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Female Leaders: Jane Smith On “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Career

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As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Smith, Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Merrell.

Jane is a senior marketing leader with 20+ years of experience driving customer demand and producing measurable ROAS in the digital space. Splitting her years between agencies and in-house, she has traveled and worked all over the globe.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Right after I graduated from university (Loyola University in Chicago – GO Ramblers) I went to work at Doyle Dan Bernbach (DDB), one of the world’s largest advertising holding companies, in a traditional advertising environment. Shortly after, there was an opportunity in Seattle, and I was obsessed with the movie Singles and grunge culture, so I decided to make a move. I ended up working at a PR/marketing agency during the .com boom in the late 90s that was getting into this new space called “digital marketing”. We were launching a new brand every week, Ask Jeeves, Microsoft 2000, Netscape, and MyLacky (the first Postmates) to name a few. It was a wild time – new clients with an IPO every week – then it all crashed.

What do you specialize in and why should someone choose you over your competitors in your field?

I have been working for 25 years and think one of the most unique things about me is that I got into digital marketing at the very beginning. Most professionals my age grew up in the world of print, outdoor, and linear TV with massive spending still in the printed yellow pages, while I grew up in digital-only. 

I understand how the digital environment shifts and moves, that nothing stays the same for long, and everything is new. I never take anything TOO seriously and know that you better jump on board quickly if you want to take advantage of something new because it will get old quickly. 

I also have great respect for the young professionals coming into this space – they are living and breathing inside a digital world. I have been an observer this entire time, but I appreciate and am excited that they know more and teach me. 

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My favorite part of my job is mentoring and working with young leaders. I was lucky as I had some very incredible bosses, teachers, mentors, and advocates. I certainly worked hard and learned the importance of self-advocacy early on, but it was because I was molded by those mentors. Only one time in my life was I promoted and/or given a raise just because “I deserved it”. Every other time I had to ask for or demand it. It has been important to me to work specifically with women so I can pass on all the knowledge I have gained along the way and be an advocate for other women in the workplace.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Two individuals immediately come to mind. The first is Nancy Schulte. She was the first female PR director for an NBA team. She was a powerful woman in the workplace, but still had a level of emotional intelligence. She taught me “you will only get what you expect for yourself”, which meant to me, if I expect to be treated a certain way, equal to my male counterparts, those around me will meet those expectations. So, figure out what you want, what you expect, and don’t let anyone else decide for you. She taught me to ask for more and step into my power. 

The other was Nick Parnaby, an English entrepreneur, friend, and former boss. He taught me the power of curiosity because he was so interested in all things and people. He taught me how to lead, and how to use my curiosity and desire to always learn as fuel. He was also so much fun in what was a very stressful environment at the time. 

What were your most important challenges? & How did you overcome those challenges?

I worked in London for years in the early 2000s to head up a “technology client” at a marketing agency – and this was a tough transition. During my first week there, the London Tube bombings happened right outside our office, and many were affected. While it was a challenging time, we were able to build understanding and trust quickly. I did a lot of listening and quickly realized that there was a different path of impact and healing for every person. I was able to surround myself with many different people, cultures, and backgrounds that taught me a lot about myself and how to connect with others.

When I moved back to the United States, I had just given birth to my son and was struggling with my role in the workplace. I knew I still wanted to work, but also wanted to be present in my son’s life. Given my agency, I knew I needed to stay relevant with the ever-changing landscape but was also looking for balance and flexibility. When I interviewed with agencies near my home, they didn’t know what to do with me because they didn’t fully understand how to utilize digital marketing. I thankfully found an agency called Fairly Painless that provided me with the autonomy to grow their digital business – at my own pace – and gave me the flexibility I needed to be there for my family. I stayed there for nearly a decade and when I left the digital arm was over 60% of agency revenues. 

What’s your piece of advice for readers who want to achieve wealth and success in life?

Build meaningful connections. In order to do this, it’s important to show up as yourself. I worked with a very smart strategist for years who would always encourage brands to find their truth, and everything you do should be connected to it. I think the same goes for people. Find your truth, what matters to you, and what you stand for. The people, places, and things you surround yourself with will feel good when they are connected to that truth. 

Where do you see yourself and the business in five years?

I am a believer in Merrell’s brand purpose – that we exist to share the power of outside with EVERYONE. It’s what I connect with and what really keeps me excited about coming to work here every day. In five years, I hope we have created deeper connections with people, and I know this sounds cliché, but encourage them to spend more time outside than on screens. I also hope there will be more accessibility to the outside and that Merrell will be at the center of it.

“What’s next” is something that has always been on my mind, but this is one time in my life when I am honestly not sure! My kids are growing up so quickly, my parents are aging, and I am more and more realizing how finite it all is, so I have very much been trying to focus on what’s happening right now – especially having lived through COVID. I do know I hope I am still leading a great team, working with smart, caring people, and continuing to push myself into areas unknown. 

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Don’t listen to respond. This is a phrase one of my current leaders has taught me. It’s simple but has been life-changing and is something I repeat to myself almost every day. Listening is such a superpower, and I haven’t been doing it right most of my life.

2. Pay attention to feedback but give even more attention to how you act against it. This is very fresh from a conversation just last week. It can be tough to get challenging feedback, but it’s more the actions that you take down the line that matter. So, although you need to focus on the feedback, focus more on what you do next. 

3. Be a proud troublemaker. Luvvie Jones encouraged this in her TEDtalk and subsequent book and podcast –but she told a story about the people who came up with the idea of the airplane. Do you think when the people designing airplanes explained how this huge metal bird was going to carry hundreds of people around the world people were like, “sure, sounds cool”? They probably thought – YOU’RE INSANE – and look what happened. We need troublemakers or there will be no progress.

4. Things happen when you are open. In 2002 on New Year’s Day, I decided I would just say “yes” – to hanging out with friends, to dates, to new job opportunities, to new foods. Five weeks later I met my husband. We were engaged a week after we met and will soon celebrate our 18th anniversary. When you are truly open to receiving everything from invitations to feedback, your life can really change.

5. Trust a hunch and invest. I had a lot of opportunities in Seattle to invest in Microsoft (very early on), Amazon, and Google – a lot of the big tech that we questioned, and thought were “crazy” when they were just coming to the surface. Then why is for obvious reasons.

What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?

Honestly, I wouldn’t want to change anything (other than maybe the investing bit). I have made a lot of mistakes. I have taken the wrong jobs. I have treated people badly and been mistreated. I have broken hearts and had my heart broken. I have made all sorts of wonderful choices and some very painful ones. But it all landed me here, and I have had a very full life. No regrets.

Lastly, what do you think this world needs the most?

Empathy. I believe the deep divisions we all feel are driven so much by our experiences. By that, I mean both the environment we were raised in, the geography, our communities, our familial make-up, and events – whether they be traumatic, joyful, etc. If we dig a little deeper, ask questions, and listen to stories, we can better understand the context and limit judgment. I have found so many of our frictions are just driven by fear and desire. Mainly fear of being alone and a desire for a deeper connection. I watch my kids and how they move through the world, and they seem to see people all as individuals vs. part of a group. They are comfortable with it, and I think life is better that way.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this

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