Mickey Wilson is the CMO of WideOrbit, which she joined in 2015. She is responsible for WideOrbit’s marketing strategy, including brand development, product positioning and go-to-market strategies. Before joining WideOrbit, Mickey was Vice President at Walmart Global eCommerce where she focused on advancing Walmart’s digital marketing platform, and was Chief Marketing Officer at CBS Interactive, where she directed marketing strategy for CBS Interactive and its brand portfolio. Prior to its acquisition by CBS, Wilson was Senior Vice President of Communications and Brand Development at CNET Networks, where she spearheaded projects that led to industry-wide adoption of best practices for optimizing ad effectiveness and the creation of digital advertising units later accepted as standard formats by the Interactive Advertising Bureau standard formats.
Q: Who or what were early influences on you and how did they affect your career?
A: I would say growing up my parents influenced a lot of my decisions. I was the youngest child and my mum grew up in a very traditional east coast family where her father didn’t really believe in paying for education for women, because he thought that since they got married and had kids it would be a waste. My mum did not believe in that; she didn’t get married until she was 30 did a lot of things before she got married like having a career. At that time it was pretty much unheard of. She was always my dad’s equal, never just his wife, and I think she set a great example for me. Just because someone says it can’t be done or you shouldn’t do it that way doesn’t mean that you have to believe them.
Q: This type of positive influence from your parents probably set you apart in terms of how you thought or perceived things.
A: Yeah, it did kind of show me that being a woman wasn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. When I moved into tech, that was the first industry I worked in where at most events or places I went to, the women in the room were the exceptions. If I went to an event, 98% were men and 2% were women. A lot of times that just meant two other women. With the way I grew up, I learned early on that you either earn your right to be in the room or you don’t.
Q: What are three must-have skills for anyone that has your job?
A: Confidence in your expertise, understanding of what you don’t know and openness to other ideas because no one is successful…well some people are, but traditionally it takes a team to do great things. And that means you have to create room for a team to succeed and other ideas to come in and drive greatness.
Q: Please elaborate on what you mean by being confident
A: It is a balance; it is not arrogance or cockiness. I always think of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” story where a boy in the playground wants to be the team captain and he is thought of as a confident leader but when a woman does it, she is considered bossy. I think confidence means having the conviction in your statements where you think you are right and in a way that is not aggressive or territorial, but by stating your point of view in a clear and concise way, especially when you’re in a room where the overriding view is contrary.
Sometimes what you don’t say is the most important thing that could be a catalyst for a great idea. If you don’t share it you will never know…or it could be a catalyst for a stimulating conversation to take you some place you never would normally go.
Often times I think women can sit in the room with a large group of people and think that if this is a good idea, somebody would have said it or you know what, things are tense and though I may not agree with that point, I don’t want to be the one to start anything. I think how you do it is different than what you do. That’s why I say you have to have confidence; if you believe you have a valid point, you share it, but you also have to be aware of the best way to do that and that means being aware of the people and the environment.
Q: What was the most important job or skill in your career that led you to your current role?
A: I worked for a really great woman when I was 30 and it was during the boom of technology when this internet thing had not really kicked off. We were doing a lot of marketing campaigns to engage developers to actually build websites; teaching them how to use Java and teaching them how to build content that was accessible online beyond a lot of dos-based programming. So working with this woman taught me to think about things differently and it was never you can’t do it. It was, “Well that is an interesting thing, how are we going to do it?” and that really helped me never worry about whether it had been done before and what is the playbook, but to look at it as an opportunity to define the path that you follow.
A great example was when we ended up doing a 36 city world tour in 6 weeks, and we only had 6 weeks to plan it. That may sound insurmountable but her attitude was that anything is possible and just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. There were a lot of sleepless nights, but we really learned how to be a team, trust each other, hand things off and pull the right people. This taught me that who you work with, great communication and trust are really important because you can do a lot when you have those elements.
Q: How do you continue your education to stay cutting edge? What is the most valuable professional continuing education you’ve been a part of and why?
