Career Success Story: Making an Impact in High-Growth Marketing

Caroline Lucas' career path has been anything but linear. Still, between advocacy internships, her two-year stint volunteering in Armenia with Peace Corps, and her current role as marketing manager for a high-growth Chicago scaleup, there are two clear common threads: Caroline wants to be high-impact, and she likes to get her hands dirty. A graduate of our fall 2013 cohort in Chicago, Caroline's been working at Signal for over a year now, having joined the team at a energetic moment in reimagining the brand and launching a new product that would shape the future of the company during this high-growth stage. I caught up with Caroline to hear about her experience becoming a marketing manager and launching her career in marketing at Signal:

Tell us about Signal and your role there.

Signal is a marketing technology company that powers the world’s top brands and agencies to create personalized customer experiences through the collection and activation of their own marketing data. We’ve grown to 120 employees and multiple offices worldwide. I work on the marketing team in customer growth and development. I’m responsible for demand generation, meaning that I execute inbound and outbound marketing campaigns, including email, paid advertising, webinars and working with our search agency. My role is the “marketing team hub,” meaning that I get to do a bit of everything; writing copy, designing and optimizing landing pages, collecting and analyzing marketing data—the works. I also work very closely with sales operations and development to ensure leads are nurtured into opportunities.

Why Signal?

I chose Signal for two main reasons:

  1. I wanted to be a part of a growth-stage company and part of a larger marketing team where I could learn from more experienced marketers. I learned from freelancing for smaller start-ups that I wasn’t ready to be the head marketer at an early-stage company and wanted to get experience at the growth-stage level first.
  2. I loved the people and the culture from my very first interview. Signal places a strong emphasis on their culture and hires people based on three traits: intelligence, kindness and a sense of adventure. Those are three traits strongly align with my own values and what I look for in other people, so it was a great fit with the team from the moment I arrived.

Describe a “day in the life” in your role.

A day in the life: I roll into the office between 8:30am-9:00am. I pour myself a cup of delicious Bow Truss Coffee that we have brewing in the kitchen. I chit-chat with colleagues before settling in front of my lap top and continue slewing through emails, which I’ve already begun to check when I wake up in the morning and on the train on my phone. I run through a new leads-check with our sales operations team and ensure they'll have smooth transitions to sales. Then, I spend much of my day in HubSpot doing a variety of tasks, such as building workflows, landing pages, writing emails, testing out new CTAs. I’ll look over our current paid campaigns and research best practices for content optimization. I’ll have meetings with our content and communications team or our sales development representatives about future or current campaigns. Meanwhile, sprinkled between these moments of HubSpotting, I’m grabbing lunch from the French Market in the West Loop, talking with coworkers about whatever misadventures we’ve gotten into lately when we’re off the clock, laughing at my boss’s corny jokes and eating way too many chocolate-covered almonds (that we always have stocked in the kitchen).

What skills do you think are most key to doing your job well?

The difficult part of modern-day marketing is that it is both an art and a science. My role lives at the intersection of content and technology, of marketing and sales, and requires that I regularly use both sides of my brain. One of the compliments that I receive in my performance reviews were that I am “very well-rounded,” meaning that I can switch from writing inventive copy to grinding-out stats on an excel sheet with relative ease. Startup Institute prepared me well for this, as I have always been a good writer and naturally creative, but I lacked the technical skills that are now a requirement for being a digital marketer. Now, I can navigate through our marketing software and other technical products with ease, although every day I genuinely feel challenged to keep up and learn more, as it is constantly evolving.

Which brings me to my next point – the soft skills are crucial. Despite being on a larger team, I have somehow still found myself as the “marketing automation expert” for my team. To be clear, I’m no expert, but I am the most experienced and skilled person in-house. It took me awhile to realize that I have to really embrace this fact, learn to trust myself, and most importantly, have the self-confidence to keep experimenting and learning and trying to always be better.[bctt tweet="Modern #marketing lives at the intersection or content, tech, marketing, + sales - @care_oh_liine"]

What is the most exciting campaign or initiative that you’ve worked on?

The most exciting campaign to date was rebranding our entire company and formally launching our brand new product—all at the same time. It was in my first month at the company and it was quite the roller coaster ride. I worked with the marketing team to switch over all of our content and collateral to the new brand, craft new brand messaging, build a totally new company website, execute a large event, all while implementing our new marketing technology software, too. It was a huge effort, and a team effort, and one of my fondest memories of being at the company. For my part, I was still brand new and in the beginnings of my apprenticeship, so I was there to support all parts of the process. But I got to dip my toes in a lot of different aspects of marketing, which helped me find my future niche on the team. It was also a great team-building exercise and was very rewarding to see the final results.

What's most challenging about your role?

