Move Over Mad Men

Only about one third of CMOs are women. That’s a stat—originally from a 2014 Infogroup Targeting Solutions study—which illustrates that men still occupy most marketing executive positions.

But many women are determined to close this gap. At the Direct Marketing Association’s &THEN conference in Boston, five female industry leaders took the keynote stage to share their secrets on how women can succeed in marketing and in their careers in general. Here are their words of wisdom regarding the industry, mentors, leadership, and career advancement.


1. Focus on emotion.

In a data-driven industry, it’s easy for marketers to get caught up in the metrics and analytics. However, Bridget Russo—CMO of handcrafted goods manufacturer Shinola—said marketers need to bring that emotional storytelling piece to the table.

“At the end of the day, we have at least one thing in common—marketers and consumers,” she said, “we’re human.”

Indeed, Sue Burton, SVP of brand strategy and deliverability for financial services company Bank of America, said that this is especially important considering that consumers, more often than not, make emotional purchasing decisions rather than rational ones.

“How do you keep that human element in the experience so that we’re speaking to their hearts and minds?” she asked.

2. Don’t leverage technology for technology’s sake.

Today’s marketers have access to countless forms of technology. Yet, Amy Radin, co-author and founder of The Huffington Post’s column “The Daily Innovator”, said it’s up to marketers to ensure that the technology is being used to solve a real problem. After all, she noted, that’s what marketing is: It’s finding a real solution for a real problem in the marketplace.

“Technology for technology’s sake…that’s a hobby,” added Stacy Martinet, CMO of media brand Mashable. “But actually making things people use, that’s a product.”

3.  Experience what your customers do.

“Put yourself in the customers’ shoes,” is a mantra many marketers say. But how many of them practice what they preach? According to Burton, having marketers test drive their own experiences is essential.

“Use what you make [and] experience what your customers do,” she said, “especially if it’s a technology-enabled experience.”

4. Help your organization prioritize.

With everyone across the organization having never-ending to-do lists, it can be difficult for professionals to come together and focus on a single goal. That’s where marketers come in, argued Martinet, especially when it comes to informing technologists that fixing, upgrading, and optimizing a brand’s mobile experience needs to be priority number one.

5. Be proud of your work.

Self comparison is unavoidable in the age of social media. However, Martinet said that it’s important for marketers to produce work that they can stand by.

“Build things you’re proud of,” she said.


1. Understand that mentorships don’t have to be formal.

Don’t wait for people to come to you, advised Radin; seek out the people from whom you want to learn. This doesn’t have to be a formal mentorship. Sometimes, she said, being mentored involves taking a more informal, 360-degree approach and simply seeing how someone views the world differently.

2. Seek mentors outside of your department.

Everyone from sales to IT can offer experience marketers can learn from. That’s why Russo encouraged marketers to knock down those silos and seek mentors outside of their department.

“It’s also about breaking out of the immediate group that you work in,” she said.

3. Bring value to the relationship.

Instead of knocking on a mentor’s door blindly, come from a position of power, instructed Lisa Shalett, CMO of social content platform Odyssey. Inform the mentor that you, too bring some sort of benefit to the partnership.

4. Consider the “reverse mentorship.”

If you’re a mentor, don’t think that the mentee is the only one benefitting from this relationship. What you’re exposed to influences your style and approach, noted Martinet; therefore, marketing leaders can learn a thing or two from their mentees and benefit from what she called a “reverse mentorship.”


1. Help team members identify their strengths.

When Shalett, the former head of brand marketing for Goldman Sachs, used to do performance reviews, she said that people used to struggle with identifying their strengths. Help them understand what those are. Giving well-earned positive feedback, instead of just focusing on one’s own work, can be a great way to provide this guidance, she said.

2. Give employees the freedom to make mistakes.

Marketers are constantly setting the bar higher for their competitors and their customers. So, it’s important to be innovative to standout from the crowds.

“Put yourself out there as somebody who wants to try new things,” Shalett said.

However, not every idea will be a home run. Some ideas will be very disruptive; some will be incrementally disruptive; and some will fail, she said. The important thing is give team members the opportunity to learn from their losses.

“Allow people to make mistakes,” said Russo. “Don’t chastise them for it.”


1. Make time in your schedule for career advancement.

Networking is critical, and Shalett encouraged marketers to pencil it into their schedules. “It’s important that you make time for that in your career,” she said. And she advised panel attendees to be strategic and tactical with their networking approach. Think about who knows you, she said, as well as who can champion you, and how can you champion others.

2.  Embrace change and view it as a learning opportunity.

Change is inevitable. So, it’s important to embrace the new and the innovative, Burton argued, and then champion change within organizations. Doing so helps establish yourself as an expert, rather than as a follower. 

3. Go with your gut.

Knowing which risks to take can be intimidating. Russo said, however, that sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

“Through the years the thing that has really been successful for me—and it’s not brain surgery—is going with your gut…. If you feel it in your gut, it’s probably the way to go.”

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