Erin Hoskins: “Surround yourself with supporters”

Surround yourself with supporters — I have been blessed with an amazing tribe of women who only have an interest in supporting and lifting each other up. We all have different career paths, family circumstances, and even political affiliations. We learn from one another, lean on each other in times of need, and have far too much […]

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Surround yourself with supporters — I have been blessed with an amazing tribe of women who only have an interest in supporting and lifting each other up. We all have different career paths, family circumstances, and even political affiliations. We learn from one another, lean on each other in times of need, and have far too much fun when we’re all able to get together, even if it’s only on Zoom these days.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Hoskins. Erin Hoskins is Chief Marketing Officer of LaCalle Group — the parent company of continued, a family ofcontinuing education websites for professionals, and Simucase, a healthcare education simulation platform. As CMO, she oversees all marketing, communications, branding, user experience, and e-commerce.

Hoskins has more than 20 years of marketing leadership and expertise with progressive experience in data-driven customer acquisition, content marketing, and branding. She joined LaCalle Group from the Meredith Corporation, where she served in a variety of digital and consumer marketing roles including Vice President of Audience Development and Consumer Marketing.

Hoskins holds an MBA from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and a BA in Communications from Simpson College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I received my BA in communications and initially had my sights set on working in public relations and event planning. Early in my career, I took a marketing and promotions position at Ticketmaster. This was at a time when most tickets were purchased through in-person ticket centers and over the phone, but not long after I started, the focus of ticket sales became trying to move them online. I remember having to almost beg the venues and promoters to allow me to do online promotions or send emails for them. Through those early days in e-commerce, I realized how much I loved the data aspect and the immediacy of response. After Ticketmaster, I spent 12 years at Meredith Corporation, a media company, where I led digital marketing and eventually all of consumer marketing. I was fortunate to join the company at a time of rapid growth in digital marketing, and I had the opportunity to grow a team of talented and fun individuals while working on esteemed brands such as Better Homes and Gardens, Shape, Parents, and dozens more. While at Meredith, I earned my MBA and helped build my business toolbox. When the opportunity came up at LaCalle Group, I found myself excited about their growth plans for continued and Simucase and also a rebranding effort underway. I was also drawn to the leadership team and culture, which both felt really special. The appeal of remote work and promise of work-life balance certainly sealed the decision for me. I joined the company as the vice president of e-commerce in 2016 and transitioned to the chief marketing officer (CMO) role in late 2017.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Working at LaCalle Group has helped me become a reformed workaholic. With such an emphasis on work-life balance in our company, I have become much more intentional about it and have gained a better awareness of how leaders set the tone for their teams. It’s important for everyone to take time off and be unplugged. For the first time in my career, I am taking a majority of my allotted PTO each year, and most of it while not checking in regularly. My team knows how to reach me for emergencies, and I also trust them to handle the most urgent issues. While I may periodically still work in the evenings or weekends, I am conscious about not sending many emails or Slack messages during these times so people don’t feel inclined to check or answer during off-hours. I’ve found that scheduling messages to go out the next day or writing them as drafts to send later works just as well for knocking out my to-do list without setting the wrong expectations. Working for a fully remote company, I find that I am much more productive, even with a fairly heavy meeting schedule.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At my previous company, the floors looked pretty similar. One day, I was reading email on my phone while in the elevator. I stepped out on my floor and proceeded to walk around the corner and down the hall to my office. I was more than a little confused when I walked into my office and someone else was sitting at my desk. It didn’t hit me until that point that I was on the wrong floor. I could have quickly turned around embarrassed, but instead, I made fun of myself, laughed it off, and introduced myself to the person in the office. Our paths hadn’t crossed before, as I worked in digital and she worked in print, and those areas were very separate at the time. We had a nice 15-minute chat. Periodically after that, we would run into each other and talk about our respective areas. Six months or so later, through a restructuring, we ended up working on the same integration project. Our familiarity helped us establish trust early in the process. Taking time to create connections matters, as you never know when your paths may cross again.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Throughout my career what has driven me has been opportunities to continually learn and challenge myself. As a marketer in the digital age, there is no shortage of change and learning opportunities. The various channels are like puzzle pieces, and I learned early on that I could see the connections quickly and see the picture come together. As CMO, I have the opportunity to work across the business to help put the bigger picture together.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The most effective executives have a high degree of both accountability and flexibility. As an executive, you are responsible for taking into consideration all aspects of the business when making decisions, and you must be confident in owning the impact of those decisions on the business and the organization. Flexibility is important, as nothing stays constant, particularly in the current pandemic. We’re continually adapting plans, dealing with the unforeseen, finding creative solutions, and supporting team members with their personal challenges while remaining both transparent and measured in our response.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

Being a CMO requires balancing both the art and science of marketing by understanding how brand, customer experience, messaging, channels, and technology come together, often through data. I work with a talented group of marketers, and my role with them is to lend support where I can and try to help eliminate barriers while fostering their growth in analysis, decision making, and collaboration. That extends to the other groups we work with as well including operations, tech, product, and sales. Seeing teams collaborate for shared success is where the magic happens.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The stakes are higher. You have to be very thoughtful about decisions made and their impact in both the short term and long term. This means weighing both business benefits and risks with how things may impact the organization or culture. Not everyone will agree with your decisions, but it is important that they feel heard and that you considered their input. Exceptional communication skills are paramount for an effective executive.

