Women Of The C-Suite: “Pick Up the Phone” With Rebecca Coleman, Founder of Something Massive

“Pick Up the Phone — With email, texting, Slack and every other different project management communications platform, we could totally get…

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“Pick Up the Phone — With email, texting, Slack and every other different project management communications platform, we could totally get our jobs done without ever making a phone call, let alone seeing someone face-to-face. Although all these methods have led to increased efficiency, they can also lead to misunderstandings and frustration. I have a rule that if ever I have the need to “clarify” something, I don’t do it through email. I pick up the phone and call. I ask my employees to do the same (or, better yet, have a face-to-face meeting!) Then, following up with an email after the conversation is a-ok.”

I had the pleasure to interview Rebecca Coleman. Rebecca is living out her very specific and attainable childhood fantasy of being a leader in advertising as the Founder and Managing Partner of Something Massive. She’s a wife, mother, dotcom bubble survivor, and the equivalent of a bagel and smoked fish connoisseur…if such a thing existed.

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

Most 12-year-old girls dream of being an actress, teacher, or even a doctor or a lawyer. I wanted to work in advertising. I was so obsessed with Coca-Cola’s advertising campaigns that I pragmatically requested Coca-Cola stock from my grandfather as a bat mitzvah present. I followed through with this plan by graduating with a degree in Advertising from Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.

My first job out of college was working for the late, great Dave Goldberg at his first company, Launch Media. This was the era of the dotcom boom, so things were moving at light speed. Yahoo eventually acquired Launch in 2001, and I got my first tiny taste of reaping the benefits of equity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to retire as a twenty-something millionaire, so I moved to the agency side, joining LA-based DNA Studio as the Director of Marketing. I worked my way up to President and led the agency to earn a spot as one of Ad Age’s Top 50 Interactive Agencies. In 2006, we sold the agency to WhittmanHart and became one of the top independent agencies in the US. I stayed on for two years as General Manager overseeing 10 offices nationwide. In December of 2009, I started my own advertising agency, Something Massive.

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

Shortly after I began managing people, our team traveled to Atlanta for a big pitch. While we were scrambling to make last-minute presentation adjustments, I grabbed my employee’s computer to do a quick Google search. While toggling between open tabs on his browser, my stomach dropped at the sight of — an entirely live website my direct report had registered and created. Left speechless, I walked away mid-sentence, crawled into bed and went to sleep in the fetal position fully clothed.

So. Much. Self. Loathing. But then I got up, and kept going.

I learned (the hard way) that being a manager means having thick skin, and ambition does not necessarily make you popular. I no longer over-focus on being liked, instead I do my best to gain respect for my work. Also, we won the business, and that employee lost his job.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Well, our name speaks volumes! I called the agency Something Massive for a reason — we wanted to make a bold statement in an industry of giants and behemoth agencies. There’s room for more. I wanted to build an agency with a digital-led brand building approach and created a hybrid model housing 10,000 square feet of production space within the agency’s building. While our structure is anchored in traditional advertising strategy and account services, we shifted our creative and production process to operate around 30-day rapid sprint cycles in order to meet the demands of iterating real-time brand storytelling.

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

Research, including an annual study by UC Davis, has shown that companies with women at the top out-perform those that have mostly male boards and executives. Consulting firm McKinsey also showcased in a report of their own that women apply five out of nine key leadership skills more frequently than men, and thus contribute to a stronger organizational performance. On the whole, women are driven but are able to show emotional vulnerability and relate to their teams when challenges come through. Female leaders can encourage their teams to speak up, especially women on their team. We need to support each other and demonstrate that speaking up for what you believe in is encouraged. Surrounding yourself with the right teams, the right people, will help you and your agency thrive.

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

Managing teams, big or small, can be challenging. Your first step should always be getting to know your team as quickly as you can; understand their pain-points, strength and how they contribute to the overall organization. Set aside time to truly get to know them and for them to get to know you, as well. Be prepared to share your priorities and speak to how you can help your people further their own careers. Be as authentic as you can and be yourself.

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?

