by Alicia Adamczyk, Of Mercer Contributor
Lisa Pearson, Chief Marketing Officer of Bazaarvoice, a network that authenticates and syndicates online reviews for over 2,000 clients globally, has been in the marketing business for over 20 years and has experienced the shift from traditional to digital marketing first-hand – and all of the possibilities this transition has opened in the field. After graduating with a degree in literature from Tulane University, Pearson packed her bags and took a 36-hour train ride to New York (“I felt like New York is the most exciting place in the world in terms of media”) and began working in a creative agency for American Express.
Fast-forward to today, and Pearson is settled in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children, as one of the top executives of Bazaarvoice. In addition, she as the Chair of the board of directors for Flow Nonfiction, a documentary filmmaking company focused on socially responsible businesses (her “creative outlet”) and recently joined the board of Alert Logic, a cloud-based securities company. Here, she shares tips and insights on everything from the ideal mentor-mentee relationship to why you should never talk about business in an elevator.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Why did you choose the Marketing/PR career path?
I’ve always liked the sharing of information, I’ve always been interested in how stories are told — I’m from New Orleans, which is like the story-telling capital of the world, I’m sure of it —I’m always interested in story-telling and how people share information. It’s all been very fluid to lead up to now. I love that I’m in a business that’s about sharing real opinions, I feel like everything I’ve ever done professionally has lined-up perfectly with my own interests and lead to this point.
After college you moved to New York and started at American Express. You undoubtedly learned many things at your first job, but do you have one main takeaway from your first real job?
Never talk about anything in an elevator (laughs). I have bigger picture things than that, but they have a rule, never discuss business in elevators, ever. You know how each job will have one life lesson? Even now when I’m in an elevator I’m like ‘stop, wait until we get outside.
What I learned is look, American Express is a terrific company when it comes to delivering outstanding customer services. And so even as a junior, junior runt of the litter everything you did had to be of incredible quality in terms of marketing and in service of the customer. And so at the time we did a lot of events and there are principles I learned in 1991 as a baby marketer that I still look at all the time: Is this in service of customer? Are they going to care? Are we doing everything we can to deliver an outstanding experience? I think American Express is a world-class company and I feel really grateful to have cut my teeth in an environment where there’s such a commitment to the consumer.
You’ve lived in New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and now, Austin — is there one place you still consider home?
For the U.S. I feel like I’ve picked the four cities that speak to me most loudly. New York is really, if I had to pick a home. New York City is a place that I love and the energy can’t be recreated anywhere else.
I’m also super pro-Austin, Austin is a fantastic town and is a force to be reckoned with and there are so many exciting things happening there in the entrepreneurial scene that can’t happen in New York or San Francisco just because the economics are too hard. So people can actually go to Austin and open a business and live. I’m really pro-small business and I love love love that, it’s a fantastic place to live and raise my family.
Now, we’re tucked in. Austin’s our place.
What is your job like on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a typical day?
Absolutely not. There are no typical days. As a C-level executive in a publicly traded company that’s in a hyper-growth industry…I wake up in the morning and there’s a full in-box from our European teams, they’re in the middle of their day so there’s a whole bunch of stuff happening there. And there’s always some piece of news that’s broken overnight that is a way we should think about our business differently. I wake up in the morning operating in a deficit, so one eye open, you’re already behind to a degree -- but I like the adrenaline rush.
I try to spend as much time with our customers as possible, and that’s not necessarily what marketing folks do, but I find that there’s far greater utility talking to our customers than there is being tucked away in a gilded cage in a office. I love being out and seeing how they’re using our content and asking them what they need.
There’s no typical day, the consistent elements are that it’s fast-paced, and it’s intense, and it’s always changing.
Are you able to spend a lot of time with your family?
I am very committed to being a present and accountable mom, and wife and sister and daughter and friend and individual, and all that. The benefit of being pretty senior in an organization is that I construct my time in a way that works for all components of my life.
One of the benefits of getting older is you realize that sometimes if you just wait it out, it just goes away, the problem solves itself. One of the things I’ve become much more disciplined at is assessing each thing and thinking, ‘Do I really need to get to scrum of this right now, or if I waited it out is this something that will resolve itself?’
