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My Marketing Career Journey Leading to Becoming a Vice President of Digital Marketing and Career Lessons Learned Along The Way

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marketing career journey leading to becomeing vp digital marketing

Many people have reached out throughout my career especially in the past several years asking about my career path, seeking advice, and generally wanting to know how I got to where I am today. Very recently my company asked to share my career path and provide a few actions and recommendations on how to progress through one’s career. I figured I would share here while still fresh in my mind.

Selfishly this post serves as a way to hold myself accountable in journal format and to serve as a reminder of how far I have come.

Education and Deciding on Marketing

I actually had dreams of being a stockbroker growing up after realizing that the medical profession was not my calling. Why a stockbroker? I dreamed of raking in that money and that is the perception I had of stockbrokers. I started taking finance classes at the Big 10 school I attended and quickly realized that being a stockbroker was also not my calling. Instead I decided to try marketing.

I consider myself one of the lucky few to have studied marketing my entire time in college and stayed in marketing my entire career of 14+ years. Despite the huge student loan debt I accumulated that took forever to pay off due to some money moron mistakes in my 20s, the ROI on the college investment started to exponentially increase.

Career Start and The Decision That Changed My Career Path

Upon graduation I started my career at a very well known Fortune 500 company and focused on direct mail marketing. I gained significant experience learning the ways of a big corporation, working with not only my immediate team members but also cross functional team members, analyzing direct mail campaign performance, and creating and testing campaigns to incrementally improve performance.

After a year or two in this position, I realized I wanted to see what all this online marketing was about. I knew direct mail marketing was not going to be of interest long term. The biggest reasons I did not like about direct mail were that results took too long to make decisions on the next campaigns and too much of the budget was spent on the materials (postage, materials, etc).

I spent countless hours on weekends volunteering my time at a heavily trafficked music site to understand SEO (search engine optimization) fundamentals and advanced SEO techniques. I applied those learnings as I was building my own sites. This was when I decided to look outside the 1st company I worked for and explore roles in digital marketing.

This was the beginning of my digital marketing career and realizing that I wanted to lead a large digital marketing organization for a large company.

The 1st Career Action and Recommendation

Be a learner and be curious. Every single day and I mean every single day, I am listening to a podcast, listening to a book, reading a blog/article, or reading a forum post. There is not a day that I do not do one of these actions. It is so incredibly important to continue learning and being curious.

Spending The Next Several Years in Different Digital Marketing Roles At Various Company Sizes

I knew that in order to secure a digital marketing role, I would have to be opened minded about what company was going to hire me. I also wanted to get out of being part of a Fortune 500 company and explore companies of varying sizes and industries.

My next few roles took me to a small sized business (<100 employees), where I had full reign over digital marketing including running the website (focused on SEO and lead generation), testing digital paid media including SEM (search engine marketing), and setting up and executing email marketing campaigns. I jumped to a medium sized business focused on B2B, where my role became more specific, and I also had the opportunity to set the corporate social media strategy and run its social media accounts.

All of this would not have happened had I not spent my time self learning and sacrificing hours on a weekend in my 20s to learn a new skillset.

Rejoining Another Huge Global Fortune 500 Company

At this point, I was getting into my late 20s and had an urge to rejoin a larger company because the leadership and mentorship that I craved at the smaller companies just were not there compared to what I encountered at the Fortune 500 company.

I rejoined an even bigger Fortune 500 company than my 1st job. Better yet, I had the opportunity to focus on digital marketing. It felt like I had come full circle.

The money was attractive, but it was here that I noticed significant improvements in communication, presentation skills, confidence, leadership, team building, and mentorship. It was exactly what I was looking for at this point in my career.

The 2nd Career Action and Recommendation

Network. I am a closet introvert. What I mean by that is when colleagues now see me in the work setting, every single person is surprised to find that I am not an extrovert. Over the years I have learned to hide how introverted I was and exude that false confidence and social skills.

It was at this big company that I learned the importance of networking.

You start with networking within your company. Your immediate team members are obvious, but expand to cross functional team members and those in similar roles in different departments or business units. Do not just look at peers. Look at those who are at lower levels and higher levels. Just because someone is at a lower level than you currently does not mean they could be be tapped into becoming a future leader at the company. Another big opportunity to network is any diversity networks available. I was heavily engaged in a diversity network at the company and that naturally allowed me to connect with colleagues and senior leaders I never would have interacted with before.

