Women in media have made remarkable contributions to the industry and also faced a host of challenges. As a WBENC organization, we thought it was important to observe Women’s History Month, so we pulled together a group of seasoned executives to discuss their experiences as women in media.  They got together for a roundtable discussion, and we wanted to share their thoughts. This is Part One of their conversation – we will share Part Two in a separate post.

Our guests included Mari Sanchez, VP Director of Inclusion and Strategy of PACO Collective, Ashley Malone VP Performance Marketing of Babylist, and Kerrie Sovelove Managing Director of SSCG Media. Rounding out the list from our own team were Song Heo SVP Client Partnerships, Helen Kim SVP Client Services, and Christie Massey President at EMC, and the host for this discussion.

Christie Massey

Thank you all so much for agreeing to participate in our Women in Marketing, Women in Media Roundtable. I’m really excited to share this next hour with this group of such talented and accomplished women. You can tell we’re busy by the amount of coordination it took to get this one hour blocked on our calendar.

We really think it’s important to have an authentic conversation here. As I think everybody knows, EMC is a women-owned business. We’re also a WBENC-certified business, so we’re a small business and women-owned, and we like to celebrate that at all times, but particularly during Women’s History Month.

Getting this group of women together accomplishes a couple of things in my mind. We think it’s important to celebrate the women in our industry but also talk about some of the challenges that we faced in our careers as we’ve come up through the ranks. And it could only help to inspire women that are starting out in our industry or in marketing and media and to help change the status quo a little bit.

I’m going to start with introductions. If you don’t mind introducing yourselves, and giving us a little bit of background on who you are and your company. I know most of you already, but I’m Christie Massey, president of EMC Outdoor. I have been at EMC for 18 years, I’ve also been in the out-of-home industry for that amount of time as well.

I have my hands on a couple of different dials here. I do have responsibilities in running the day-to-day operations of things and other departments, but really for me, it’s making sure that the vision of our agency is integrated into our day-to-day with the components that we’re bringing into the work that we do. I also have responsibilities for our key clients and key relationships, which is my favorite part of the job. So I wear a couple of different hats, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what we do here. Song, do you mind going next?

Song Heo

Hi, everyone, I am Senior VP of Client Partnerships and I look for ways to help connect what we do to help drive business success for our clients.

I think the thing I love most about my job is helping those who may not be familiar with out-of-home and educating them about the power of audience and location and connecting how OOH can help our clients succeed. And most importantly, drive business objectives and goals.

In a couple of weeks here, I’ll be celebrating my 23rd year here at EMC. Prior to that, I’ve been primarily in sales and marketing through the years, with my first job with Johnson and Johnson Medical. Looking forward to learning more as we share our stories today.

Christie Massey

So if we just go round robin from my screen, Kerrie, that puts you next, if that’s okay.

Kerrie Sovelove

Hello, I’m Kerrie Sovelove. I am a managing director at SSCG Media and the group that I co-lead, is the Pfizer account. We work very closely with Pfizer and the team there, and it’s a very large team internally. I obviously work very closely with my internal folks as well, trying to keep everyone on track with leadership.

One of the best things that we can do every day is to try and lead people in a positive way. That’s what I try and do with everything, every day and every conversation is just to be positive. Look at the bright side. If there’s a problem in front of us, let’s just work the problem, instead of talking about it for endless amounts of time. I am so excited to be here with all of you ladies today. Thank you for inviting me.

Christie Massey

Thanks, Kerrie. I love that you lead with positivity. Mari, could I ask you to go next?

Mari Sanchez

Yeah. Hi, everybody. My name is Mari Sanchez. I am the VP director of Strategy and Inclusion at Paco Collective, a minority-owned advertising agency here in Chicago. I have been in marketing on and off for about 13 years.

I took a small pause to start my PhD at Harvard University, where I’m studying sociology, and I’m really interested in issues of how to make organizations more equitable, more diverse. How do we talk about diversity and inclusion as a society, and what can we do about it? So that’s a big passion point of mine and all the work that I do as a strategist.

