to approach a b-to-c audience. How do they go out and identify a client who has a story and put that together?”
I thought long and hard—and I was exhausted from having traveled the world and doing a lot of very exciting things—and I said sure because the news is like riding a bike, you can always go back into it. So I took the turn and entered the wonderful world of experiential marketing.
Only I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know if I was going to be successful. I knew that I’d be putting my all into it because I know that’s how I am. Even now in my responsibilities at Sparks, so much of my news background really does carry over.
So it’s amazing, even though I said yes I had no idea what I was getting into. It wasn’t that scary, once you start to really learn it. And I think that’s how you learn and you grow and you expand yourself. So I think it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to have that opportunity as opposed to having to go looking for it.
FORBES: A lot of us keep reiterating that we know we have certain responsibilities that are important but we don’t have time for them. How can we start to create the discipline to actually do the small things that are going to move a millimeter versus the things that are actually going to move the mile?
MIRELES: I can speak from personal experience on this. For our director of marketing communications, employee development was a huge emphasis. And she has instructed all of us leaders to make sure that we are focusing on this area not only for ourselves, but also for our team, and provided an opportunity to really think through personal development plans.
So from our entry-level people on up, working on stuff that relates to goals for business objectives and personal goals, identifying where in the company you want to go. Even if you started in events you might end up in p.r. or other media functions. That creates an opportunity for someone to really be in charge of where they want to go. And the corporation really invests dollars in giving people that experience.
FORBES: How do you motivate yourself to think about life goals or big-picture industry goals or leadership goals? Is it just having the discipline? Is it starting with baby steps?
ZUNKOWSKI: I think you’ve got to plan for it, just like you plan for everything else. And you’ve got to put it into your schedule or, if you’re a task-list person, on your list.
If you’re carrying it over day after day, eventually you have to get to it. But I think it’s truly the discipline around planning it, putting it down there and doing it—even if it is doing it a little bit at a time. You don’t have to do the whole thing at once. But start by writing it down. And manage it like you do any other project.
FORBES: So how do you translate what makes you so great in business to your personal life?
MEREDITH: It’s hard to maintain the discipline when it comes to me. It’s completely different than when it comes to a project I’m working on. I’d work 80 hours a week on some project, but for me, did my bills get paid? Did I go to the gym? Did I write my resume? No, that all got pushed out. I’ll put it on my calendar and then when it comes up as a reminder I’ll let it slide. Or I’ll reschedule it.
But in Microsoft’s review, it’s very common for people to have work-life balance as one of their goals, this helps you be account- able to yourself.
STUBINGTON: I find it interesting being a mother and an events person, you focus on those things. But it’s difficult to step back from it and take time for yourself. If my family needs something or I’ve got work to do, my stuff always gets pushed to the back of the pile. And like you say, unless it’s on a list… And even then it’s the first thing to get moved, even if it is on the list.
ZUNKOWSKI: I came from a very structured, goal-oriented, write- everything-down, strive-to-those goals, check-them-off-the-list environment when I was growing up. My whole life was planned until my freshman year in college. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I knew exactly what I wanted to be and then it all just totally changed.
It was like, “Oh, I can do whatever I want.” It was really up to me. And that put things into perspective. It messed me up for a little while because I was trying to find what motivated me, and if you come from a very structured upbringing, you have to find your way around that. You can apply that whole goal concept to your business, your career, your family, your children and everybody else, but then it comes right back around to you. And you have to just kind of rethink every once in a while.
FORBES: As we wrap up, what advice would you give to yourself of 15 years ago? And what advice would you give to yourself today?
HAWLEY: To the me of 15 years ago—and it’s something I think is equally, if not more, important to do now—which is to continue to network. Don’t think that what people are doing today they have to be doing tomorrow. Get out and meet people, understand what’s going on. And that’s what will help open up doors, will help you learn and grow personally and professionally. And it’s something that I did and I think has helped me tremendously.
In fact I was just interviewing some college students and I was saying, “Don’t think that just because it’s your first job you’re going to be stuck doing this the rest of your life. Take this as an opportunity to learn something that you never thought was out there. You never know where it might lead you.”
A piece of advice to myself today would be, especially in this frenetic age of technology where it is literally 24-7 and we’re all connected to every device, is that you need to turn yourself off. You need to not move those things day to day and push things off that you need to do to take care of yourself so that you can continue to be a strong leader in the future.
MIRELES: A piece of advice I’ve heard that I’ve carried with me for many years is to always strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection is not always attainable for people. But if you’re always striving for excellence, you’ll hit that gold star of what you’re trying to achieve and it may be great work.
The thing I would say to myself 15 years ago is to stay connected and engaged. When your staff is communicating about challenges they’re having, really understand what they’re going through. There are times when I’ll jump in and work on shows and get back down to the nitty-gritty and figure out the pain points and try to look at what they’re experiencing and try to fix their problems not just for the short term but for the long term. And I’ll gain operational efficiencies that way.
MEREDITH: My advice is to own your career. You don’t have to stay in a position because you feel guilty, or because you need to be there for a year or for three years because you need to gain this experience. If it’s not working for you, don’t stay. Go, own your career, drive it until you find a position that will work for you.
And for now, my advice would be to stay fresh and stay up on things. You really have to follow trends.
ZUNKOWSKI: My advice for me 15 years ago is to document your accomplishments. For two reasons: One, it obviously makes you realize how much you’ve done. But also, if you’re not liking the lists, you have the power to change it. So do things that you want to see on that list in the future.
The other thing would be to take pride in what you do but don’t take yourself too seriously, which is what I tend to do.
LUEHRS: My 15-years-ago advice is to slow down. Learn the job and take the time to get the experience and don’t rush through it. You don’t have to be promoted constantly. You can take the time to really perfect and get good at something and move along. Be able to be patient.
The advice for today is to stay connected. I’ve been doing what I do a long time, and you tend to get tunnel vision being with the same company. So get out and stay connected and continue to learn.
STUBINGTON: I think for me 15 years ago, my advice would be to keep networking and to not get too caught up in the work that you’re doing but to pick your head up every once in a while and look around and stay connected, both within the industry and out- side of it.
For today, it would be not to take yourself too seriously, and to be your own best promoter.
FORBES: So as we wrap up it seems like there’s a couple of great points that you’ve all made.
First, we’re living in constant change so we’re all struggling with how to see the forest through the trees and how to manage our day- to-day lives. But keep our heads up to both think about what’s important from a life goal perspective, but also from a career perspective.
It also seems that we tend to sacrifice sometimes the things that are most important, whether it be networking or putting other people first. I love the idea of controlling your own career at whatever age because you are in the driver’s seat and not necessarily being so worried about what others think. So know yourself and I think you become more comfortable with yourself with age.
But also embrace all of your accomplishments. I love the idea of the list of what you’ve done because I can make a list of my failures but I couldn’t do it for my accomplishments. So I love all of what you’ve said and I think the power of what you said is so important because it can just continue to inspire or connect with other women and make them think differently. Or I know at least this discussion for me is a lot of food for thought.
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