Kelly Andresen is the Vice President, Head of Branded Content and the GET Creative brand studio for the USA TODAY Network, where her team creates content on behalf of brands that engage audiences and meet marketing objectives. This dream role marries her passions for great quality content and ad sales. In the interview below Kelly provides insight into her career journey and tells how she followed her own advice, pivoting throughout her career to align her passions with where the future is headed.
Mary Ellen Holden: How did you get started in business?
Kelly Andresen: My first job was for XM Satellite Radio as a planner. I was also pursuing an MBA focused in marketing at the time. I wanted to work on the consumer brand marketing team as I thought it was high profile. There weren’t any openings on the marketing team, so I accepted a planner role in ad sales – and I loved it! The ad sales team was brand new and I was the second hire building media plans and cross-platform sponsorships for major entertainment, sports, news and lifestyle brands. It was an amazing opportunity for someone so early in their career to have so much responsibility and also the freedom to create new opportunities around premium content.
Mary Ellen: What brought you to USA TODAY Network?
Kelly: I had launched a dedicated studio for The Washington Post in 2013. It was an opportunity to focus on branded content and to build a team and an infrastructure from the ground up. When I subsequently got the opportunity to join USA TODAY Network in 2015, I was excited by the prospect of building a new team, product and infrastructure from scratch all over again but on a much bigger scale -- the USA TODAY Network reaches over 100 million monthly uniques across 109 sites and growing. You can imagine the challenge of developing a system that brings assets across all of our sites together -- but I find it to be immensely gratifying. You’ve got to enjoy the actual work of your job! Coming to USA TODAY Network gave me the opportunity to analyze the overall industry landscape and choose how to position our studio and leverage our strengths -- as in virtual reality. I am extremely proud that we launched the GET Creative Studio running our first campaign in April 2016, and our first VR branded content campaigns in May 2016.
Mary Ellen: Did you have a career mentor?
Kelly: I have had the great fortune of working for some great ad sales leaders -- all of whom happen to be men. I have not had a mentor in the formal sense of the word, but I have had great bosses whom I have learned a lot from – everything from simply observing them in client or executive meetings (What tone did they use? What did their body language communicate?) to learning and practicing actual communication techniques (How did they position the request? How did they respond to an objection?) to their management style (How did they address the individual human being and their feelings? How did they respond to a problem?) – to their leadership style (How did they address the team as a whole? How did they roll out a new initiative? What did they do to inspire the team?).
I ask a lot of questions and process the information internally -- and when needed seek out my manager’s advice or coaching. I think in many ways mentorship is greatly needed in the workplace, but it is a fallacy to believe mentors are made, or that you can simply ask someone to be your mentor and expect someone to say yes. Instead, I encourage people -- both men and women -- to be thoughtful about their careers and their roles as leaders and take the initiative and ownership to learn everything they can from great leaders around them, even if they aren’t your direct managers. Seek out opportunities to be with them, observe them, practice what you learn from them and be ready to engage when you get the opportunity so you can ask for help when you need it.
Lastly, be open to feedback. I think you’ll find when you are focused on your own development, and show initiative, managers and executives will recognize it and start to give you feedback to help you develop even more.
Mary Ellen: Is mentorship in this field a two-way street?
Kelly: Learning is a two-way street! We can all learn from one another, no matter what our age is. I always say a good idea can come from anywhere. As leaders we need to foster an environment where people are celebrated for speaking up and sharing ideas, even when they contradict our own thoughts.
Mary Ellen: How do you achieve a work/life balance?
Kelly: This is a work in progress for me as I imagine it is for most people. I thrive largely due to three main guidelines:
Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for the next generation of women?
Kelly: Be open to seeing your career as a journey. The industry is moving so quickly. The convergence of technology, advertising, marketing, content and entertainment is moving at such a rapid pace that I don’t think anyone can predict exactly where they will land in 3-5-10 years from now. Focus on your passions. You may need to experiment to discover your passions and to align them with where you think the future is going.
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