I’m also really focused on channeling the voice of the consumer to our clients. And I think being in a leadership role allows me to think about how we can be more authentic and how do we be more inclusive to the communities that we speak to within and outside of organizations. So thinking about inclusion from an inside-out perspective.

Christie Massey

Thank you Mari. Ashley?

Ashley Malone

Hi everyone. It’s nice to meet most of you. Christie and I have known each other for a few years now. I’m the VP of Performance Marketing at Baby List. So Baby List is the leading vertical marketplace and commerce destination for baby products, and it’s also a universal baby registry. So, folks can create their baby registry and add items from any retailer. We have integrations and integration opportunities to be able to plug in to any retail location so you can add things on your baby registry from Target. You can have things from Etsy. That’s really kind of the value proposition that we have for our customer base.

As a part of my role leading the performance marketing function, really what we’re focused on is acquisition and data. So spending a lot of time focusing on that and trying to drive down customer acquisition costs and find efficient places to acquire customers. So that’s a lot of the day in and day out at Baby List.

Baby List is an amazing company. I’m proud to be a part of the team. We’ve been a business for about 11 years, but I’ve been a part of the team for just under a year. So excited to see us continue to grow. Lovely to meet all of you and to spend some time with you today.

Christie Massey

Last but not least, Helen, You’re up.

Helen Kim

Thanks, Christie. Hi, everyone.

I’m Helen Kim. I’ve been in media on the agency side for over 20 years. I started as an assistant media planner in integrated strategy and planning prior to transitioning to specialize in OOH. I joined EMC about six months ago as the SVP of Client Services. I run the day-to-day and lead our internal teams with the development of Out-of-Home strategy, planning and buying. Developing, maintaining and growing our relationships with key clients is my main focus.  I strive to take a balanced approach to data-driven and analytical media planning and campaign management, to bring the client’s vision to life.

Christie Massey

Great. Thank you, everybody. So the first question I sent to you all was, what inspired you to pursue a career in marketing? I’ll go ahead and get us started and excited to hear what you guys have to say.

I actually didn’t know that I wanted to be in marketing or advertising. I did, however, know that I wanted to be in business. It was about my second year at the University of Delaware where I knew that advertising and marketing was the route that I wanted to go down, really because of how creative and exciting it was.  It’s always evolving, and there’s always more to learn, and almost endless opportunities and possibilities.

But a second key piece for me was I knew that I wanted to make my way into team management. Part of the thing I love most about my job and about life is relationships and networks and people that you can lean on and support and guide and be guided. So I knew that was an important part of my career development for me.

I fell into Out-of-Home completely by accident, and for me, I’m a lifer. I love Out-of-Home. I love the ability to marry brands with their audiences and real life in real spaces. And I have really never looked back or considered another form of marketing.

Mari Sanchez

It’s funny, Christie, because I am also kind of similar in the sense that I completely fell into marketing by accident. And this actually really connects well to the importance of women in marketing. But I had just graduated from college. I was kind of unsure. My alumni network was like, Oh, maybe you should try marketing. And they put me into an agency in Chicago.

At the time, I was a traffic coordinator with the job bags. You know, the industry has evolved a lot since then, but carrying the physical job bags from the creative team to the account team. I thought, oh, I don’t know about this. And it was actually a woman, the Strategy Director, who said, you know, I like her, I like the way she thinks, and I see something in her.

They basically created a role for me in their strategy department, and it was four women. And they mentored me and figured it out together with me, like, how can we create this role? Because they had never had a junior strategist before. And to this day, obviously, that has had a tremendous impact on my life. I have spent a lot of time in this career.

But if it hadn’t been for that one woman who said, I like her, I want her to be on my team, I would never have ended up here. So it’s interesting how these accidents happen and who facilitates them and ends up being a part of guiding us down our journeys.

Christie Massey

Yeah, that’s a powerful statement because I do think having mentors is really important, especially for younger professionals in our field.

