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“Why you need to listen, learn, love, live and lead” With Michelle Tang, Chief Growth Officer of Organic

Put very simply, listen, learn, love, live and lead. Listen and absorb as much as you can about your industry. Nearly every industry is changing at a faster pace than ever before (particularly advertising), so in this case the old adage of “knowledge is power” is true. I’ve found often that listening and knowing has given […]


Put very simply, listen, learn, love, live and lead.

Listen and absorb as much as you can about your industry. Nearly every industry is changing at a faster pace than ever before (particularly advertising), so in this case the old adage of “knowledge is power” is true. I’ve found often that listening and knowing has given me both confidence and credibility opening the door to conversations that would not have been had otherwise. In advertising, at its best we help to steer culture and we are lucky enough to have platforms where you can engage in all of that content, be it creative work, thought leadership and social media.

Learn from mentors, good bosses, and bad bosses. I’ve taken every experience I’ve had as a learning experience. Advertising constantly evolves, so every day you should aim to learn something new. In the same vein, find mentors who you can learn from consistently, or even better, sponsors who will help advocate for you.

Love what you do. Passion for producing amazing creative work is what drives the industry. We get to impact culture, influence households, and shape the future. When you’re with a great team, it is one of the most fun career paths anyone can take.

Live. I don’t believe there is an actual balance between work and life. I like to call it work/life integration. My husband is my biggest fan and partner and I’m incredibly lucky because we really do share equally in the care of our household and our children, Gabby (6) and Teddy (3). Every day is a constant reprioritization of everything that is going on — both professionally and personally. For example, one bigger picture priority for us is to show our kids the world. So we take two longer vacations a year — one international, one domestic — and many road trips throughout the year. Along the way, we each do emails, work and calls as needed to ensure everything is still moving in our respective jobs. We are both flexible and constantly in communication so that we always have the bigger picture goal in mind: a happy and healthy family, and productive, professional careers.

And lastly, lead by example because people are always watching. This means standing up for what you believe in and being true to who you are — even if you are the only one doing so. Diverse perspectives matter and without it, it’s so easy to end up with the same old thinking and same old strategies.


I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Tang. Michelle is currently Chief Growth Officer of Organic, the Interaction Agency, an Omnicom-owned company. She has over 15 years experience building business growth for leading marketing communications agencies, including FCB, Wunderman, and Digitas Health winning clients such as Ford, Clorox, Levi’s, and Best Buy. Michelle resides in New York City with her husband and two young children.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My parents emigrated from Taiwan and settled into Flushing, Queens, one of the largest immigrant communities in the United States. I watched them work incredibly hard to attain the American dream. My dad started as a Chinese food delivery man on the Upper East Side and retired as owner of a two-star New York Times rated Chinese restaurant, Tang Pavilion. That journey not only taught me to have vision and ambition, but to be hungry, scrappy and willing to sacrifice for the greater good. It manifests in how I lead; I get in the trenches, help shape and do the work to win, but always with the bigger picture in mind.

This also meant I grew up “tiger mom” style with evenings and weekends packed to the brim with a variety of activities ranging from Chinese language school to piano to gymnastics and Chinese folk dancing. It meant learning time and project management at a really early age to be able to survive and thrive. I often think back to those days when I reflect on my career path in marketing. My role is essentially the business of driving growth at advertising agencies by finding, winning, and onboarding new clients and building new business opportunities. It’s a combination of marketing, PR and sales that requires strategic acumen and vision for where the future is going. In nearly fifteen years, I have yet to have the same day twice.

Over the course of my career, I’ve held this role at many different types of advertising agencies — from traditional agencies to data and CRM agencies to healthcare agencies. With the entire industry constantly evolving, coupled with the onset of new technologies, this broader purview gives me a unique perspective in how to position Organic in the marketplace.

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

Organic has a really interesting heritage. It was founded 25 years ago as the first digital advertising agency and is one of the very few from that time that is still successful today. We are in the process of planning a celebration for our anniversary in December, and as part of that process we’ve been digging into the agency’s history. One artifact we dug up was the original organic.com website built circa 1993. While 25 years is a long time, the gap between then and now was so evident as we looked at that site. It serves as a reminder of how quickly our world evolves now, and sometimes it’s nice to take a step back to commemorate the past.

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?

Growing up the firstborn of Taiwanese immigrant parents came with its own set of challenges — I was raised to sit quietly and not rock the boat. Yet I work in an industry where strong voice and presence are crucial to success. For the first five years of my career, I sat quietly in every meeting working really hard hoping that someone else would see that effort. And then I realized that simply doesn’t work.

Finding my voice was one challenge I had to overcome, and using it was another. Ironically, over the last few years, being buoyed by the increase in the number of women I was mentoring has helped shape my leadership style just as much as learning from my own mentors.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Late last year, Organic launched a new division called Synthetic — our practice dedicated to all things cognitive technology and artificial intelligence.The latest project Synthetic is working on is SIA (Style Intelligence Agent), a cognitive service that uses the latest AI tech to help consumers find products and build styles using image recognition.Visual search services like the ones on Pinterest and Amazon show results that are direct image copies and are rather expected. SIA does that and more. Users upload images of specific items they are looking for as well as more abstract images they are inspired by, then SIA can take that and draw context from the image to produce more robust, complex results. Launched at Adobe’s Symposium in New York this past summer, we’ve been seeing great responses on SIA and are currently working on three other prototypes that we hope to launch soon.

