It makes sense that Lauren Curler lists “Creativity, Inc.” by Pixar founder Edwin Catmull and Amy Wallace as one of her favorite reads. The book is about the founding of the innovative film studio and what’s possible when you put creativity at the heart of leadership and foster an environment in which a team follows its curiosity instead of always having to play by the rules.
“It’s not an overtly female leadership story, but there are a lot of great lessons women can relate to,” said Curler who takes to heart the book’s idea of inventing highly creative, high-stakes processes and saying yes to the things you don’t know how to do.
Many would consider Curler’s current role as VP, Account Director for the global agency MRM//McCann a dream come true. Curler spends her workday leading a team that focuses on creative technology innovations, pushing forward client initiatives that oftentimes don’t come with a “set” roadmap due to the level of complexity -- or technological integration – involved within the project.
Cultivating A “Figure It Out” Attitude
Curler attributes much of her professional success to her own curious nature and embracing the fact that technology always gives you something new to learn.
She began her career at an in-house marketing department for a local resort rental management company, learning about content creation and publishing, as well as how to work with advertisers and demanding managers. It wasn’t long before the local “big agency” recruited Curler. At the time she joined the agency, businesses were just beginning to explore how digital programs worked into their existing models. The agency is where she fostered a key capability that would prove beneficial throughout her career.
“We were hungry for leadership, but leadership didn’t know who to hire. I formed a skillset of ‘figuring it out’ – evaluating new technologies and putting together new ways of operating as new tools and approaches appeared every day.”
Curler’s “figure it out” attitude landed her professional opportunities beyond basic account management responsibilities.
“As I moved to a series of more digitally-focused agencies, I learned the value of fluency in programming and analytics in addition to just the surface objectives,” said Curler. She says she didn’t worry about what type of account or which clients she worked with, instead she was more focused on the learning opportunities each project presented.
Leading With A Hands-On Approach
Learning-based opportunities have taken Curler across the country and back, from South Carolina, where she started her career, to San Francisco, Denver and now New York City. When asked about the professional moments of accomplishment that have had the most meaning for her, Curler says she goes back and forth between really loving the chances she’s had as a leader to drive organizational change and the moments when she gets her hands dirty digging into a new project.
“Onboarding programs for new hires and clients, creating the environment for great work, more transparent review and promotion processes – the great thing about smaller organizations is that you can especially see and feel that impact,” said Curler, “On the other side, I love being dedicated to a project, learning the details of a new technology inside and out, and making something great. This can happen in any size organization, but especially at MRM – there are so many unbelievable opportunities, talented people and truly inspiring, collaborative client partners.”
It’s Curler’s more challenging professional moments that highlight her true leadership skills. Previously in her career, while at an agency that was experiencing a wave of turnover and instability, Curler took the initiative to address internal employee issues.
“The account team tends to bear the brunt of making change feel painless to clients, but we were running out of hands and sheer energy to cover the bases. I kept waiting for leadership to fortify the remaining troops and dig into some retention strategies, but more and more people kept leaving,” said Curler.
Instead of letting the instability grow, Curler began meeting with team members to address each person’s concerns and actively looked for ways to resolve issues, giving employees alternatives to simply deal with current conditions or leave the agency. Curler’s actions positioned her as the informal leader within her department – someone her colleagues could look to in terms of positive change, advocacy and advancement.
Curler took the time to figure out who didn’t have necessary support, invited one-on-one conversations with those employees to determine what they needed to succeed and offered mentoring where possible. To provide support, she had to engage in the difficult conversations which many people routinely avoid.
“I’ve always been comfortable speaking up,” said Curler, “A tough conversation shouldn’t be avoided because the issue is only going to get worse if you don’t confront it.”
She eventually transitioned from being an informal leader to a formal leader, gathering many lessons around hiring, training, advocating and confronting issues. The biggest lesson she learned: Don’t wait around for someone else to take action.
“You lead by recognizing the need and taking action yourself,” said Curler, “There’s a pivotal moment when you realize it’s time to take care of others – when you realize you’re not just responsible for yourself.”
It’s this leadership style – the drive to take care of those around her – that led to Curler’s participation in Women of Martech. She believes everyone should be able to ask for support – and recognition.
“We’re surrounded by stories of many other people, but we assume they received recognition because they are on a different tier. Making recognition more accessible starts with simply knowing it’s possible and then lifting up the people around you.”
Curler’s curiosity is still going strong. She says she’s currently working on a cutting-edge AI project where her team is learning as they go because there are no previous models for what they’re trying to create. By keeping herself ahead of the curve and staying relevant, Curler has evolved into a valuable leader who brings multiple skill sets to the table.
“Over time, I became the go-to digital account person for media, dev and creative, and I have gathered enough tools and perspective to lead through any type of project,” said Curler, “All the little tools I’ve handled along the way may seem like baby steps, but they led to huge opportunities.”
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