Song Heo

Speaking of things happening by accident, in my case it wasn’t necessarily a female, but after I graduated, I didn’t have a laptop so I went to the nearest Kinko’s and said, all right, I have to put a proper resume together. That’s how long it’s been – Kinkos!

Doing my resume I could feel a presence and he came over and tapped me on my shoulder and said, hey, are you looking for a job? It just so happened he was a senior V.P. in the International division of J&J. So talk about how lucky.

Anyway, a protracted, long six-month interview process and I get a chance to work overseas in sales and marketing for Vistakon, the new Eyecare division of J&J. At that time we helped to launch Acuvue contact lenses in new markets, Seoul, Korea.

But you know, those opportunities when they do happen, just saying yes allowed me to fall into sales and marketing. But I think what I love most about it, like Christie mentioned is connecting sort of the soft skills that I have, with my nerdiness, seeking for data and evidence sort of marrying those two parts of my personality together in a way that I can express in my career pursuits.

So that’s how I fell into sales and marketing.

Kerrie Sovelove

Amazing, because a lot of these stories seem like you were falling into things, and I think it was the same way with me.  When I graduated college there was no real internet to speak of. So how do you get a job, the newspaper, or you find, you know, a headhunter, Right? I found a headhunter, and she got me a job as a secretary at an ad agency.

It was a pharma ad agency. And when I started, I worked under account and media, and I really loved media. And my boss there loved me. She was the media director, and she said, I wish we had a position for you. But unlike Mari, they were not willing to make a position. But what she did do is she called me into her office one day, and she said, I know someone that needs an entry-level media person.

And I met with this woman, and I was hired, and that’s how I started out in my career. It was a woman who really loved having me as her secretary but was willing to give me up for the betterment of my career. And I really appreciate that.

Helen Kim

I fell into marketing as well.  I did not study marketing specifically. I was actually a poly sci major and minored in sociology when I was in college, and my original intention was to go to law school and then eventually become a lawyer.

After college I convinced my parents to let me take a year off before going to law school to work and gain life experience. My parents had a good friend while I was growing up who worked at JWT and would always tell us about her work experiences, the projects she was working on, her team, etc. So I heard a lot about the industry growing up from her.  She was an outspoken type of person who was very smart, cool and hip and I really admired and looked up to her.  She was the one who recommended and inspired me to look into pursuing marketing and advertising as a potential career choice.

I also had a very close friend who was a couple of years older than me who was working at a junior level at a media agency. I heard so many great things from him about his experience as well, so I decided to give it a try for a year.

And, of course, I fell in love with it. And I’ve been in the industry ever since, and I never looked back.

Ashley Malone

Yeah, my journey is a little different. Growing up I thought I wanted to be in broadcast journalism, so I actually had a couple of internships with a local TV station in my hometown, and I thought that that was really the career path that I was going to be on.

That was what I sought to do in college. I started taking courses for broadcast journalism and going down that route, but I quickly figured out that what powers TV stations is advertising and marketing spend. And I started to gravitate toward that department a little more.

And it was a similar story to a lot of you. A female lead in the advertising and sales department would kind of bring me on the journey during my internship of what she was working on and the things that were important to these brands and how they thought about making advertising purchases, and how commercials came to be, and all that.

And that really piqued my interest. So, I changed course a little bit mid-college and ended up graduating with a journalism degree, but I went into specifically marketing and advertising, and then on a whim, moved to New York City after I graduated school and started my career at a media agency in New York and since then have been in Chicago.

I was there for about six and a half years. Now I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ve been here for about six and a half years as well. So, each step on my journey has been in the media and marketing space. Performance marketing specifically was of most interest to me, just dynamics of data and targeting and performance-based marketing, customer acquisition cost, and all that.

So that’s really where I settled in, and I feel like that’s, that’s the path that I’ll be on for, for a long, long time.

Christie Massey

That’s great. Thank you all for sharing your unique journey. But there’s also a lot of crossover in the way things can happen and get us to where we are at this point in our careers.

I would think that some of the women that you’re referencing in your stories will be relevant to the next question, which is, have you had a mentor in your life that has really inspired you in your career as a woman? Can you share who that is and how they’ve inspired you and mentor you along the way?