As cog tech and AI continue to advance, it will surely change and impact how we live our everyday lives. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of that change and help build innovations that brands can utilize to better interact with their customers.

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

The most challenging times in my career have also ended up being some of the greatest highlights. A very smart executive coach told me during what I thought was the toughest year of my career, “ain’t no comfort in growth and ain’t no growth in comfort.” It was in that year that I was pushed and stretched professionally (my first C-Suite job) and personally (health problems for my then 1 year old son) and ultimately pushed me to find my voice and build my own leadership style.It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges and begin to feel defeated, but know that those are the moments that enable you to approach a situation in a new way, find new solutions you otherwise wouldn’t have, and eventually take you to the next level of your career (and life).

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I recently worked on a project that was probably one of the largest in my career. Globally, it required the partnership of hundreds of individuals, all of whom came from different backgrounds — ethnically, geographically and professionally — not to mention, multiple P&Ls. As one of the global leaders on this project, I spent a lot of my time listening, problem solving, and most importantly, serving as translator across the team. With any large group, it becomes evident that the same words can be interpreted differently. For that reason, it is crucial to continuously clarify and communicate intention on a regular basis. You can never assume that everyone has the same definitions of terminology in order to maintain that shared vision. It also demonstrates that, as a leader, you have empathy for the team and the goals they’re trying to accomplish. We came out on the other side as a true team as a result of this experience –and to me that is a win any day.

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

As clichéd as it may sound, my most important role model is my mom. She came to the U.S. at the age of 25 and left behind her entire family and life to join my dad and his family in New York. She worked full time while managing our household, our family finances and raised my sister and me. As a mom myself trying to balance work and family, I look back to my childhood and wonder how she managed to do it all. With each passing day, I appreciate how much strength she had.

In my professional career, there are female role models and leaders who I hope to emulate one day — the likes of Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama. But personally, the female leaders who I admire the most are those who have mentored and coached me on a day-to-day basis. They are authentic, smart as hell, and most of all, caring, honest and inspire me every day.

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

I believe that representation matters. Coming up in advertising, I very rarely encountered any women who looked like me in leadership. When I had children, I also rarely encountered women in leadership with kids. For a long time, it was rare that someone who looked like me was in the media or in pop culture. 2018 was the year where that really began to shift with the number of Asian Americans representing Team USA in the Olympics to the summer hit Crazy Rich Asians.

But for me, I spend a lot of time mentoring and speaking to women one-on-one both in and outside of advertising. It’s the way I feel I’m able to make the most impact. And anytime I’m in a room, I aim to be present and always stay true to who I am: a woman, an Asian-American, and a mom.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Put very simply, listen, learn, love, live and lead.

Listen and absorb as much as you can about your industry. Nearly every industry is changing at a faster pace than ever before (particularly advertising), so in this case the old adage of “knowledge is power” is true. I’ve found often that listening and knowing has given me both confidence and credibility opening the door to conversations that would not have been had otherwise. In advertising, at its best we help to steer culture and we are lucky enough to have platforms where you can engage in all of that content, be it creative work, thought leadership and social media.

Learn from mentors, good bosses, and bad bosses. I’ve taken every experience I’ve had as a learning experience. Advertising constantly evolves, so every day you should aim to learn something new. In the same vein, find mentors who you can learn from consistently, or even better, sponsors who will help advocate for you.

Love what you do. Passion for producing amazing creative work is what drives the industry. We get to impact culture, influence households, and shape the future. When you’re with a great team, it is one of the most fun career paths anyone can take.

Live. I don’t believe there is an actual balance between work and life. I like to call it work/life integration. My husband is my biggest fan and partner and I’m incredibly lucky because we really do share equally in the care of our household and our children, Gabby (6) and Teddy (3). Every day is a constant reprioritization of everything that is going on — both professionally and personally. For example, one bigger picture priority for us is to show our kids the world. So we take two longer vacations a year — one international, one domestic — and many road trips throughout the year. Along the way, we each do emails, work and calls as needed to ensure everything is still moving in our respective jobs. We are both flexible and constantly in communication so that we always have the bigger picture goal in mind: a happy and healthy family, and productive, professional careers.

And lastly, lead by example because people are always watching. This means standing up for what you believe in and being true to who you are — even if you are the only one doing so. Diverse perspectives matter and without it, it’s so easy to end up with the same old thinking and same old strategies.

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

The movement I want to inspire isn’t a new one, in fact it’s a frequently talked about topic where change is starting to happen. My hope is when my daughter enters the workforce, women are supported, viewed, and treated as equals to men. That means no differences in wages and compensation. Paid parental leave for all parents. Flexible and remote work schedules so women can truly have it all without the struggles my mother, and women still face today.

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

My most important lesson is the golden rule — do unto others what you want them to do to you. Kindness and empathy don’t impede the goals of business, they build and foster a culture of shared success. That “work hard, play hard together” mentality will always inspire teams to do what it takes.

Similarly, choose a company based on culture. We spend so much of our waking hours at work — choose a team you want to spend that time with.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @michelletang_

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelleetang/


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