Creating and Communicating your Brand – in life, career and mentoring

Pam Hollander, Vice President, Marketing Strategy and Client Success at TSMGI, and Founder of PH Marketing Solutions

In this episode, Pam Hollander discusses what she has learned from her experiences as a marketing executive focused on creating and communicating ‘Brands’. As both a former Menttium mentee and 9-time Menttium Mentor, Pam offers a dual perspective as she highlights just how transformative a clearly communicated self-definition can be – as well as noting that it is always an aspect of the mentoring experience. Pam shares her own stories of managing some of the common challenges facing so many of us today (downsizing, being a working mom, career decisions). And she shares the tips and tools that helped her navigate through the changes; and allowed her to capture the learning into a broader definition of who she is today.


Cummings-Krueger: Welcome everyone to the Menttium Matters podcast where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. I am Megan Cummings-Krueger, and our conversation today will be focused on the transformational power of being able to communicate clearly who we are to create and articulate what our brand is in our career, in our life, and in mentoring.


My guest is Pam Hollander, who is vice president marketing strategy and client success at TSMGI, as well as being the founder of PH Marketing Solutions. In both roles, Pam follows her passion for using innovative marketing to advance brands through sponsorship and brand engagement. Previously, Pam was vice president of consumer marketing at Allstate for 20 years, where she led the brand’s national sponsorship and engagement marketing center of excellence. Pam has a Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University. She serves on the board of directors for the Falk College of Sport & Human Dynamics at Syracuse University, as well as on the executive board of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.


Pam and her husband Greg have two sons and reside in Highland Park, Illinois. She first joined the Menttium community as a mentee, and then happily for us, she returned to partner with us as a mentor. In fact, she’s currently in her ninth Menttium partnership, so she brings a wonderful dual perspective to our conversation today. Welcome, Pam.


I would like to start out by sharing with our audience, you had a positive experience as a Menttium mentee. You were able to fully leverage this experience and you were able to articulate the impact that you had. I’d like to start by having you just share with our audience, what were some of your takeaways from that experience back then?


Hollander: Absolutely. First, I was so fortunate to be selected and designated as someone who could take advantage of this opportunity because it was really denoted for those who were mid-level in their career, but high performing individuals. So, to be picked out as someone who fit that potential was nice. The match process that took place with Menttium and myself was tremendous because, back when I started the program, we were still meeting face-to-face, and the curriculum was in-person. To this day, I’m still friends with the woman who was my mentor, and it was great. We developed a terrific relationship and I think the secret sauce behind that was, I’m the one who drove that relationship as the mentee, and that’s what I try to instill in the mentees that I have right now. I drove that relationship because I wanted to get as much out of it as I could. I was setting agendas, explaining to her what exactly I wanted to cover, or do you have tips and tricks that you can share back with me based on your career and your expertise? I still tap into her because that is one of those relationships that just never ends.


Cummings-Krueger: It’s always wonderful to hear these kinds of stories and you’re not unusual. While the end of the year ends the structured part of the relationship, you’re right. So often, those relationships can continue for years and it’s always nice to have that reminder of the relationship that you’re able to develop.


When you returned and you came as a mentor, I think it’s an unusual perspective to be able to have that dual perspective. How did your mentee’s perspective inform you when you came back as a mentor? And I would add, not just as a Menttium mentor, but also, I’m sure all the internal mentoring you’re doing within your own organizations.


Hollander: It’s not too different to be honest with you. Again, people get into these programs because they’re all yearning for another voice, another set of perspectives, and that’s why I joined the program. I will tell you that throughout the nine years of doing this with Menttium, each person that I’ve mentored has been very different. While there are some similarities, each person really approaches it personally, individually to see what they need to get out of it. I tend to be matched with other women, obviously, who are moms who are trying to navigate that work-life balance. The people I match with are not always in the same discipline I’m in, so that’s unique. I’m learning from these people at the same time that I hope I’m imparting some wisdom to them.


Cummings-Krueger: Wonderful. I’ve been now with Menttium for 13 years and I have watched the pace of life just speed up exponentially. Obviously, you have that mentoring mentality as all our mentors do, so you’re always mentoring informally or formally within your own organization. What was it about Menttium that attracted you to the program to be doing that in addition to the mentoring you were already doing?


Hollander: It’s the quality of curriculum and the access to assets that Menttium offers. The fact that you can learn about personal branding, the fact that you can learn about all sorts of things that truly impact your career, regardless of where you’re at in the path of your career, or what level you are. I really appreciated the access to that type of material, and I always knew that there was a cohort of people I could reach out to, run things past them, and get feedback from them. The community aspect was important.


Cummings-Krueger: I appreciate you highlighting that because something that we value so much at Menttium is that community. It is such a broad perspective within that community. We’re always seeking ways to connect with our mentors because all of you are continuous learners. There’s so much power in getting all these continuous learners together and sharing that perspective.