A: I would say I have been in this tech space and at this intersection of technology and media pretty much the majority of my career. It’s kind of cool because I have seen it from the back office where you are dealing with developers and IT professionals and see how they embrace technology, and then from the media side: seeing how consumers consume content has changed dramatically as technology has accelerated and become more accessible, better and faster. It is also interesting because it is changing so quickly that it forced me to think about how to stay current in different ways.
One of the best pieces of advice someone had given me that I wish I had followed earlier on in my career is to always find time to network in your industry and outside of it because you never know where a good idea or insight will come from. Having coffee with another marketing professional who sits in the consumer package goods may give you an insight into a customer that applies in the digital marketing space.
The other thing is always being curious, whether it is curious about apps, content, or food and culture, because those are the driving factors of your customer set. At the end of the day, every customer is an individual and they have interests that are influenced by different things. If you understand what is happening in a broader perspective, you can start to connect the dots to what you are doing in business.
Q: What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women at work, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?
A: I am really impressed because when I started there was definitely a much more…I don’t want to say a line, but you didn’t see women progressing in their careers as much as I am seeing today. It was just more, “Oh, women are in marketing and men were in sales,” and it wasn’t that all men were in sales, but it felt like there was some typecasting and these were the types of roles people would take.
Over the years I really find it refreshing and I don’t know if it is because I have been really lucky to work with great people or just have been working in very interesting industries where I kind of don’t see a delineation by sex to a certain extent. I feel like smart people and creative people are involved in things. Men that I have worked with have been really great and supportive in helping me push my career and sometimes being the advocate by saying, “No, you are good enough; you should try out for that opportunity,” and making sure that I am not holding myself back.
I am also really impressed by the kind of people in my team who are couple of years out of college and are proactive in a smart way by saying things like, “I want to talk about where I’m at, what I can do better, where I want to go and what do I need to do to get there.” They are taking ownership over their careers and development and realizing no one is more invested in what you are going to do than you are.
Q: It is interesting that you say you don’t really see that line or separation though you had mentioned earlier on how in the technology field it would be 98% men and 2% women, so do you think that is changing now in that particular field?
A: Yes, that was when I started out. The tech space was heavily dominated by men and that was primarily when I was dealing with developers and IT professionals. If you just go back in time, that was the career path that men were pushed into so when I was being exposed to it, that was a predominant thing. When I graduated from college, I was kind of the exception in the technology/media industry and there just weren’t a lot of women, but I also worked at CBS, which is one of the largest media companies in the United States and the president of sales was a woman and was super powerful and really smart. The head of the studio was also a woman and she was really talented. Let me tell you, she owned the room and had great insight. I would see her interact with Leslie Moonves and there was mutual respect; he was the guy who didn’t need you to be male or female, he just wanted the best people on his team and that is why I feel like the workforce has changed.
At the same time, I feel kind of lucky that I watched this migration because people have grown up and there has been much more of an advocacy where women don’t have to stay home if they don’t want to and if they do that’s great, but they now have options. I mean just look at Sheryl Sandberg; there are just so many role models today that I think it isn’t the exception where 20 or 30 years ago having strong female business leaders might have been more of an exception…or that may be me just having a very narrow view of the world.
Q: For women that have an established career in media and technology, what can they do to rise to a C-suite level and what did you do to distinguish yourself?
A: I think there are a couple of things. One of the things that I have been able to do is to understand strategy and connect it to execution, because the best strategy doesn’t mean anything if you can’t execute it. The second piece is dealing well with ambiguity and change. Stuff in media and stuff in tech is constantly evolving and changing–play-books are being rewritten–so it is really important to be comfortable in that space and to have clarity in where you want to go, but flexibility to adapt based on what changes externally and internally.
Q: Can you expand a little bit more on dealing with ambiguity?
A: I worked in digital media and I have seen the rise and the fall and the rise again. Digital media at one point in time was only search, and it was unclear if there was a business model. You were not really worried about your company, but how the industry helps marketers and advertisers understand that there is a way to reach customers in a meaningful way that helps drive the business forward. We needed to step back and realize that it was how do we (digital websites) show marketers that they could be doing more than just trying to sell stuff online.