Lauren Hobart, who is currently the President of Dick’s Sporting Goods, is an incredible inspiration to me. Lauren and I met when she was a VP at Mountain Dew, and eventually went on to become the CMO of Carbonated Soft Drinks at Pepsi. After long meetings in stuffy conference rooms, Lauren would inevitably invite me back to her office to spend time connecting both professionally and personally. She wanted to be sure we not only aligned on business strategies but also had a personal connection, which has a positive cyclical effect on the business strategy alignment. Lauren always made the time for advice, helped me understand how to navigate a large organization like PepsiCo, and taught me what a critical role EQ plays in leadership. It is still something I strive for every day.

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

Something Massive is currently going through the certification process to become a B Corporation. These certified businesses meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. It’s a standard I’m personally passionate about meeting for our business, but also inspired by others on the same path.

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

· Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you believe in — When some of my female colleagues attended an industry event earlier this year, they encountered an individual who made some very inappropriate and unprofessional comments that sexualized our agency name, Something Massive. If interested, you can read more of the story in detail here. Instead of letting it slide, this felt like an important moment to stand up for an underlying issue our industry continues to grapple with and should talk about candidly more often. Needless to say, the response I received from peers, existing and prospective clients was overwhelmingly supportive, and I’d like to believe in its own small way contributed to some form of positive change.

· Never stop learning new things — Scientists have said that creativity is having the ability to translate information and skills to another setting. When you’re continually learning, you gather more information to be able to creatively problem solve, make better decisions and approach things with an open mind. That’s what being an entrepreneur is about. Only an open mind can truly explore the possibilities. I’m constantly looking to hire employees that know more than I do, and give our team the opportunity to learn along the way, too. I created a business book club at my agency so that we can regularly read and discuss what worked (and didn’t) for others and decide how/what could apply to our own situation.

· Cultivate relationships and nurture them — one of my very best friends owns an agency just like mine. Even though we’re direct competitors, we talk on a daily basis about the trials and triumphs of running an agency. There’s enough room in this world for both of us.

· Stop procrastinating — Focus on the big things you need to get done. I used to think knocking out those emails in my inbox was me being efficient, but it turns out it is actually a form of procrastination. Not to mention, the additional work it creates when your emails come back answered. Now, instead of trying to tie up loose ends before I tackle the priority project. Hunker down and focus on your big thing in the morning and spend the rest of the day on smaller in-between tasks.

· Pick Up the Phone — With email, texting, Slack and every other different project management communications platform, we could totally get our jobs done without ever making a phone call, let alone seeing someone face-to-face. Although all these methods have led to increased efficiency, they can also lead to misunderstandings and frustration. I have a rule that if ever I have the need to “clarify” something, I don’t do it through email. I pick up the phone and call. I ask my employees to do the same (or, better yet, have a face-to-face meeting!) Then, following up with an email after the conversation is a-ok.

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. 🙂

I would love to help women get the skills and confidence to work smarter, not harder. Women enter the workforce with a distinct disadvantage right out of the gate, with those of color facing even greater challenges than their white counterparts. It’s ingrained in our subconscious that women will always be salmon swimming upstream against straight white male bias, so we’re conditioned to fight the whole way up. We’re afraid to get comfortable at any point, to be anything less than a star employee, for fear that we’ll be passed up for opportunities.

We typically make the mistake of continuing to work hard with our head down, saying no to work social occasions in order to finish a project. It is more important than ever for women to understand the tools needed to get to that next level, and more often than not, working the hardest and staying back the latest isn’t the key. If readers are interested in learning more about the skills needed, they should check out The Forem’s Five Critical Skills.

Let’s break this cycle. Let’s get women out of middle management and into more senior executive roles.

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

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Five giant holding companies control 95% of all advertising dollars. A man helms each one of them. We’re looking at very low odds for a woman in this business. But now, I am running a successful independent agency that works with Fortune 500 brands every day. My goal is to continue to prove that you don’t have to be a big person (I’m only 5 feet) or a big agency (we’re only 50 people) to make a big impact!

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Twitter: @RebColeman

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