Now, another area I would love to have you share with our audience is the fact that your career path has included a number of experiences that I think our audience can relate to. For example, you spent 20 years at the same company. All that experience growing within a company. Then this past year you founded your own company and then I believe just in the last month, accepted a new role with TSMGI. So, you’ll be balancing both, of course. Would you share with us what you’ve learned from these different phases, these different directions of your career?


Hollander: It’s a great question and it’s funny you ask because my career at Allstate was so tenured. You’re right, I was able to grow. I say, I had multiple jobs at the same company. I grew within that environment over the course of my career there. It was wonderful and there are so many great things I can point to. Unfortunately, I found myself in a similar situation as many other people during this crazy time of COVID, and I was caught up in a reduction in force. It really forced me to think about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it. I realized through this process that I was in the driver’s seat, and I didn’t have to rely on taking the next thing that came my way. I took my time to figure out how to make this work.


It’s interesting you talk about people who are lifelong learners. I didn’t do this on my own. I sought people who could help me think through this process. I worked with a career coach, which I’d never done before because I wanted, again, another outside perspective on how to navigate this massive change. It’s been a while since I was looking for a job, and now that I was thrust into it, I wanted to make sure that I was approaching it and tackling it in a manner that was suiting me. And I did and I took several months to figure out what I wanted to do. What was my approach going to be? How do I do that? I found that not a lot of jobs are posted at my level. There were a lot of people who were helping me and backing me, and it was a strong network. I’m very thankful for that. But someone said to me, your next job Pam is not going to be something that you apply to. It’s going to be something that you create for yourself. I thought, you’re crazy. There’s no way. How am I going to do that? And lo and behold, here I am a month into a role that I’ve created. It was through networking, it was through people I knew through my LLC that I began, because I wanted to do some consulting and kick that off and see what that was like. I took on some project work for this company that has now turned into a full-time job. So, it really did follow that path of, you’re going to create your next role.


Cummings-Krueger: I appreciate you sharing all of that because first off, I know it resonates with people because all of us have been dealing with a global pandemic the last year and a half, and many people are in that exact same situation. I also appreciate you bringing up and sharing about accessing a career coach. I think a lot of times people don’t recognize that mentors are the first ones to look for mentors. That there is that wealth of wisdom out there and that network. That’s a great example of how to handle what was a really hard situation.


You were also in an unusual situation where your world is communications and more specifically communicating brands. That’s your livelihood. Of course, during this process, you were communicating clearly and articulating what your brand was as you were going through this career process. Along with what you just shared, would you share with us what you have learned in your professional subject matter expertise, what are some of those communication essentials, whether it’s writing or presenting yourself, what would be helpful for our audience to hear about?


Hollander: I think it’s a combination of things. I absolutely believe in the written form. Any communicator has to know how to write clearly, concisely, articulately. That is regardless of the type of communication you’re writing. That could be a memo, it could be an email, it could be a presentation deck; words matter. I truly take that to heart. I also believe in the power of knowing how to then articulate verbally what you want to get across. The lessons I learned throughout my career, but certainly over this past year as I started to focus on my own personal brand, as you mentioned, was how to articulate that in the clearest short elevator speech way. Because you only have a few minutes to get your point across to someone who is a hiring manager, or someone you’re trying to network with. So how do you condense down exactly what you need in the most effective and efficient way? I went through multiple rounds, and I would test it out on people, and I would see what would resonate the most. If it didn’t stick, I went back and rewrote things. I would tweak it and I would go back into my LinkedIn, and I would tweak it and I would see what kind of traction I would get based on what I was putting out into the world.


Cummings-Krueger: So really getting that external feedback instead of having it in your head the whole time. When you were saying that I was thinking about the fact that right now, understandably, many of our mentees, one common area of focus is what we call authentic self-promotion. Again, it is authentic, making sure the organization understands what they have in you and all that you’re capable of, how to best use you. It’s that win-win, it’s not the bragging piece. I imagine that’s also been something you’ve worked on with your mentees. Each of them has a different focus, but I imagine it’s come up a few times. Does any story come to mind for you with your mentees in the past as far as something that helped them in articulating their brand, whether it was an exercise you used or a question? Does anything come to mind?