The other thing is, I don’t work on vacation. That’s not a popular thing in our culture, everyone’s sending all of these mixed messages, ‘Oh I’m on vacation, but I’m available if you need me and I’m going to respond to some of your emails.’ And that does no one any service. Over the last year I’ve gotten really vigilant about, unless it’s truly an emergency, I take a vacation and I unplug, I don’t check my email and I don’t engage.
And it’s also really valuable for my kids to see that they have 100-perent of my attention, because they don’t have that every day. And it gives space and room to the people who work for me to flex their own muscles and make decisions. And it just gives me clarity.
What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how have you gotten past it?
There are so many things. I think the biggest is, I think there’s a challenge for women in general for figuring out how to make your own voice heard. I work in a very male environment, our whole leadership team is male, the tech industry, generally, is very male. So just continuing to work through how to be a firm and aggressive woman, but also still be real and feminine and not try to conform to the other people you work with. That’s something I think about all the time and that I’m aware of, and also do a lot of work with women in my company and outside of my company to say. Here are some things as women you need to be thinking about, and how to be successful in a very male environment
Do you make an extra effort to be a mentor? There are a lot of people who say women don’t have proper mentors at work because there aren’t a lot of other women higher up in companies in many fields.
I do make a very conscious effort to do that, and also to interact with mentors for my own development, I’m hardly in a place where I have nothing to learn.
But I would say part of the mentorship struggle, and there is a struggle, there is a need, and I think part of what makes it challenging is that the person who’s asking to be mentored has given no thought to what they want to get out of the relationship and how it could work. It’s sort of like a box to check – like oh, I have mentor. But that’s not a useful construct.
What I’ve found that works for me very effectively, both in being mentored and mentoring others, is I don’t need to actually define it as mentorship, for me that adds kind of a lot of burden or responsibility to it. But just surround yourself with people who are doing different things who can help you either connect into new opportunities or help you learn and grow.
But calling someone and just saying, ‘Will you be my mentor,’ I can tell you, and this sounds rude, but the person on the other end of the phone just dies. Because you want to say yes, there’s no structure to the ask, the next question will be, ‘Can we schedule a coffee date,’ and for what? It’s much more useful to me if someone says, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about transition from advertising to digital marketing, that’s something you have a lot of experience with, I know I’m going to have a couple of questions over the next few months, would you be ok if I reached out to you?’ Oh my god, yes. Then it’s an easy process. And ask the mentee for the structure that works for them.
I find people don’t put any rigor or thinking into their mentorship request, and then are surprised when it doesn’t yield much.
Do you have any advice for a recent college grad who wants to move to New York and go into marketing?
Be as curious as possible, read everything. New York City in particular is a Zeitgeist-y place. You should know what’s going on in art, finance, digital and marketing. It’s not enough to be fluent in the latest things in marketing; you just need to be wise about what’s going on in popular and business culture. I would say invest time every single day to just be smart about what’s happening in general.
You have access through social media now to reach out to people directly, which has never happened before. Build a brand for yourself in social media that is about sharing ideas, about giving, about interacting with people, because you can fast-track into a lot of opportunities that you couldn’t know about other ways. I still think that that’s under-leveraged, I’m always surprised about how few people I interview are actively using Twitter and LinkedIn to engage. Some of them are using it to push content out, but few use it to engage.
Being insatiably curious in what’s going on is mandatory, as is building a strong brand. Even the most senior executive is going to Google you, so you should put some time and energy into that.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
There’s this great book, where the author called it ‘Being a love cat’ which basically means being as professionally generous as you can be. So I think the best advice, or the most consistent themes I’ve seen from people who I professionally admire a great deal, is about being really generous with their relationships, like brokering introductions for people, generous with their time, generous with their attention, and that stuff always pays off. It just always always always does. Every job that I’ve ever had has just seamlessly led from someone who knew me.
The other thing is to close the loops. So if you asked someone for advice for something, they’re invested in your story then. What I love is when someone calls me for advice, I love when they come back and say here’s what ended up happening. A lot of people close the loop, and I think that’s part of the generosity and give-and-take professionally, is those kinds of courtesies too, always let people know what happened.