The most challenging aspect is the continual testing and optimization. I find myself constantly researching best practices and then tinkering. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I find myself wanting to flawlessly execute a perfect inbound campaign. But I have had to learn that perfection impedes progress and that, especially in startups, action takes precedence over perfection. That’s what testing is for; nothing is going to be perfect the first time. So I have had to work hard to let those things go and take more risks trying out new ideas. I have had to learn that failure and imperfection is okay as long as you glean valuable lessons in the process and use them to do better the next round.[bctt tweet="I've had to learn that perfection impedes #progress. In #startups, action wins. @care_oh_liine"]

Did your time at Startup Institute prepare you for Signal?

Absolutely! I literally use the skills I learned at SI every single day of my life. Before SI, I was digitally lagging; I didn’t even what HTML/CSS was, nor SEO, or anything associated with technical marketing. But I dug in, drank from the fire hose, and became a sponge. I now use the technical skills everyday in my current position. Besides the technical skills, I often think of the soft skills as well. The mindset required for success (as I mentioned in the previous question, such as be constantly testing, learning and not afraid of failure). Additionally, SI gave me a network of fellow marketers who I can turn to when I need help or answers on the job. It’s all been extremely valuable.

What was your favorite marketing class during SI?

Hands-down, I am a huge Erin Wasson fan (@ewasson). She is a self-made marketer, in that she didn’t have any formalized training in marketing automation, but she learned on the job and she worked really hard. The founders of her company recognized this and she kept gaining more and more responsibilities. A few years later, she’s a VP of marketing and running marketing teams for multiple companies. Erin is so humble, smart and fun. She co-chairs the Chicago HubSpot Users Group and continues to give back not just to SI, but to marketers all over Chicago. She really knows how to run an inbound campaign and I have learned a lot from her.[bctt tweet="I am a huge fan of @ewasson—she is humble, smart, + a self-made #marketer, says @care_oh_liine"]

You came to SI as a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Why did you decide to pursue a career in marketing for startups after Peace Corps?

When I served in Peace Corps, I was working in business development, meaning that I was working with women entrepreneurs in my community to build a small business that exported handmade goods to western markets. I didn’t know anything about business going in, but soon I was doing sales and marketing, including social media, building an e-commerce website, helping to execute a Kickstarter campaign, and trying to figure out the most efficient way to process and ship orders all around the world. It was trial-by-fire, but the most rewarding experience of my life.

However, the entire time, all I could think about was, “I wish I could do more!” I became very interested in entrepreneurship and how business and technology can be used to solve social issues, but I hungered to learn more. When I came home, I knew I was done with the traditional non-profit space forever and I wanted a way to transition into an environment where I could learn from more seasoned entrepreneurs and hone my skills in sales and digital marketing. Enter Startup Institute. I was able to make the transition in just three months. I went from being offered non-profit jobs to being offered jobs in technology, and I definitely never, ever could have done it without SI.

I think Peace Corps has prepared me extremely well to work at Signal; I know how to work with a small budget, be on diverse teams, teach myself new skills, and, most importantly, have a great capacity for empathy. I know how to walk in the shoes of other people, which is key to being a successful marketer; you must know your buyer personas in order to understand their pain points and craft effective messaging. Despite all of the technical prowess required for modern-day marketing, empathy is at the heart of being the best marketer.[bctt tweet="Despite the tech prowess needed in #marketing, #empathy is at the heart of the craft, @care_oh_liine"]

What advice do you have for people who want to become a marketing manager?

My biggest pieces of advice are to keep learning and to believe in yourself. The industry changes rapidly and you have to have a voracious appetite for understanding and implementing new technology, tools, and ideas. But, most importantly, you have to believe that you are capable of excellence in your new role. It took me a long time to believe that I could be equipped to handle all of these new digital tools, but the sooner you believe in yourself, the sooner you can achieve success.

The tough thing about being in a startup is that it requires a mix of boldness and humility, which oddly go hand-in-hand. You’ll muster up all of your courage and be bold, but then you’ll fail, be humble, and learn from your mistakes. And then, you’ll get up and do it all over again. It never ends, but it gets better every time.[bctt tweet="You have to believe you are capable of excellence, says @care_oh_liine #newjob"]

Any advice for students enrolling in our marketing classes?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the fire hose; it’s impossible to become an expert in all of these new tools in just eight weeks. Focus, instead, on learning how to learn, network with your classmates and instructors, and try to narrow your focus on what you want to do when you leave.

The sooner you find your focus, the more successful you will be. It took me a long time to find mine, and I don’t regret a moment of the journey, but the people who got jobs first in my group were the ones who figured out what they wanted to do first. And then, they were able to target their ideal roles at their ideal companies and hustle hard to go out and get it.

So, talk to people, be a sponge, and then listen to your inner voice to find your focus. Something will click inside you when you talk to the right startup founder, or start utilizing the right tools. Act on that “click” and get on the grind! Startup Institute, like life, is what you make of it; the power is in your hands.[bctt tweet="Talk to people, be a sponge, and listen to your inner voice to find your focus, says @care_oh_liine"]

Interested in becoming a digital marketer for a high-growth company? Download our free guide to learn more about our digital marketing courses and the Startup Institute experience.