By "New Day" Writer/Producer, Marlei Martinez
Photo Credit: Alex Zuckerman
My phone buzzed as I hopped onto the M5 city bus. It was 4:47pm and I had less than 15 minutes to get to Columbus Circle for work. As I settled into a seat at the back of the bus, I began my daily juggling act—personal phone in my left hand, work blackberry in my right. My eyes were darting back and forth, scrolling through messages when I saw the invite—“Would you like to be our ‘Interviewer’ for the Alliance for Women in Media event?”
It was an email from Anne O’Brien, Programming Chair for New York City’s “Alliance for Women in the Media” organization, and my former roommate, Alex Zuckerman’s mother. She was offering me the opportunity to moderate and help kick off their new mentoring series, “Corner Office,” where successful women in the media share their know-how to up-and-comers. I’d be interviewing Jan Weinstein, Executive Vice President of advertising agency, Carat. It was an opportunity that both excited and unnerved me.
As a 20-something in television news, I didn’t want to find myself reenacting Aaron Sorkin’s “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” Newsroom debacle. I, as many young women in the media, have a notebook full of questions I sporadically pepper at veteran media pros whenever I get the chance—but could I do it in front of a roomful of other people?
So I started writing. And researching. As I read article after article, I learned about how Weinstein powered her way to the top, leading many of Carat’s big name accounts, like Macy’s, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and Beiersdorf, those accomplishments helping Carat become Ad Week’s 2013 Advertising Agency of the Year. Weinstein herself earned her place as an Adweek Media All Star in 2011. By research’s end, I looked at my notebook and saw a page full of questions, questions requiring answers that I couldn’t be the only person curious about.
This Monday, instead of assuming my normal night owl position of writing a script lit only by the computer glow in my edit bay, I found myself in Jan Weinstein’s “Corner Office” at the Carat headquarters. Surrounded by wine, cheese and great company, the guests, Jan and I shared stories about our love for the media biz and she offered tips on how to further propel our careers. Here’s a summary of our conversation:
Q: One of the main similarities that all branches of media share—from advertising to television news—is the “power of the pitch.” Pitches should be strong, yet concise. And oftentimes, what’s even more difficult to pitch than an idea is yourself.
So Jan—What is your “elevator pitch” when you introduce yourself to a new group, a potential employer at a job interview, a CEO you run into on the elevator in hopes that she/he will remember you?
A: There is not one “canned’ thing I will say. For me, it is about being me, being honest. That is the person I want remembered. The best version of myself. That is what I try to always put forward, every day. Because you never know where opportunities lie!
Q: Tell us the story about the most, or one of the most, pivotal moments that propelled your career? Anything from a simple “thank you” email to landing a big new client.
A: Interestingly, the most pivotal moment came at random. I needed a job change due to a life change. In the middle of a meeting, a vendor stopped suddenly and asked me if I was interested in a job at the company I am at now. I was, and here I am, and it changed my course to where I am today.
Q: What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from a mistake that you’ve made?
A: To always learn from mistakes. Mistakes happen. But they should never happen twice.
Q: As a successful Executive Vice President at one of the largest and most successful advertising agencies in the world, based on your observations, is it still a “Mad Men’s World”?
(Full disclosure—I’ve only just started Season One, so no spoilers please! I know, I know, I’m behind…)
A: I love this question. Well, we can no longer smoke at work and the drinking at 9am is minimal…seriously though, advertising is one of the few career tracks that routinely have women at the helm. But, we are still the minority. So yes, in some ways, it still is…but progress is being made. But I would not mind having Don Draper to look at on a daily basis!
Q: How do you manage office politics in your professional life when the lines start to blur? I’m talking work bar outings, happy hours, dinner and drinks with colleagues.
A: In my opinion, all are OK, to a point. My team likes when I come out, especially when I pay! But everyone, and I don’t mean just management, needs to watch what they say or do, never be termed a gossip, and treat others fairly and honestly. But being someone others want to be social with is good business.
Q: Let’s talk about that seemingly impossible goal of balancing work and life. What’s your advice to 20/30-somethings in the media industry? For example, is it ok to turn over that work Blackberry on the weekends or when you’re on vacation? Is it ok to leave a few hours early from work to go to SoulCycle? Is it ok that I took the night off to moderate this event?
A: It’s a hard balance, and I actually hate that word, because it implies an even keel. Yes, it is ok to check out sometimes, as long as you get your work done and no one is depending on you. When in doubt, ask! The work life balance is most often used in terms of working mothers, but everyone deserves time to do what they need, or want to do – care for others, care for yourself. Moms, dads, millennials, everyone. When that mutual respect is given across the board, that is the real balance we need to achieve our own work life balance.
Q: I’m sure you’ve attended many of these Q&A events throughout your career, so when you were in our seats, what question did you ask or hoped that someone would ask?
A: I wish someone would have asked, so someone would have shared, how to define what good enough means. Because it is impossible to be great at everything when you are juggling so much. And sometimes when you drop balls, they break. The solid ones, they can be picked up. The flexible ones, bounce right back. But the fragile ones are gone forever. I wish I knew which was which.