Song Heo

I’ll start with this one briefly. I think some of you may know Betsy McLarney, who’s our CEO, she also happens to be my sister-in-law. I don’t know if any of you know that, but she started out in the business not knowing anything about Out-of-Home.

And much like Christie and myself, we didn’t know anything about out-of-home either. After I got back from Korea, she said, hey, we need more people. So I was employee number two. My husband, her younger brother, was employee number one. So, I took a shot, and here we are, almost 23 years later.

She’s amazing in that she has such great vision. She’s entrepreneurial in every way. And I think part of my brain doesn’t necessarily operate that way. I think there’s a lot that I gleaned from her, and the way that she sort of pushes the boundaries and challenges the norm and really allows us within our company to think differently about how our business operates, but also how we can help our clients.

How can we challenge those things that we continue to help our clients solve their own business problems? And that’s really what I enjoy most. But Betsy has been instrumental in helping me to think through how we help our clients be better in the work that they do themselves.

Christie Massey

I have to piggyback on that because Betsy really has been my mentor throughout my entire career. It’s hard for me to identify some of the challenges I face as a woman in marketing because I came into my first job with a women-owned and led business, and she really took me under her wing and gave me opportunities to help me grow my career and to be able to balance all that happens in your life along the way.

I really feel then not only did she help guide me in the ways that you’ve mentioned in our industry and with our client work, but she’s really played a significant role in helping me balance life with work. She was a great mentor for me in terms of being a working mother and balancing all that comes with life, and trying to build a career.

And in that same vein, I also feel very inspired by the network that I have in my working mom friend group and in my family members that are women in leadership roles. I just feel very fortunate to have a community of women who are career oriented and have been able to have multiple focuses for career and family in life. And I have pulled from all of their experiences, and it’s definitely helped me along the way. So I do feel very fortunate to have them.

Kerrie Sovelove

I feel that I couldn’t point to one particular woman. There are many women that have helped me and that I consider mentors. Some of them have been people that I’ve worked with internally at an agency, and some women have been publishers; others are perhaps older and wiser and gave me snippets along the way.

I feel like there are just so many people that I’ve pulled things from over the years. Maybe one person had a way of dealing with things, maybe their positivity, which I’ve talked about, has helped me along the way, and I’ve tried to incorporate that. Somebody else had a really great work-life balance, and I’ve tried to incorporate that.

I feel like there have been so many women that have been positive figures in my life. And I agree with you. Sometimes I feel like I’ve I haven’t had a lot of negative experiences, and I am extraordinarily appreciative of that. I know that’s not how most women experience the corporate world, but it’s how I’ve experienced things.

Even my sister, who works at a pharma company, has said to me, I can’t believe your company; it’s advertising. Aren’t they supposed to be cutthroat? The way that they are, the way they handle everything, is so caring and so thoughtful and kind. And I feel like at the bottom of it, that’s everything when you deal with people as people and not just a number.

That’s how I feel. I’ve always been treated by these women who were mentors to me. And I so appreciate it. And that’s how I try and work with everyone in a leadership role, with kindness, with respect, trusting everyone. I feel very fortunate to have all of those women who have helped me along the way to get to where I am.

Song Heo

And it’s not a coincidence, Kerrie, that SSCG is actually very much female-driven in terms of the top leadership, the executive’s leadership. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that your company has those philosophies that we really appreciate as a woman working within their agency.

Christie Massey

I love what you said about challenges that come up in the day-to-day and problem-solving. That’s very much how we like to operate here too, is we can figure it out together.

It shouldn’t be coming from a place of fear to be working together and getting to the next steps. I just think that’s really important, how we’re all working together and supporting and trusting one another. And that really helps the younger professionals as they’re trying to make their way if they’re not afraid to make a mistake.

Ashley Malone

Yeah, I would echo that. I don’t really have like a single mentor, but I have several that I’m thinking about almost in every life stage that I was going through as a professional. When I started my career, there were people that I was seeing in leadership roles, specifically women, that had a seat at the table, and I was looking up to them in that capacity.

