Katerina Sudit started out in the industry as a creative -- a copywriter -- and then moved into the more quantitative area of media planning, communications and client leadership. Her current role as Managing Partner, Executive Lead at Mindshare in its New York office gives her the opportunity to provide leadership for the agency’s luxury, retail and e-commerce clients. Kat is also on the Mindshare New York Steering Committee, affording her the opportunity to work on initiatives like the mentorship program and a dedicated client leadership practice.
Charlene Weisler: What made you decide to move from the creative side of the business to more of the quant side?
Katerina Sudit: I have always had a passion for creativity but quickly recognized the opportunity in media to balance both the right and left side of the brain. I believe you need to combine business savviness with creativity to be truly successful.
Charlene: How do you encourage creativity in your agency?
Katerina: As an agency, we believe in driving a culture of curiosity. We ask “why?” Why this type of media behavior? Why this belief? The “why” is the differentiator between a potentially actionable insight and a fact. We cater to the “whys.”
This is paramount as we craft ideas to a largely millennial audience. Millennials are now the largest demographic constituency in marketing, and they’re empowered and hungry not just to interact with brands but to impact them and effect change. Everything from the immediate two-way dialogue in social, to impacting the marketing of the brand, all the way to putting their fingerprints on what the brand looks like and how it behaves. We’ve spent countless meetings with clients talking about what the brand stands for -- which is ultimately futile, as Millennials will tell you themselves what the brand is about. The answer is allowing them to co-create ideas with you. There is power in the co-creation and we invest in that philosophy within our teams and our work product.
Charlene: Tell me about your mentorship program at Mindshare.
Katerina: I have benefitted greatly from mentors throughout my career. Their advice and encouragement have been an important part of the success I’ve achieved. Women like Marcie Kazdin inspired me not to take myself too seriously. It’s important to be vigilant in business and light-hearted in relationships. So I feel passionately about paying it forward. We have a mentorship program at Mindshare focused on growing our people. The base of our employees are millennial and we’ve structured our offering to that mindset. Mentors are grouped in a pod of mentees and encouraged to openly discuss issues and challenges in the industry and in their professional lives.
Charlene: What is the dedicated client leadership practice?
Katerina: The agency world is evolving. When media separated from the full service agencies, it became the responsibility of planners to be proficient in everything from billing to client management. Agencies everywhere have recognized that their people need to be skilled beyond the planning function in order to help their careers as well as grow the business for the agency. That’s what the client leadership discipline focuses on. I feel passionate about client leaders in the agency being more nimble in addressing broader business challenges and being able to build more trust with clients.
Charlene: Since you started in the industry, how has the role of the agency evolved?
Katerina: The older model where creative agencies were the sole lead, creating the message, and media just followed suit to distribute, has fundamentally changed. Media is now foremost and prominent in the agency ecosystem as engaging with consumers has become of heightened importance. The paradigm of broadcasting messages at a consumer has shifted 180 degrees in a world where they can control which messages they receive and when. Placing the consumer in the center and focusing on the context of the message is the only way to break through and connect.
The largest challenge impacting us today is the fundamental commoditization of established brands. Across all categories -- luxury, spirits, auto -- the tried and true has lessened in value and the niche/boutique is prized. This is particularly concerning as the importance of the brand for Millennials is paramount. The future of branding for larger, well-established brands is in the achievement of a value exchange between the brand and the consumer: What it is you are doing for them; not what it is you are selling to them. It is not just about the message. It is about the value-based engagement plan.
Charlene: How do you measure engagement?
Katerina: There are established KPIs for engagement like clicks and conversions and more sophisticated reads on the impact the media has on the consumer: Does the consumer talk with you, do they value your interaction, does the consumer love your brand, etc. We prize our ability to measure the impact, not just the intrusion.
Charlene: What data do you use?
Katerina: I love this question because everyone is talking about the Age of Big Data. I don’t believe there is any client that is lacking in data. What the industry lacks are the magicians and unicorns who can mine insight from the data. How do we translate all of this data into actionable insights which fundamentally transform businesses? One of the things that most impresses me about Mindshare’s Marketing Sciences capability is the work they do on that.
Charlene: How do you find a data unicorn?
Katerina: (Laughs) Have you seen a unicorn recently? We have been diligent at the agency in terms of sourcing the new wave of talent. Two years ago we deliberately focused our intern program to mine for the types of people who can find the magic in data. Our Data Bytes program brings in students across computer science, engineering, economics, mathematics and more. A lot of them wouldn’t have normally thought of media as a potential field for their talents, but the program opens up a new career path for them.
Charlene: Kat, you are interested in many things: your professional work, your family and your photography. How do you achieve work/life balance?
Katerina: To me, work/life balance is fundamental. I have a daughter, Skylar, who is a mini-me. It is very important for me to ring-fence time for her. She knows I tuck her in at night, I pick her up from school on Fridays. There is no perfect plan. There is no secret sauce. I fail every day at one or both. But I am a better mom and a better employee for the effort of it.
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