Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, a beautiful beachside community owned by ARAMCO, exclusively created for its employees and their dependents from around the world. My father was a petrochemical engineer for ARAMCO for 20 years, and I was born and raised in Ras Tanura until the age of 15. It was an idyllic childhood that I didn’t realize at the time was completely unlike almost anyone else’s. I absolutely loved it.
As a child, I was really outgoing and liked to be the life of the party, but I was also a voracious reader. There wasn’t much TV in Saudi Arabia at that time so I spent all my free time reading. I would camp out at the school library for hours at a time and after reading every Newbery award-winning book that existed by the age of 7 I moved onto classical literature. Unsurprisingly, I needed glasses at a pretty early age.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I went to Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts and I double-majored in English and French, with a minor in Communications and Media Studies. That was a great and fun decision because I had always been completely passionate about English - I never considered majoring in anything else - and I studied abroad in Paris my junior year (one of the best decisions of my entire life) so it was easy to add on the French major as I had completed substantial coursework to enroll in Tufts-in-Paris and participate in the program. I was realistic about my prospects for finding a job with an English degree, though it never deterred me from studying it, so I minored in CMS to try to get exposure in public relations, which I had long been fascinated by - a more profitable and opinionated alternative to journalism. I completed eight PR internships while at Tufts, all acquired completely on my own accord (I love Tufts but I wouldn’t say job placement is where they excel), and landed a job at Cone Communications upon graduation doing cause-related marketing and branding. It was fun but non-profit PR isn’t really as altruistic as people imagine, and I found myself longing to be surrounded by people who were smart and a bit more realistic about what PR could and could not achieve, so I applied for a job at fama PR - a high-tech boutique PR firm in Boston - and stayed there for five years.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
My internships solidified what I wanted out of a career (and that glamorous appearances can be deceiving), but working at fama really shaped who I was going to be as a PR professional. I don’t really trust PR people who have never spent a good amount of time working at an agency - it’s like a chef who hasn’t worked her way up the ladder from the really thankless jobs in a hot and frantic restaurant kitchen. If you haven’t had the door slammed in your face by hundreds of reporters or learned how to crank out dozens of pitches a day, how can you claim to understand PR? It becomes a physical reflex at some point - that ability to just be on your grind constantly. Good PR people are very client-focused, as we have to be, which means all of our emails are polite and effusive, we can’t help but respond to any sort of communication within five minutes, and we are amazing at balancing multiple priorities at once. We don’t easily succumb to pressure because the panic reflex has been beaten out of us.
That being said, after five years in an agency, though I rose up the ladder quickly and loved it, I realized I didn’t want to keep focusing on six clients at a time. I wanted to focus on just one, very deeply, and move client-side. It was a hard choice to leave fama; fama was fun and exciting and comfortable for me, but in agency PR it’s a lot of mile-wide, inch-deep work, and I wanted to try going a mile deep. I applied to Bullhorn, because I loved the company and the people and thought it seemed like a fabulous place to work, and I also applied to an advertising technology company called DataXu. The DataXu job offer came in a day earlier than the Bullhorn job offer and for slightly more money, so I took it. I knew in the back of my mind that I was making a mistake but I took the DataXu job anyway. I was coin-operated and it backfired. The DataXu job was interesting, the people were incredibly smart, and the industry was complex and fascinating, but it was not a fit for me. I won’t go into details but let’s just say that I have never managed anyone the way I was managed there, and it has served me well.
Eight months into the DataXu job I emailed Art Papas and said “remember that job you offered me that I didn’t take? That was a mistake. Can I just come to Bullhorn and make coffee for you or something? Can I do literally anything but just be employed there?” Art, Andrew Hally, and Doug Ellinger at Bullhorn were incredibly gracious and brought me on board to run marketing for theFIT, a psychographic job profiling solution. That first day walking into the office and tackling my first project - to create a persona of who theFIT was - still ranks as one of the most enjoyable times in my career. And being mentored by Art in those earlier days was such a treat; he could have asked me to walk into traffic for him and I would have. Thankfully he did not and I’ve been at Bullhorn for almost nine years, working my way up from Marketing Manager to Vice President of Global Communications.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I’m the Vice President of Global Communications but that’s a fancy way of confusing people. What it actually means is that I run global public relations, analyst relations, content marketing, social media, industry marketing, global thought leadership, events strategy and content, and customer marketing. You could roll those functions up into any number of cohesive terms, like corporate marketing, brand marketing, or more, but “global communications” makes sense because it’s an elegant way of saying “words and stories - she does a lot of things involving words and stories.” And I manage an amazing team of people who also do many things with words and stories.
