In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles senior marketers who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. These interviews are also the basis of the author's new book, "The CMO's Periodic Table: A Renegade's Guide to Marketing" which is available for pre-order on Amazon.
This October, the names of another class of CMO Awards winners were etched into the history books. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their industries, and while all senior marketers have a wealth of advice to offer the rest of us, today I'd like to focus on one who was among the greener set of award recipients: Missy Walker, who has served as the VP of Brand Strategy and Communications at Strayer University since 2013.
Walker's ascent has not only been rapid, but is marked with achievement. Just this year, she spearheaded an initiative called The Success Project, a TV- and socially-supported campaign that partnered with the likes of Steve Harvey and Rainn Wilson's Soul Pancake organization to help Strayer students understand and break down barriers to their success. The campaign went so far as to publicly affront Merriam-Webster's wealth- and fame-centered definition of success. In the wake of receiving her Rising Star Award, Walker reflects on the elements that have helped her own rise to recognition, words worth absorbing by marketers both novice and seasoned.
1) Keep "no" off the table
Like any leader worth her salt, Walker looks forward to a good challenge. When I ask to what she attributes her success, it's this upbeat disposition that she mentions first. "I attribute my success to loving what I do, having a positive, can-do attitude," she says. "I am not the type of person who says 'we can't do that.' I will always try to find a way to do something that I think is right for the business and right for our students."
2) Rely on your network
Walker is also quick to credit the people in her life-at Strayer and at home-with providing the all-important safety net and sounding board that every leader needs. "I am also blessed with a supportive boss and high-performing team at the office, as well as a great husband and supportive family who take care of things on the home front when times get crazy at work," she says.
3) Learn, learn, learn
As for those just starting out in marketing, Walker advises focusing first on, yes, education. "Take your time in the early stages of your career learning the ropes," she says. "Spend time learning from those around you-both in your office and in your field." Not surprisingly, mentors are an incredibly important part of this equation, Walker tells me. "One of my first mentors allowed me to spread my wings and try out things that were uncomfortable for me as a person or a young professional," she says. This mentor offered suggestions for improvement when Walker made mistakes and was a constant source of support. "She really never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself at times."
4) Stay open
And how, then, does a budding marketing professional climb so quickly up the corporate ladder? "Don't say no to any opportunities that come your way," she says. Leaving the door open allowed Walker to build her skillset in a variety of environments and ultimately led her to the leadership position she occupies today. Prior to her time at Strayer, Walker spent the majority of her career working for large tech companies like Aol and Sprint. Making the switch to for-profit education at first felt risky to her, but she came to understand that Strayer "really was trying to change higher education for the better," she tells me. "Making that leap was one of the best decisions I've ever made... We work to make a difference for people in ways no previous industry I've worked in really has. It's amazing to be a part of it all."
5) Be your own customer
Finally, focusing on our chosen profession as marketers, Walker stresses the importance of truly understanding and empathizing with your target. "Learn about your customers," she says. "Talk to them. Walk a mile in their shoes and really try to understand what motivates them to choose your product above all others. Learn to love them and be their champion-even if they are nothing like you or anyone you know." She suggests using your own product, whatever it may be, to achieve a more substantive level of empathy with their wants and needs. "Working to cultivate this deep understanding is one of the most important parts of your job as a marketer."
CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column appearing every Thursday