We created a whole new way to advertise online by creating avenues as well as building tool kits that made it easy for the industry of advertisers and agencies to build them because they didn’t have the skill sets and had never done it, as well as providing the research that showed it worked so if they were going to take the time and energy to build it, it would have a positive impact in their business metrics. We really didn’t know what to do, we just knew there was a problem and we knew that people did not know if advertising online worked and therefore they weren’t spending money. We knew as an industry if we didn’t get money we weren’t going to succeed or survive.
How we move from there to making it a profitable industry was a big white canvas, so that is the ambiguity and we made some guesses; we had some hypothesis, we tested them and we were able to introduce new advertising that we (C-NET) didn’t just own but made available to the whole industry to create adoption which helped drive more brand dollars online. That is what I mean by ambiguity, not “Oh, I don’t know what to do so the game is over.” It was more “Oh! I don’t know what to do, but this is kind of an interesting challenge. Let’s step back, figure it out and break it down into steps.”
Q: How do digital and traditional marketing intertwine? Do you have any examples of companies that are getting it right?
A: Being in the Bay Area, we probably have a different view because we see so many different things all the time. I think when you step back and think, marketing is marketing. What is really fun about it is that there are just more ways to connect with your audience. I always laugh when I talk to someone and they are like, “What is your social strategy, what’s your digital strategy, what’s your print strategy?” I sit there and I go, “Ok, let me ask you this question. As a person, do you sit there and say my digital consumption patterns are this, my TV consumption patterns are this, and my magazine consumption patterns are this?” I am going to guess you don’t. I am going to guess you go, “What did you do last night?” and you may say, “I watched this TV show or I read this, but it was on my iPad.” You’re not qualifying how you accessed it, you are just talking about what you did.
As a marketer we have to have a strategy and then think about the right touch points to execute that strategy. When you think about the really smart media companies today such as when (Jimmy) Fallon came out with his Tonight Show, he didn’t sit there and go, “I am going to have a YouTube strategy and I am going to have a social strategy.” He just thought about who his audience was and how he can connect with them. He does really fun bits and puts them up on YouTube because he knows that they go viral. Kimmel does the angry tweets and it isn’t, “My social strategy is I am going to pull Twitter onto my show so we can check the social box.” It was, “This is interesting content that supports the way I want to engage.” I think Nordstrom does great things, but I don’t think about it as digital or linear or store, I just think they see me as a customer and want to make my shopping experience great in any way I interact with them. Those are the companies that are really smart and I think other companies where you feel like it is forced are the ones that are still learning.
Q: How do you keep your feelings separate from your decision-making?
A: We are all human beings and I think that is the key. This is work; I want to like the people I work with and I want to enjoy it, but this is work, and so at work I have to think about what is in the best interest of the company. I have to think about what we are trying to achieve and what the right decision is. That right decision may not be what I personally want to do, but I feel when I go with what is the right decision for the company, whether people like it or not, they can understand it and they can support it.
Q: What are some new marketing trends you are excited about?
A: I am actually excited about when people do really cool stuff with apps. When they do things that feel natural, it’s fun to me. I’m thinking about Shazaam, which is a very interesting app that addresses a lot of needs; marketers have given me the ability to find content that I want and I actively choose to do it. You as a marketer are embracing that and making it available, while not shoving it down my throat. You are just saying if you want it, here it is, and if you don’t, that’s cool. I recently bought a car and now you can actually go on car websites. With the way they are displaying information, you can do so much more leg work and feel empowered as a consumer before walking in. This is also relates to online shopping where as a consumer you can do a lot of research before buying something so you don’t feel like you are getting ripped off or could have gotten a better deal somewhere else.
Q: Do you believe connections or skills lead to better jobs?
A: I think it’s both. That’s where networking becomes really important and the best job you want is the one you don’t know about. When you are in a job, you love it and that’s why you are in it, but when or if you are ready to make a change or do something new, chances are someone else also wants that job. At a senior level you don’t see a lot of, for example, CMO jobs being posted. It is either something is happening and if you have been networking and talking to people and you have a reputation for delivering, you may hear about it before its filled. The job you dream of is probably going to be the job that everyone else dreams of. Some of my best jobs have come by word of mouth and that has been either through people I work with or people who I have built a relationship with and will totally recommend me for that position.