And then, you know, when I was on my journey of motherhood and expecting, there were women that had young children that I would look up to when I was in that life stage. And then, as I move through all these life stages, there are different women that I’m like looking at as an inspiration based on my situation. I want to see myself mirrored in those strong leaders that are women.

So I would say it’s not really for me one person, but just several throughout my life that have, to your point, been giving me little seeds along the way of things that I have that I’ve gathered, and it makes me a stronger professional.

Mari Sanchez

I love that Ashley and I completely agree, Kerrie, that I can’t just point to one person. I feel so fortunate that people have taken an interest in me over my career and giving me seeds. I had one of my bosses at that first company who had this powerful analytic mind, and she would never stop asking why. And that really transformed me as a professional.

I had another mentor who happened to be a pitch consultant at the agency I worked at and took an interest in me, and he’s always followed up and helped connect me with different kinds of opportunities and has really shown me the power of networking and prioritizing myself sometimes in my journey because I think sometimes as women, we don’t do that. We can be very sacrificing and very accommodating. He’s taught me the power of kind of putting myself first in this journey.

And then, finally, my most recent mentor, who was my boss, who always admired me for being fierce, and told me. That was the word that he used to describe me. And it just became sort of this moment of like, Oh wow, I am fierce, and I love to be fierce and just kind of embracing this aspect of my personal identity that really just allowed me to step into my power as an individual.

I’ll definitely talk a little bit more about this when we get to the challenges. But thinking about what it means to be a woman who’s fierce in a society that doesn’t always like that side of women. So that was also very transformative for me.

Christie Massey

What an incredible compliment that is!

Mari Sanchez

To this day. Yup.

Christie Massey

That’s amazing. Helen, do you want to share?

Helen Kim

My mentor is someone I worked for 20 years ago when I was at my first media agency. She inspired me from the get-go. She’s very smart, confident, well-spoken, and a great leader who always pushed boundaries. And she pushed me to be the best that I could be every day. And over the years, we’ve gotten closer, and we’re now really good friends.

She’s now C-level at a holding company agency. And I’ve learned so much from her, getting career advice, coaching tips, and running ideas past her. She’s really my sounding board and has been so helpful and inspirational to me over the years. I just think it’s important to have someone to look up to and to surround yourself with smart, passionate, and really supportive advisors.

And Mari and Christie, as you mentioned, also having that great network of confidants that you can always go to. When I started at my first agency, there were about four or five of us girls who started at the same time. And we still keep in touch and get together periodically to bounce ideas off each other, talk about our work situations and talk things through any issues or challenges we may be facing. 

Mari Sanchez

If I can just bounce off of that for a second. I’m also thinking that we do sometimes have mentors who are in our lives for like decades or years at a time. But I also look back, and some of the mentors I identified were people who, maybe, we don’t speak regularly, but I know I could reach out. And they took an interest in me at a pivotal moment in my in my career and my journey. And I think about that all the time now that I’m in a leadership role and how I can kind of pay it forward.

But it doesn’t necessarily need to be I’m going to become this person’s best friend, but just that effort of taking an interest in somebody, having a conversation showing that you care, you don’t even realize how impactful that can be to that person’s life.

You know, if I spoke to some of the people that I identified as mentors, they might even be surprised that I called them a mentor. But just taking that step back and having the kindness to kind of say, who are you? I want to know more about you. I want to know more about what makes you tick and where you want to go next and maybe give you some guidance along the way. It can really have such a big impact on someone’s life.

Christie Massey

Yeah, absolutely. I just was going to add one of the most life-changing statements that one of my mentors told me was that being uncomfortable in your career progression is okay. It means you’re pushing yourself, you’re learning, and you’re going to fill the gaps of where you’re feeling that way.

Where you feel that you are falling short, fill that with resources that you need to push yourself forward and don’t be afraid of that space, but to push through it. And, you know, you come out stronger and better on the other side. So that’s resonated with me through the years for sure.

Mari Sanchez

Good one.