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Yes. That’s a boring response but from the very first internship I did at Merrill Lynch in Houston - an internship my college counseling service told me I didn’t have a shot at getting because I was a rising sophomore - I knew I wanted to do PR for a company with a brand I really respected. And while I’ve expanded my role to do much more than PR, creating a compelling narrative that resonates with the person or people I’m trying to reach is still intrinsic to my DNA. I was laser-focused on making sure I graduated with a job and steadily advanced in pursuing my personal ambitions and doing the type of work I wanted to do and found interesting. I could have taken a number of jobs that would be more financially lucrative but my father always taught me that people who chase money are miserable people. You should always strive to be the best at what you do, at what you care about and are passionate about, and money and accolades will follow eventually if you’re not self-delusional about your own talent.
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?
Identify what you actually want and what ignites your intellectual passion and don’t fight it. I was a championship debater all through high school and college and people always told me I should be a lawyer because so many successful debaters follow that path. I have no passion for the law. Why would I pursue it as a career? Because it pays well? Because it’s expected? I get paid well now and I’m actually doing something I enjoy. And I didn’t have to go to law school or take the bar exam.
I gave a lecture to a group of impending graduates at Tufts a few years ago and assured them that doing what’s expected of you is a waste of mental energy and promise. Don’t be ashamed of pursuing your own dream and don’t let other people distract you from it.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
The best communications executives are strategic and really understand their companies’ broad-ranging business goals, their customers’ mindsets and priorities, the products and solutions their companies and competitors provide, and the long-term projected trajectory of their industries. If all you want to do as a PR pro is pitch media, then that’s all you’ll do. Really understanding the nuts and bolts of a business and industry and being fluent in articulating where an industry is going are critical to effectively advancing a narrative in-market.
I’d say the most important skills are communicating across roles and cultures, strategic thinking, a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done, trusting your instincts for what will resonate and what will backfire, realism, and excellent grammar. You might laugh at the last one but I never take an email seriously that has a series of grammar mistakes, so why would anyone else?
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s most challenging?
I love the breadth of my job, especially the analyst relations and industry marketing components of it. I love convincing people who already understand an industry or subject of what the future might look like. The most fun I’ve ever had at Bullhorn was successfully working to get us on the Gartner Magic Quadrant back in 2015 - it involved hours and hours of conversations with analysts and it just brought out the simultaneous research wonk and debate show-woman in me.
The most challenging part of the job is holding my tongue, which I imagine plenty of people say I don’t do well anyway. When I have an opinion I instinctively want to share it, but it’s not always appropriate to do so and if a decision is multilateral then I need to respectfully defer to a group or “client,” be that a colleague or a key stakeholder. I was taught to challenge someone twice on a strategy that I think is wrong, but if the client or stakeholder still wants to proceed after I’ve warned them two times, I shut up and do what I’m being asked to do.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
Being promoted to Vice President a year after having my first daughter, getting us on the Gartner Magic Quadrant (the press release for which I wrote as I started labor), and taking maternity leave, mainly because the promotion was very unexpected. I had no idea I was being considered for such a role. And then to keep advancing in my career while having another child made me feel like while working mothers can’t necessarily have it all, they can furiously try, which is essentially what I’ve been doing since becoming a mom - just furiously trying not to screw up something or the other.
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
I’m on the Leadership Board of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and I serve on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Staffing Association. I volunteer in my community of Weston, MA on the board of the Friends of the Weston Public Library and I’m active in my children’s school activities.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In the COVID era my free time is spent reading and watching the news and getting scared by it, but normally I spend my downtime singing. I’m part of a band called Stampede that consists of Bullhorn employees, including Art Papas, Matt Fischer, Mitesh Ashar, and Alex Reinert. That’s a huge source of stress relief and I’m sad we haven’t been able to get together and play music in so long.
How do you manage stress?
Not particularly well, because when you have a job and outside responsibilities and young children, there is no stress-free time except for maybe 9-10 pm a few days a week, during which I watch the news and get stressed out again. Singing for other people is a great stress reliever when I can feasibly do it. I also listen to an unhealthy amount of Depeche Mode (mainly the Alan Wilder years, when they were at their peak).
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
Right now, zero, but usually one or two cups a day. I struggle with insomnia so I don’t lean too heavily on the caffeine or it will fight back hard.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I could eat at Menton, one of Barbara Lynch’s Boston restaurants in Fort Point, every day for the rest of my life if the pandemic was over, I had five hours to spend at dinner, and I didn’t mind gaining copious amounts of weight.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I don’t read a lot of contemporary literature because I’m no fun, but my favorite books, in general, are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and A Night of Serious Drinking by Rene Daumal. I don’t listen to podcasts frequently but I’ll plug “Take It from the Top” on the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (RIX): http://recruitmentix.com/
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Focus on adding meaning to the world and pursuing what makes you happy and fulfilled, not following someone else’s dreams or trying to meet abstract expectations.