After more than a decade in media and marketing, Lauren D. Williams (pictured at top) has devised a recipe for a successful career: equal parts determination and strong relationships. A veteran of big-name advertising agencies who is now Pandora’s Senior Director of Strategic Audio and Vertical Marketing, Williams says her secret sauce is embracing opportunities, being true to herself and learning from mentors.
With that roadmap, Williams has advanced into a key role at Pandora. Her team deploys research, sales, and industry data to create data-driven narratives, and partners with other departments on marketing initiatives to connect brands with consumers.
“I got here almost by destiny,” said Williams, explaining her journey to Pandora to WomenAdvancing and shares her advice with 1stFive.org. “I was able to have all the skills I needed to do the job I was tasked to do. Any sooner, and I wouldn’t have been ready.”
Among Williams’ recent collaborations is the “Pandora Presents Pass the Mic” campaign, a multi-platform celebration of women in audio and advertising. The content includes blogs, short audio testimonials and podcasts with influential and successful women; Williams is the official host of the podcast series.
In another recent effort, to communicate with brand clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, the B2B Marketing team that Williams’ sits on created “SoundCheck”. “SoundCheck”, is a place to provide insights, data and analysis on current market conditions. Pandora staffers working from home in New York and Oakland collaborated remotely on “SoundCheck” and launched the project in less than a month. These projects elevate Pandora’s brand and its leadership position in the audio industry.
“The audio strategy side of my job is making sure we are a driving force in the community,” Williams noted.
Before arriving at Pandora in 2016, Williams’ professional journey took twists and turns. She didn’t set out to join the advertising industry, but, after graduating with a Masters in Journalism from Indiana University during the 2007 recession, jobs were scarce. After months of searching, she landed a job at as a media planner & buyer at Tapestry, a multicultural media agency in Chicago.
As a media professional, she climbed the ladder and worked at top agencies, enjoying perks like corporate parties, sporting events, and concerts. But Williams was itchy for a change. She tried to move into PR, recorded voice-over spots, applied to Sony Music multiple times, and even interviewed to be a TV traffic reporter, but nothing fit. Her mother urged her to be patient.
“She would say, ‘You’re there for a reason. Until you get what is needed out of being in the media agency space, you’re not going to be able to make that move.”
So, Williams focused on building her skills and her network. During her early days at agencies in Chicago and New York, mentors offered valuable advice and opportunities. At Zenith Media, a VP with crack presentation skills taught Williams the art of preparing and delivering a successful pitch, while a boss at Universal McCann empowered her to lead presentations and nurture client relationships. A close colleague encouraged Williams to always show up and be herself, a work mantra she still lives by.
When a recruiter contacted her on LinkedIn with a job opportunity at Pandora, she was finally ready to make a leap. A music lover, Pandora offered a chance to work in audio, as well as an entrée to marketing. Seeking guidance, she reached out to a vendor partner who worked at Pandora and asked her to put in a good word. That reference proved invaluable. It was a strong reminder to not be afraid to ask for help and be open-minded.
“That’s something that a lot of younger minorities are missing,” she said. “You can have an advocate who doesn’t look like you. In fact, sometimes it is better that way because they can enter conversations that you sometimes would not be welcomed into.”
Williams tries to pay-it-forward, mentoring young colleagues and even strangers who ping her on LinkedIn. She recently joined Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a non-profit organization dedicated to career advancement for diverse leaders. At Pandora, Williams is a co-chair for the New York chapter of Mixtape, an employee resource group for people of color and allies. Within the group, she encourages colleagues to test out new roles that could advance their career goals.
“I encourage people to take on different roles than they would in their day to day job,” she said. “Until a job opens up, how can you utilize the resources you have at your fingertips right now to get experience?”
For instance, when a young co-worker expressed interest in joining the event planning department, but needed to gain experience, Williams encouraged her to plan the group’s events. Similarly, when another voiced a desire to move into marketing, Williams suggested she take over the group’s communications efforts. “It is still applicable experience and now you can put it on your resume,” she said.
As a woman of color, Williams is particularly sensitive to the professional challenges that confront women and minorities. "Hard work is imperative," she said, "but it isn’t enough."
“What is your gift and how can you use that to your advantage to promote yourself internally or when you’re networking at an event?” she said. “Also, be open to people who don’t look like you to be an advocate for you. Those relationships are paramount.” In fact, Williams noted that many of her supporters have been different genders and races.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted Williams’ professional life, but also yielded valuable lessons. “To slow down a little bit and be more present, that’s going to be my biggest learning,” she said.
Typically, a frequent flyer, the pandemic grounded Williams. Her 418 sq. foot New York studio apartment is now home and office. To maintain balance, Williams follows a schedule that includes morning workouts, breakfast, and designated work hours, and stays connected with friends and family via video calls. She has also learned to improvise, such as recording podcast episodes from her bathroom and closet.
After years of making excuses, Williams said she is now motivated to start a personal podcast. “I’ve put it off for years. ‘What would I talk about?’ I didn’t have the equipment,” she said. (To improve her sound quality, Williams did invest in a high-quality microphone.)
At home or on the road, Williams said she is now in her professional element. “Life has a way of taking its course,” she said. “My mom was right, I got what I needed out of those years in order to do what I’m doing now.”
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