Hollander: It’s a good question. Yes, there were a couple of instances, and I’ve used this with multiple mentees. They often mention the fact that they’re looking to get promoted, but they’re not sure how to approach that conversation with their boss. What do they need to bring with them to showcase why them, why now? In terms of the tools that we talked about, self-promotion is important, and I believe that women have a harder time doing it than men. So, I would always encourage the mentees to write down exactly what they were doing, but don’t leave it as an activity. Try to articulate what they’ve been doing and tie it back to actual measurable objectives and make sure that they can show what they’re doing and how it truly impacted the bottom line. Again, that’s not rocket science, that’s not new news. But it is an important practice that sometimes people don’t do. They usually just go in and say, I’m ready for promotion, and they don’t back up the why. I encourage people to have the why, but have it written out. It’s okay to go into your boss with a sheet of paper and say, here’s exactly what I’ve done and here’s what it really led to. Now let’s talk about what does that mean for my future.


Cummings-Krueger: It’s a good point. Especially again, with this pace that we’re all living at, even now with the boundaryless COVID experience, focusing as a differentiator and taking that time. Pausing and taking that time to write that out I imagine is centering, but also then prepares you for having that conversation about who you are and what you do.


Hollander: It’s interesting, I had to go through an exercise recently when I was working with my career coach, and I had to write down things that I think about myself. I had to write down things that I think a future employer would want to have in me. I then sent those questions, I had about five or six questions and I sent them to key people in my life, former colleagues, family members. I said, I want your opinion of me against these different metrics. I gathered that and read it, and it was wonderfully affirming, right? It’s nice to hear other people say great things about you, and it really gave me concrete examples that I didn’t even think of, but other people noticed. I’ve used that now when I was talking to future employers.


Cummings-Krueger: I love that example because it also sounds to me like it was even more effective because you first gave them some structure to respond to. Sometimes people get that general question of, what do you think about me? Or what are my strengths? I think that it’s much more manageable and you get more specific feedback, I would imagine.


Hollander: Yes, I did. I even sent it to my kids and my kids gave me feedback and it was great.


Cummings-Krueger: You know what? I think I’m going to try that with my girls. That’s a lot of fun. All right, that feeds us into the other area that I want our audience to hear from with you. You talked about it a little bit ago, where oftentimes your mentees are also working moms just like you were. What has your experience been balancing work and life? You can answer that overall or pre and post COVID, but what has been your experience and what has been your perspective working with other mentees with this same struggle?


Hollander: I would say first out of the gate, there is no silver bullet answer for that, right? What works for me may not work for someone else. The way that I always approached being a mom and being a professional is that I really tried to set boundaries, first and foremost. Those boundaries, I really tried to keep them. An example of that is I would more times than not, I was having dinner with my family. If that meant I had to leave the office at a certain time, that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting my work done, and it didn’t mean I wasn’t going to log on right after dinner and finish my work into the night. It meant that I’ve carved out specific time that I must have with my family. I always joke I was a better mom because I was a working mom. I instilled certain things. I’ve got two boys, and I’m proud that they see and experience the fact that their mom was working and rose the ranks and had an important job or has an important job. I’m proud of that fact. Again, the boundaries are clear. It’s funny, there were certain times at work, and it doesn’t always happen this way, but I’d have to say no. I’d say no to the point where I knew it wasn’t going to impact my career and my career path. But again, setting boundaries is important.


I’m trying to think of another example of where from a working mom standpoint. Look, I know I missed some things with my kids. I know it bothered me a lot when that was happening, but now that my kids are older and I look back on it, I don’t have regrets and I don’t think they remember. It was harder on me as the mom feeling guilty and coming down hard on myself for missing something. The truth of the matter is my kids don’t remember that and that’s good.


Cummings-Krueger: When you think about, you’re in your ninth partnership now and that’s just with Menttium, right? Obviously also doing internal mentoring. What have you found helpful? As you say, every person is different, every struggle is different. I imagine sometimes it is challenging to have that kind of courageous conversation, to create boundaries or schedule time on your calendar. What have been some suggestions or things that you found have been helpful to your mentees when they’re struggling with this as well?


Hollander: Honestly, open conversation is key. If you are someone who needs time off, needs to take care of something, you have to be open and honest with the people you work with. It’s not just your boss, it’s everyone who relies on you. You just need to be really clear. Scheduling time in your calendar and blocking it out is key, so that way someone can’t go in and schedule over that. It is your time. Again, I just think it’s being very honest with yourself and not taking advantage of it. That’s also key. As a person who has direct reports, I’ve also experienced where there are sometimes employees who take advantage of that. That’s also a tough conversation, but it comes down to balance.


Cummings-Krueger: Actually that brings up another good question, which is now in this time of COVID, and again, I know you’ve switched roles, so it may not be something you’ve had to deal with as much, but how have you found leading a team virtually in this time of covid where obviously trust is important, there’s no boundary really between work and home for a lot of people. Has there been anything helpful? Has it come down to that open communication again?


Hollander: It has, and I think it has also come down to again, blocking time on your calendar to make sure that you can have that personal time, get work done. There have been a lot of walking meetings. I’ll say if it’s a one-on-one time, guess what? We’re not getting on Zoom, but we can get on our phone, put our headphones in, and we’re going to do our one-on-one just as we’re walking outside, at least in the decent weather. That helps from a mental standpoint as well.


