Marcela Tabares, Senior Vice President, Strategic Insights, Revenue at A+E Networks, studied political science at NYU with noble ambitions of making the world a better place. She started her journey working at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, which promotes understanding of the economic, political and social issues confronting the Americas. “I was fascinated by the work in driving awareness of the cultural heritage of Latin America, but I could barely survive in NYC working in the non-profit sector,” she says. “So with hopes of getting into journalism, I eyed media as a viable stepping stone and landed a job at Nielsen as an administrative assistant.” It was there that she got hooked on research and has (rarely) looked back. Marcela worked her way up to Research Supervisor before moving to the agency world, making stops at OMD and Mediavest, then shifting to the publisher side, leading the sales research efforts at MTV and eventually A+E Networks.
“The role of research has changed tremendously since I first started,” she recently told me. “At a recent dinner with a friend, we laughed recalling that we literally sat in a dark, back corner office where we were isolated from the general population (though sometimes that worked to our benefit, especially as twenty-somethings). We went from working in the background to being a strategic voice at the table, but even more interestingly, the essence of the work itself is far more dynamic, creative and challenging.”
Charlene Weisler: Tell me about the work you do at A+E.
Marcela Tabares: My team works directly with the sales and revenue management teams to help drive the sales effort. It’s really interesting work because we have to flex between left and right side thinking as we blend analytical rigor with creative storytelling. We play with a wide range of research techniques, methodologies and datasets in a problem solving and insight based approach. Our work falls into three key buckets: Advertising effectiveness to understand how partnerships are delivering against client KPIs and to gain insight on how to enhance experiences for future efforts; data-driven decision making where we help navigate business conversations regarding data implementation and strategy, and cultural and human insights studies, which is some of my favorite work. Over the past 18 months, we’ve been conducting some fascinating research on gender identity, exploring how womanhood and masculinity have evolved and translating the insights for content creators and advertisers.
Charlene: How did it feel to move to an agency from a supplier?
Marcela: It was like a baptism by fire! I was thrown into all sorts of projects that were way above my level of experience at the time. At first, I was terrified of failure but that fear put a fire in my belly and really pushed me. I learned invaluable lessons and I’d say it was probably the most formative experience I’ve had – I realized my untapped potential, it thickened my skin, built my confidence and taught me how to take challenges head on. I believe empowerment is critical for learning and growing - give people opportunity, get out of their way and allow them to stumble. I think too much guidance can be limiting.
Charlene: Where do you see the role of research going 3-5 years from now?
Marcela: Technology will continue to advance, data will get bigger and systems and processes will become more sophisticated. So while there will continue to be demand for data science, I also see increased importance in bridging the two divisions of the research role in the future -- of hard data-driven analytics and the cultural, human insights from qualitative research.
Charlene: What is your outlook on mentorship?
Marcela: I think of mentoring as “always on” and it often happens in unplanned, unexpected ways. From my experience, it has worked best organically and unstructured. Working with my team, I am mindful of providing honest feedback, especially in areas that they need to develop. I also believe in leading by example and stretching people beyond their comfort zone. Some humility also goes a long way. I have no problem admitting that I don’t have all the answers and it’s often more fun figuring it out together. I was never a part of a formal mentorship program until recently. This year I was a mentor through NAMIC and I think I learned just as much from my mentee and am looking forward to continuing the relationship.
Charlene: How do you achieve work/life balance?
Marcela: I have two young boys so my philosophy these days is “let it go.” The reality is that I can’t do it all so I need to be accepting and kind with myself, while embracing the chaos. Every day is a dance with prioritizing life’s demands. And you can’t do it alone so it’s really important to have a strong support system at home and at work. My husband cooks, I clean and we juggle the rest. At work, I have a great team and a boss that’s flexible and understanding. It gets kinda crazy at times so I need some stillness and something to ground me; I turn to yoga, mindfulness and spiritual practice (and a glass of wine). Our motto at home is “it never works out as planned, but it always works out.”
Charlene: Please give me some predictions about the state of media in the next couple of years.
Marcela: We will continue apace with technological developments that accelerate personalization, targeting capabilities, accountability metrics, and so on. More data, more sophistication that will bring greater value to the ecosystem and (hopefully) mitigate confusion. It’s been a complicated time for folks on all sides of the table and I think more dynamic relationships with advertisers will unfold; we will see greater collaboration in bringing their stories to life through new creative formats and context will matter even more. Overall, I think it will be a more vibrant environment.
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