Lead(H)er Profile - Nancy Liberman, Vice President, Marketing at JRNI
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio which was a lovely place to grow up, and not similar at all to the town depicted in the recent series Little Fires Everywhere. I was a curious, busy child - very into books, baking, writing, playing in the street with my friends (who remembers those days) and riding bikes everywhere.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
I spent two years at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do; I only knew that I didn’t want to embark on a path that required grad school. So I studied communications, and took my junior year off to really figure out what direction I wanted to pursue. Instead of returning to Northwestern, I transferred to Boston University where I could exit school with a well-rounded portfolio of work between my experience with BU’s AdLab, internships, and my courses.
For my first job, I went to work at a publishing company as an assistant to make enough money to go to Europe as a graduation present to myself. The company was Ziff Davis, publisher of PC Week and PC Magazine, one of the first high tech publishers. I went to Europe, returned, and was offered full-time employment. I stayed there for nearly ten years in a variety of sales and marketing positions, and continue to work with some of those colleagues today.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
My path was a little strange in that I didn’t really have an end goal, and I was happy as long as I was learning. I started my career with 5 years in sales - inside and outside sales - which I’d recommend to anyone who is evaluating a marketing career. The first critical moment was admitting that sales, while a successful career, wasn’t my passion, however, I had so much training and a unique perspective that a move into marketing was natural.
After 5 years in marketing,I felt my career was pretty well-rounded, the only thing I felt I was lacking was experience in PR. So, I joined a former colleague at a PR firm in Boston, where I worked on new business accounts and customer references for the largest accounts.
The next critical step was to try client - side marketing where I could take all of the skills I had amassed throughout my career and put them behind a single company. I joined a startup as a PR Manager, where I stayed for 7 years until I was promoted to VP of Marketing, when the company was then sold. For me, I love working on the brand and positioning, interfacing with sales and product, and working with an agency to drive the outward communications and then seeing it all come together.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I joined JRNI about 15 months ago. My first team project was to rebrand the company from its previous name and brand, BookingBug and branding continues to be a main focus for me. Currently, I oversee a small team and we do everything in house, from SEO and SEM to product marketing and public relations. Every day brings a new challenge, especially in the age of this pandemic!
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
In all candor, I thought I’d be a writer. I had fantasies of writing the great American novel. So while I’m not where I thought I’d be, I’m not sure there’s anywhere I’d rather be right now.
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?
The best advice that I’ve ever been given is not to confuse activity with results. So many marketers try to fill the calendar with all kinds of activity without analyzing the results, and it’s a big mistake.
I think the other advice I’d offer, especially for those coming out of school, is to think about the company you are applying to, and the skills you have to offer. As an example, I work at a B2B SaaS company, I don’t want to hire someone who tells me that I need to have a full blown Instagram and TikTok strategy - I guess the moral is know your audience.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
I think the key to doing any marketing job well is good grammar and the ability to spell. It may sound elementary, but think about how many times a day you see ‘s as a means of making something plural, or the number of times you come across the “there - they’re - their” offense. Writing and spelling are core to anything you do in marketing, and they never go out of vogue.
The other skill is the ability to mentor. It takes time and personal growth, but the ability to work with someone through a project to help them be better is key. You are only as strong as the weakest member of your team.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s most challenging?
There’s still something very satisfying about seeing the company name in the press, but I think the most rewarding piece is seeing former colleagues succeed on their own. I’ve worked with a number of people who are now Directors and VPs on their own and it is very rewarding to have been part of that ascent.
As for challenges, which marketers spin as opportunities, is probably planning for the unexpected. COVID-19 represented a challenge none of us ever imagined, and for marketers, it was tenuous whether you were being helpful or exploitative. It’s a great challenge, but hard to prepare for!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I’ve had the good fortune of being at a number of startups in their growth and pivot stages. Seeing that work capture the attention of a larger suitor and having that turn into some sort of merger & acquisition activity is a proud accomplishment.
A close second was receiving a call from a professor who wanted me to write the forward to a book on women in leadership. That is, until he realized I was not Nancy Lieberman, the first women’s professional basketball player!
Are you involved with any professional organizations outside of the company? Volunteer work?
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work with MITX from judging some of the new product competitions to volunteering at their events. But these days, my efforts are spent closer to home in and around my town.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to travel. JRNI is based in London, so that’s given me some time to travel around. I like to read, spend time with friends and see as much live music around Boston as possible.
How do you manage stress?
I don’t have any magic formula. Sometimes I snap, sometimes I just walk around, sometimes I nap.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I start most days with 2 cups of STOK cold brew.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I live in Charlestown, and nothing makes me happier than a walk along the water, by the Bunker Hill Monument or along the small streets to enjoy the architecture and the flower boxes.
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I’m not a huge podcast person, and yes, I’m aware that it’s a blasphemous position. Right now, I’m reading Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
As I mentioned above, do whatever you can to hone your writing skills. Both spelling and writing. It is the foundation for anything you do in marketing.