Lead(H)er Profile – Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear banner image

Lead(H)er Profile – Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Holly Knights, VP, Digital Marketing & Analytics at SmartBear

Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child? 

I was born and raised in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Growing up, I was very interested in space and jets and always thought I would be a pilot or astronaut. To this day, I still love going to airshows! I was always curious, an avid reader, and loved learning new things. My high school years were spent working hard both inside and outside of school. I was very active in school activities and sports, often taking leadership positions in clubs like drama, chorus, and yearbook.   

Holly Knights SmartBear

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school? 

I studied Communications in college, focusing in on television production. I loved the coordination it took to put a show together, so many moving parts and the creativity of it all. My senior year, I interned with Hearst Media (parent company of WCVB), working at their Needham facility. While it was exciting being in the TV industry, I quickly learned that was not the career I wanted for myself. I ended up taking a job in the telecommunications sector right after graduation, in customer service. While there, learning the business, I moved up into project management, eventually coordinating large scale data networking projects nationally, keeping them on time and on budget. It was such a learning experience. I feel very lucky to have been able to understand the technical side of the business with IP addressing and the foundations of data networking, while also being able to build my business knowledge with understanding project costs and margin. I credit the people there, from my strong female boss to the engineers, with helping me round out those important skills. 

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today? 

A key moment in my career path came when the tech bubble burst in the early 2000’s. I was laid off from the telecommunications company I had been at for over five years. I ended up taking a job with a small startup called iProspect. It was a very small agency focused on a new concept at the time called search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). That was a turning point for me. I was able to learn the inner workings of Google, which was in its early stages at that point, how to get websites ranked in the engine and how paid search worked. I managed a number of clients from B2C to B2B, and it was so exciting to see how much search marketing could do for a business. Looking back now, those years were the most impactful of my career and the start of my career in Digital Marketing. I’m still very close to those people I worked with then, and we’re scattered all over the world. What we didn’t know then is we were working in a part of marketing that would become one of the most important drivers for any business. 

After that, I worked in-house for a few companies doing Digital Marketing for both startups and enterprise companies alike. Each one afforded me the opportunity to keep my search engine marketing skills sharp while also taking on more responsibilities from Social Media Marketing to Analytics to Web Operations. I was also leading larger teams and having P&L responsibilities. My technical and business knowledge both came into play across all of those roles, helping to drive better business outcomes and reduce costs. 

What is your current role and responsibilities? 

Today, I am VP of Digital Marketing and Marketing Analytics at SmartBear. This was a net new team I was able to build from the ground up when I started over two years ago, and we continue to grow and evolve as the needs of the business change and mature. My team and I manage all of the digital marketing activities as well as the marketing reporting and tracking across all of the SmartBear product suites. That includes paid advertising, (our biggest channel being paid search), search engine optimization, conversion rate optimization, A/B and multivariate testing, and marketing analytics. We work cross functionally across the business, closely partnering with Growth Marketing, Product, Product Marketing, and Web Operations to ensure our sales team and ecommerce business are receiving the right amount of leads and trials, at the right cost, to achieve our business goals. 

Holly Knights SmartBear

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position? 

To be honest, I was always more opportunistic in my career path, versus deterministic. Saying yes to stretch my skills and learn new things as they came to me was a big factor in where I am today. As I said before, I am a very curious person by nature and love to acquire new skills, so that helped me move forward in every position I had. In a way, being rooted in search engine marketing helped me become an expert in any business I was in, because you have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand their search behavior and intent. I credit that mindset to helping me get up to speed quickly and uncover new opportunities. 

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals? 

  1. Start at a marketing agency. I have spoken with many grads and always encourage them to start there. Being at an agency gives you the opportunity to work across many different clients and industries in a short period of time. It helps you understand what you like and don’t like - trial by fire. You are also able to try different marketing activities and learn the ins and outs of them all. Then, you can move “in-house” and focus on one industry, business type or discipline. I would not be where I am today without my hands-on agency experience. 
  2. Be versatile. Be open to going outside your comfort zone and try new things, and learn about those new things. It sounds cliché, but you need to be flexible and willing to get uncomfortable to stretch and grow. Say yes, and don’t ever pass up those opportunities because you’re comfortable in where you are. 
  3. Be yourself, be authentic. I think people are at their best when they are fully themselves in their work. You’ll want to think you need to be more like other people, but then you aren’t being true to yourself and that eventually will set you back.  
  4. Take a presentation skills course of some kind. I was lucky to take a Dale Carnegie course early in my career (thank you, iProspect), and I still use those skills today. It was hands down one of the best courses I have ever taken. We all need to learn how to explain our thoughts coherently and with enthusiasm. It becomes more important as you speak with leaders who have limited time. 

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well? 

Empathy. To be a good leader you need to start by being a good human, and caring is at the heart of it. I need to understand what’s going on with my team not just in work, but outside of work as well. I care about each of them and what they’re dealing with personally and professionally in order to keep us moving ahead. 

Adaptability. Both marketing and analytics are constantly changing. You have to be able to move, pivot, and adapt. That skill is a hard one for me, but I have gotten better at it over time. Practice not getting upset or troubled by change. I learned to take a breath, dig into what’s happening, and move ahead. 

Have a north star. A vision. A good team doesn’t need to be told how to get somewhere; they need guidance on the end point. Knowing what you want to accomplish is key, and communicating that vision to your team, involving them in the development of that vision, making them part of that vision, helps the team all be invested in the outcome. 

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging? 

Seeing the fruits of our labor. Achieving, or better yet, surpassing the goals we had set and knowing what we did to influence those achievements. I also love challenges, knowing we have an issue that needs to be solved and trying to solve it. I like to get my hands dirty and dig into the data to see what’s happening. 

On the flip side, the most challenging thing is lack of time. My team has so many things coming at them and things they want to work on that we’re always trying to prioritize and then reprioritize. They do a great job, it’s just a constant challenge of trying to be efficient. 


What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

My husband and I have two small children, 7 and 5, and we love to spend time with them. Whether it’s playing outside, jumping on the trampoline, going to the park, riding bikes, or our annual beach trip to the Cape, we try to be present when we’re with them. 

Holly Knights SmartBear

How do you manage stress? 

Sounds funny, but I actually work better under stress. I tend to get hyper-focused and can block out the noise that way. 

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day? 

I usually have one large one every morning. 

Any book or podcast recommendations?

I don’t have a ton of time so I like The Pivot podcast. I also just started Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin. 

What advice do you have for recent college graduates? 

Don’t be too picky about finding a job. When you get one, use it as a learning experience and get as much as you can out of it. Learn the business, and always ask questions. If you start at a marketing agency, try and understand your clients’ businesses. It’s a unique opportunity to have a broad perspective across industries to see what works and why. 

And don’t forget to take a presentation skills course of some kind. You’ll learn skills that you’ll need throughout your career.  

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