The projects you work on tend to be more strategic and longer-term, but the items on your to-do list can seem to take a very long time to cross off.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the main myths of being an executive is that you have all the answers. It is important to admit when you don’t know and to be able to identify ways to find the answers — by asking questions, working with other teams, conducting research, and leaning on your networks.

On a lighter note, it’s a myth that you no longer get to have fun at work. Working remotely limits our office get-togethers, but there is a thread of humor and fun throughout our organization, whether it’s fun Slack threads or friendly competitions in our company-wide fitness challenges. At our last all-company meeting in December of 2019 in Palm Springs, we celebrated a milestone birthday for one of our owners with a decades dance party. The call to dress from your favorite decade provided me with the opportunity to don a green polyester leisure suit.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Balancing work and family. I am lucky to share parenting responsibilities fairly equally with my husband, and we have both ebbed and flowed over various times in our son’s life, but I think societally there are still different expectations between working moms and dads, with moms bearing the brunt of the judgment over missed events or activities due to work commitments.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

There’s a real partnership within the executive team at LaCalle Group. We tackle challenges together with a high degree of trust, transparency, and often humor. It’s inspiring to work with people on a daily basis who are all exceptional at what they do but are also great collaborators and problem-solvers.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

The most successful executives I’ve worked with and learned from have been highly adaptable. They are comfortable with instigating, leading, and communicating change in a way that instills confidence and buy-in from their organization. They are open to alternative ways of thinking or doing things and are open to constructive feedback.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be clear in goals and expectations and help your team gain confidence in making decisions. Don’t be afraid to fail, and instill that same thing in your team. In marketing, that means that not every test or campaign is going to be a winner. If you only ever execute the sure thing, you are missing out on a lot of learning opportunities and potential for bigger successes. The key is to be on the same page with your team on when and where to take risks.

Find mentors or even peers that you can trust to act as a gut check. You need at least one person, preferably more than one, that you can call on to give you unbiased validation or constructive feedback that you will listen to. I have benefitted from having both female and male soundingboards.

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

I was fortunate to have both of my grandmothers alive well into my adulthood, and that was a gift for so many reasons. They both taught me that it’s never too late to learn or try new things, it’s okay to change your mind and to keep everything in perspective. Maybe one of the most important things — don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read in the newspaper. My Granny B joined Facebook in her 90’s to keep up with her grandkids and great-grandkids so that extended to social media as well.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I enjoy being able to lend my marketing experience to help causes that are important to me or the people in my life. As an executive, I’m not as involved in the day-to-day execution and sometimes I miss flexing those marketing muscles. In 2017 one of my closest friends asked me to help manage marketing for her fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Central Iowa Woman of the Year. Her daughter was in remission from leukemia. Over the 10-week campaign, she raised 125,000 dollars. I was happy to play a small part through website development, event marketing, and social media.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You don’t have to have a clear path — I have never really had a “5-year plan”, but I have always had the desire to continue to learn and accept new challenges, even if they made me uncomfortable at first. A majority of my most rewarding opportunities have stretched me outside of my comfort zone.
  2. Build the best team — Surround yourself with experts, and don’t be afraid to hire someone who knows more than you. Make sure to hire as much for fit with the team and organization as for qualifications for the role. A poor fit can wreck the dynamics of a team.
  3. Communication can be a superpower or kryptonite — I have always had a fairly direct and outspoken communication style, but I have also learned to tailor my communication style to the situation or audience. Effective communication is imperative for facilitating trust and buy-in. The earlier you learn to make difficult conversations productive, the more effective you will be. It takes practice (and often a few missteps) to hone these skills. Hint: It can help to practice some conversations out loud.
  4. Surround yourself with supporters — I have been blessed with an amazing tribe of women who only have an interest in supporting and lifting each other up. We all have different career paths, family circumstances, and even political affiliations. We learn from one another, lean on each other in times of need, and have far too much fun when we’re all able to get together, even if it’s only on Zoom these days.
  5. Take care of yourself — Prioritize healthy habits. It’s far too easy to fall out of a healthy routine for exercise, eating, and sleep in favor of getting just a few more things done on your to-do list. That may be okay in the short term, but it will catch up to you in the long term.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The pandemic has forced a lot of companies to evaluate work-from-home policies and work flexibility in a trial by fire fashion. Our company has been 100% remote for two decades, and we have been able to build a thriving company culture and support productivity while also encouraging work-life balance. Work flexibility may mean different things to various organizations and their teams, but the pandemic has accelerated the move to both remote work and other flexible working models, which I hope is not just a short-term shift. As a company, we are regularly sharing insights and tips for how we make remote work successful over the long term. I am always happy to field questions from other leaders who are considering flexible working models and what has worked best in our organization or get ideas from other companies who have different approaches.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humor, work in businesses at all times.” — John Gerzema

This is true in business and in life. If you always have intentions to do the right thing, be open about what you’re doing, and admit when you’re wrong, the tough decisions become easier and any missteps are generally forgiven. Never underestimate the value of appropriately timed humor. It can take the edge off of tense situations or open the door for less formal conversations. I have a hard time not pointing out the elephant in the room, so often I have used humor to introduce the elephant. Most of the time everyone is relieved to have it out in the open, even if it leads to a challenging conversation.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Michelle Obama is the first person who comes to mind. She’s smart and bold yet in control. She is dedicated to helping other people, specifically to empowering young people to make the world a better place. I admire her grace and ability to take the high road. She also seems warm and appears to have an incredible sense of humor. Of course, we would become friends!

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

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