Create a network of external contacts. Remember I am an introvert so I absolutely hate going to networking events and conferences. Instead what I do is leverage LinkedIn. Comment, tag, connect, do not spam.

Build a group of mentors. I have never asked someone to be a mentor directly. Instead what I do is let the mentorship happen naturally through regularly scheduled touch base meetings. What I have learned over time is that trust, reliability, and communication with your mentor are incredibly important to me. There have been a handful of times that I felt that certain colleagues could be mentors, but it turns out they were not being candid or simply holding me back in various ways. I simply do not schedule follow up meetings and move on to the next. This has worked out well for me through this trial and error methodology. It does take time though because using my method, I realized a couple years later that one mentor I thought I had was really just a sounding board rather than a true mentor.

One of the Biggest Learning Moments In My Career Happened

At this point, I was several years into the stint with the big company and had starting moving up in the company still focused on marketing. I had gotten promoted into my 2nd role and a year or so into the role still years away from being a Vice President, I had one of the biggest learning moments in my career.

I was assigned to lead a project in which we were piloting the integration of a new platform. It was a huge deal. As a marketer I was responsible for leading the testing and setting the marketing strategy. A huge deal.

The skills I thought I was 100% on top of came crumbling down. Communication and project management were obvious opportunities, but so was my ability to receive constructive feedback.

Early in my career, I was defensive whenever I received a hint of negative or “opportunity” feedback. That changed very quickly as I was leading this project.

Be very open to feedback and constructive criticism and apply that into action. This might be the most important thing that I did that allowed me to open doors and opportunities.

Getting My First Promotion To Become a Vice President of Digital Marketing at a Fortune 500

At this point, I never imagined I would stay at the same company for so many years. In years past especially as I was getting into my 30s, the most important things to me were money (salary+bonus+options) and title.

You start to realize once you hit a certain salary or income level that those things start to go a bit lower on your priority list in staying or joining a company.

Through the actions I have taken in my career and hitting an income level I never thought I would reach, my mindset changed.

I focused not on the income or title; I focused on just doing really good work. To some this may sound like common sense, but I will tell you that when you start to focus on title or salary, you can become robotic meaning you focus on doing what you need to do.

That is not enough to get promoted. You need to start anticipating needs, working outside your core responsibilities, and proactively exploring projects that will bring more incremental conversions, sales, whatever metrics your business is trying to achieve.

By changing my mindset, I was able to get a promotion to a Vice President title, but more importantly a role to lead Digital Marketing for the company. It was actually a newly created business unit solely focused on Digital Marketing for the entire company and I was the 2nd employee to join the new team.

I Achieved a Career Goal But I Let My Ego Take Me Back to Reality

At this point I am a couple years in as a newly minted VP, my reputation is sky high amongst the upper ranks, and I am doing something I worked a decade to achieve.

The cherry on top was that I was one of a couple dozen to be nominated for a prestigious Leadership Development Training opportunity.

All is good, right? Nope.

I lost my vision soon after returning from the leadership training and started to relax a bit. I still kicked butt, but I only focused on what I needed to do. I was only checking the boxes rather than what other boxes I can add to help the business grow even more.

Again this is where being open to feedback, having a mentor you can rely on, and taking action is so so important. I received a nice kick in the ass reminder that my work was awesome, but not awesome enough that warrants me taking the next step. Now not everyone will be ambitious and that is perfectly fine, but I had bigger career goals so this was extremely disappointing to experience.

Getting Back on Track And Changing My Mindset…Again

The much needed kick in the ass experience made me realize very quickly that if given another chance to be viewed as promotable, I will never make the mistake of being content.

Luckily after 6 months, I was given a couple new opportunities with high visibility to senior leaders to 1) lead a team of marketers on an enterprise wide deliverable and 2) lead a project consisting of learning more about a given marketing technology platform and presenting recommendations of its use and opportunities.

After 8 months of focusing on these new opportunities, I was given the news that I would be promoted to build and lead a new marketing channel based on the opportunities and recommendations I made regarding the marketing technology platform.

The 3rd Career Action and Recommendation

Although I continue to be a learner and being curious, I always want to be open minded about any type of feedback I receive.

As I continue to get into higher levels of being a Vice President, a few reminders I literally have on the wall are: kick ass at what you do as your main responsibilities, anticipate needs especially those of your manager and your manager’s manager, and look around corners meaning not only anticipation but potential consequences of taking certain actions.

Hope this inspired a couple of my readers. Please reach out if you have any follow up questions, I am more than happy to share my experience or provide guidance.

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