Michelle Robbins began her professional life in the radio promotion department for Disney’s commercial record label. She had no way of knowing it at the time, but the role turned out to be an auspicious beginning to a career that has positioned her among martech leaders and led to her current role as Aimclear’s Vice President of Product Innovation.
“Cutting my teeth in marketing at one of the world’s most recognizable brands has given me a leg up throughout my career and particularly through the evolution from offline to online marketing,” said Robbins.
Even before martech was a term, during her first professional role, Robbins could see change was coming. While working at Disney, she remembers sitting in on a meeting with executives from two technology firms pitching their solutions – SoundScan, which had developed a platform for tracking actual record sales, and BDS, one of the first technology firms to monitor radio airplay data.
“Prior to these technologies, there was no way for record companies to track how many times a radio station played their records or hard data around record sales, everything was self-reported by the radio stations and record stores” said Robbins. She recalls many in the room were skeptical of the new technologies - and others emerging at the time, “There was a lack of vision and innovation – a ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ attitude.”
Robbins understood early on how data and technology could dramatically impact a brand’s marketing efforts. It was the record label’s lack of vision that drove her to explore new career opportunities.
“I hopped from music to technology, joining a startup to, ultimately, handle sales and marketing for their web server software products. This in turn led to me going back to university to take programming and web development courses – which led to running my own web development consultancy.”
Robbins eventually landed at another startup in the online media and publishing space. It was here she experienced one of her most rewarding career highlights when she took the initiative to build a tech platform for the company’s events team.
“The event team was using spreadsheets to manage the agendas, speakers and other event details. In reviewing their process, I determined a much more efficient workflow was needed and set about creating a couple of simple improvements.”
The event planning technology initiative led to her architecting the data models and database, writing all the code and scripts and developing the interface for what became a comprehensive platform that powered all of the brand’s events, from agenda development all the way through on-site event logistics.
“The platform I created was critical and foundational to the event business for the ten-plus years it was utilized while I was there.”
Another career highlight for Robbins was the time she spent helping coordinate the “Janes of Digital” networking events that were hosted by Microsoft Bing and focused on elevating issues around career advancement, mentoring and workplace diversity and inclusion challenges for women and minorities. Robbins helped develop the event topics, recruit speakers and moderate panels.
“Prior to these large events – which were the first of their kind in the search marketing industry – I had hosted smaller dinners at our conferences to bring women in the industry together, but the Janes events really expanded and opened the opportunity for so many more to connect, participate, share and learn.”
A Thriving Career
In her current role, Robbins works cross-functionally with the marketing ops, dev ops and ad ops teams at Aimclear, an integrated marketing agency. She is focused on data analytics and martech and leads innovation around products and services offered by the firm.
“I honestly don’t have a ‘typical’ day, as the projects I’m working on span internal (agency) and external (client) priorities and vary quite a bit. Having significant experience across a number of domains affords me the opportunity to do deep work with multiple departments, while also having high-touch client interaction,” said Robbins, who confesses she has always thrived in this type of role.
While Robbins’ career has maintained an upward trajectory, there were setbacks along the way. Her biggest challenge involved an all too common experience shared by many women in business. She says she was part of a company where women made up 70% of the staff, but top male leadership maintained a culture that allowed for disrespectful behavior toward female reports.
According to Robbins, she had been instrumental in helping grow the company’s brands during her time there. She oversaw multiple teams and loved her colleagues, the work, the brands and the industry, but in her final year, made the decision to leave her executive role.
Robbins said, “As I’d built my career very publicly advocating for women’s empowerment and against workplace harassment, the time came when I needed to decide if I was going to continue to look the other way or leave a job and teams I loved to find a role that supported and nurtured equality along with results.” Robbins says her resignation was, simultaneously, the hardest and easiest decision she ever made, and she has never regretted making it.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
For women who are at the start of their careers, or anyone struggling to put a spotlight on their own achievements, Robbins says it is time we reframe recognition as responsibility. That way, it is easier to share the wins.
“If you or your team were responsible for audience growth, frame it as ‘my team did X initiative and it lead to Y growth’ instead of ‘we saw Z% growth last month’ – this gives credit where credit is due,” said Robbins who believes in the adage it’s not bragging if it’s true, even though she still has difficulty following her own advice.
“This is something I continue to struggle with. It’s much easier for me to give credit to my team, a co-worker, etc. than to ‘toot my own horn’ – but, I’ve gotten better at understanding how to communicate contributions without being uncomfortable as I’ve progressed through my career. I just wished I’d started doing so earlier.”
Robbins also recommends women put themselves out there more often – submitting pitches to speak at conferences, acting as moderators or serving as mentors or sponsors for other women in the industry.
“Attend networking events where you can share your work with other colleagues in the industry who may be unaware of what you do in your role or the projects you’re working on and your specific accomplishments. Building a network, and being an active voice in the network, is crucial to amplifying your contributions.”
As an organization created to recognize women’s contributions to the martech industry and elevate women’s voices within our professional community, Women of Martech couldn’t agree more.