I’m also in a situation right now where I work on things that are global. So, time zones, forget time zones. It’s whenever the meeting has to happen and if that means a call has to happen and it’s morning in Europe, then guess what? I will be on a call when it’s morning in Europe because that’s just what has to happen. And again, it just comes down to making sure that you know how to choose which things are the most important to really focus on.


Cummings-Krueger: It’s interesting, so your new role is very global?


Hollander: Yes.


Cummings-Krueger: I’m guessing your old role wasn’t as much, right?


Hollander: Not at all. In fact, Allstate was all North American based.


Cummings-Krueger: Right. So, I’m curious, I’m putting you on the spot here, but what have you found in this early time in this role that has surprised you? Whether it’s the work-life, culture or even just how we present our brand, has there been anything that’s surprised you so far in working with different cultures?


Hollander: Gosh, it’s so fast paced right now. It’s interesting because I’m about two and a half, three weeks in and I am just drinking from a fire hose, right? I’m trying to learn not only a new company culture and new people that I’m working with day to day, but then also the clients and the global aspect of things. So, there’s a lot coming at me fast. I find myself taking more notes than I ever had before because I’m truly in this listen and learn phase. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience I have under my belt; this is new to me and I’m back learning from square one. I’ll be a quick learner, but I’m still learning right now how to navigate something that’s so new, but it’s fun. I have to tell you, I’m loving it.


Cummings-Krueger: I was going to say, I bet that’s so refreshing to be in that point, maybe overwhelming at times, but as a continuous learner, you must love it. Before we close, I want to ask you a couple questions I like to always ask, and one is this is your time to share whatever you want with our audience, which is all going to be like-minded professionals like you. So, my cliché question for this one is, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? What comes to mind for you that you would like to share?


Hollander: A couple of things. One, I’ve really built my career as a communicator, and interestingly enough, my degree in college was in elementary education. Somewhere along the line, I took a left turn and realized, I don’t want to teach, I want to do something different. I found it and I feel fortunate that I found it, but I’ve always been purposeful in how I was going to take my next step. So, what I know now versus what I knew then is saying yes and taking on things that you didn’t think you could do is a smart thing to do occasionally, even though it might scare you to pieces. That little voice inside of you that tells you, you can’t do this; don’t listen to it. Take the chance, take the risk, and it will lead you down an interesting path. You don’t know that when you’re early in your career and where that’s going to take you. I would say that’s something I know now, and it has afforded me some wonderful opportunities.


The other thing is, I’ve always known what I want to do, and this world of marketing and sports marketing is truly what lights me up. Throughout my career, I knew that if I had to advance, just working on sports and sponsorships was never going to be enough to get me to where I wanted to be in my career level wise. So, I always approach it with the mentality of, I will take on whatever else you want to give me, but don’t take this away from me. That really helped me get to where I am today.


Cummings-Krueger: I was just going to add on, because again, we have this gift of your dual perspective. Is there anything you’d say to anyone who’s right now in a mentee role with a partnership, whether it’s with Menttium or elsewhere, any thoughts as far as what you wish you, it sounds like you made full use of your opportunity with Menttium, but what would you suggest to mentees out there to make sure they make the most of leveraging a really unique opportunity?


Hollander: I would say vet it, make sure it feels right to you and to your personal brand and if it meets those kinds of criteria, you owe yourself the chance to try it. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen if I do this? And I think the answer’s always going to be, it’s going to get you to that next step. I don’t think there’s too much of a downside. So that’s what I’ve talked to mentees about. I’ve had mentees ask me, there’s this role that’s open, I’m not sure it’s right for me, I don’t know what to do. It’s like, you have to try it. Even if you don’t get it, what’s the worst thing? You still have your job; you still have your role. You have to at least go for it and see where it takes you.


Cummings-Krueger: Part of the power of mentoring is always helping push the mentee to achieve, as you were saying earlier, more than they think they might be able to. I want to end with your favorite quote, and I know you have a favorite quote that you would like to share.


Hollander: I do, and it’s from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s “women belong in all places where decisions are being made”, and I believe that wholeheartedly.


Cummings-Krueger: Absolutely. Pam, thank you so much for taking the time today to share your insight and everything that you’ve learned. I know that it’s resonated with all our audience. It’s been a great discussion on communication and interestingly how much brand has come through all of this and all these different topic areas. Thank you to all of you who are listening to the Menttium Matters podcast. We have a number of excellent guests just like Pam lined up, so make sure you subscribe, make sure you don’t miss any episodes, and then for additional resources you can find our show notes on the Menttium team website. We look forward to having you join us next time.