What life experiences inspired your career path
Whitney Headen on strategy
From the first steps in your professional career to the final phases of delivery to the customer: Strategic thinking is a crucial skill for entrepreneurial success. For Whitney Headen, CEO of an agency for creative implementation and founder of the mentoring platform The Life Currency, strategic understanding and a strategic approach were powerful tools.
In the video above, Whitney presents insights on creating a business plan as part of CCNYC’s Creative Curriculum 2020, started in partnership with Squarespace. She also talked to us about all of the wrong career decisions that eventually led to the right position, how she's constantly working to meet customer needs, and why work and life integration was key for her to being happy and to become professionally successful.
SQUARESPACE: You have built a successful career in digital marketing and brand strategy. What originally inspired you to pursue this career path?
Whitney Headen: To be honest, I had no idea that my current career path even existed. I grew up in Virginia and went to college at a state university. Even though I have a degree in marketing, I don't think schools are very good at telling you what opportunities the know-how you have acquired opens up for you. I knew I wanted to work with brands or in entertainment, but I didn't realize there was a job that would combine the two. The first thing I did after college was fashion public relations and I hated it. Then I went into production, which I didn't like either, but that was how I got my first integrated marketing job. A number of strategically inappropriate options ultimately led me to my dream job by chance.
SQSP: Your work combines creativity and strategy. How do you translate inspiration into action for your customers?
WH: With 3 letters: KPIs (Key Performance Indicators alias performance indicators). It is imperative that you clearly define the expectations and goals that are to be achieved with creative concepts. Marketing is a sales function and a creative extension: you always have to keep in mind what end results you want to achieve and how you want to get customers to decide on a purchase, attention or brand loyalty. If your idea only makes sense to you, you can hardly inspire people to make a decision based on what you create. When working directly with brands, I always make sure to keep the goal in mind and to make sure that my clients are given enough information so that they understand any touchpoints that we may address along the way in order to achieve their goals. I also have to develop a feeling for the creative and how we can breathe life into it. Depending on the case, this can happen via mood boards, renders, mocks, video treatments or something else, whatever is best suited to get the whole point across.
SQSP: Does your life experience influence your work? If so, in what form?
WH: I've had a lot of life experience. I have traveled all over the world, worked in a wide variety of settings from corporations to start-ups, my friends and, above all, my family come from different cultures, I have experienced intense love and painful losses - and for these reasons influenced my life experience my work every single day. I am an information and media junkie. I really get up when I can throw myself into new things and experiences. It is very difficult for people to address things or segments of the audience that they have never had a previous experience with, and you can almost always tell when connections are not authentic. This is exactly why the push for inclusive marketing is so important. If you gather diverse experiences at a table, you almost always create a better functioning working community, and that applies in every respect: origin, gender, socio-economic status, sexuality. Whatever it is, everyone has a different perspective or experience. You have to be able to contribute that instead of continuously seeing how someone interprets what he thinks he is seeing as an outsider.
SQSP: As an entrepreneur and CEO, how do you manage to combine your professional duties and time for yourself?
WH: I've never believed in the concept of work-life balance and that's why I designed my life in such a way that I don't have to choose between life and my career. It's all the same. I like to say that my goal is to live an integrated life. I founded a company with my girlfriend, and we hire people who do their jobs great, but are also our friends or maybe can become our friends. I consciously try to build relationships with people who not only support my goals, but also want to do everything in their power to help me achieve them. I believe that families and ecosystems can be created that we don't have to escape from.
SQSP: What role did your online presence play in your successful career?
WH: You have to distinguish between two phases. The success of my career began at a time when people weren't using the internet to such an extent to quantify and validate professionals. I got
my first job based on a binder with papers that I had put together and called my portfolio. So in retrospect, I would say that my online presence was very unhelpful. I am still considered relatively young in relation to my professional position, but for us there were no websites with professional networks, for some social platforms you still needed an email from the university, and some platforms we used as online diaries - and found out later by chance that potential clients used it to rate our character traits.
For me personally, my online presence didn't play a particularly important role in my early professional success. But my early success as an entrepreneur, positive press, digital channels and testimonials from customers are my everything. Even with a small-scale digital presence, you enable others to understand who you are and what you do without even having to say anything. Both of my businesses are built on positive customer experience and discovery, and that would have been impossible without an online presence.
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