An interview with Katie Bradley

Katie Bradley

We had a chat with Katie Bradley, Head of Marketing at SwayDM, about her career path and advice for those looking to break into the industry. 

Did you always know that you wanted to work in Marketing? 

I’ve had quite an interesting career path. I originally went to college for film and television production as I had ambitious dreams of being a director, making the kind of films that have such a profound impact when you watch them that they stay with you throughout your entire life. However, after taking a couple years of film classes, working an internship in broadcast television and experiencing the economic uncertainty of 2008, I decided to double major in marketing. I became fascinated with the strategy and creativity that came with marketing for brands and businesses, and knew it would likely lead to a wider selection of job opportunities upon graduation. I also loved the idea of endless creativity; how you can create an identity with branding and imagery and how something as minor as the colors chosen for a website can evoke certain feelings and emotions within people. In a way, marketing is similar to directing as all of the components chosen in a marketing campaign are ultimately what impact whether or not a platform or product is going to be endorsed by your audience. You have the power to influence thousands – even millions of people – with a good idea, the right strategy, and a team of hard-working people who are aligned on a mission and making the company vision come to life. 

Tell us about how you got started and what led you to where you are now:

My first job in marketing was at an events and promotions company in Detroit, Michigan, where I worked 12-hour days for less than 30K a year. I did my best to learn as much as I could while trying to carve a name for myself and also try to figure out what it was that I wanted to do next. I ended up making a move to a more established company in project management for slightly higher pay (but mostly better benefits). After a couple of years, I came to the realization that I didn’t necessarily enjoy what I was doing, despite being good at it. I ended up moving back to my hometown of Columbus, OH and must have applied to over 200 jobs over the next few months. The job market was saturated and I only ended up securing two offers from my 10 interviews, settling on an entry level position as an account manager at a digital marketing agency. I was a sponge and absorbed as much knowledge as I could, climbing the ladder and finally making a name for myself. Eventually, I knew it was time to make another transition as I was seeking more of a challenge and was growing increasingly interested in marketing analytics. I started attending data conferences in my free time and taking online classes to learn more, becoming increasingly confident this was the career switch I needed to make. Looking for a new job was easier this time around as I knew I had more leverage with a higher skill set, and I ended up taking a position as a customer experience marketing analyst for a fortune 500 company. Data became my life as I dived deep into website analytics, user experience and the customer journey, sales funnels, conversion rate optimization, and more. 

But, after spending a couple of years looking at numbers everyday, I started to miss the excitement and challenge of being in a leadership role and having influence to shape and grow things. I started my job hunt yet again, this time knowing specifically what I wanted and didn’t want out of my future job and the company values and leadership I would be a part of. I landed a senior position as a marketing manager for a boutique agency that specializes in custom website design and SEO, and I learned so much about best practices for website hierarchy and structure, content marketing and SEO, and how to communicate what clients and I wanted to see on a website to the designer/developer who was building it. It was an extremely rewarding opportunity but came with its fair share of challenges, too.

Advice for women looking to break into the industry 

My advice for those wanting to start a career in marketing and SEO is to start out with an agency that offers website design and development in-house and truly understands the importance of SEO strategy throughout the process. It may sound like a no-brainer but there are plenty of marketing agencies that say they offer “SEO,” when it’s actually mostly local SEO (rather than organic), with no emphasis on PR, content marketing, or linkbuilding. To become more skilled and well-rounded, it’s a good idea to work with designers, developers, and content marketers to learn a combination of technical and on-page SEO skills, and to find out what you want to specialize in. I also highly recommend attending as many conferences (such as MozCon or the Marketing Analytics Summit ) as possible – even if you have to pay for it out of pocket – in order to get out of your bubble and get advice from experts in the industry and around the globe. 

The impact of COVID 

At the start of COVID, my company had to furlough us for a month and things became very uncertain for me. We were all working from home (most of us for the first time in our lives) and since I lived alone, there would be some weeks where days would go by where I had no interaction with another human being. Even though I’m an introvert, the isolation presented mental challenges I had never experienced and in an attempt to push away some of the uncomfortable emotions, I did what a lot of Americans working from home that year did; I worked longer hours. Without having the ability to go to restaurants, my gym, or even see my friends anymore, I turned to work. It wasn’t all bad; I got a promotion and learned a ton, but I felt like I had to work even harder to keep up with all the hats I was wearing and eventually, I got burned out.

The catalyst for change

In the fall of 2021, I took the Enneagram personality test for the first time as a few of my friends were talking about how great it was to learn more about their personality type and what made up their values and fears. I scored a 98% Type 3 (the achiever) and 96% Type 1 (the perfectionist). Reading about these personality types was unnerving, as even though it was mostly spot on, it also caused me to feel guilty about wrapping up so much of my identity and self-worth in being a high-achiever. Many CEOs are Type 3’s and while it’s great to be adaptive and driven, it also led me to exhaustion. I learned that a 3’s biggest fears are asking for help and the fear of failure, which made things click for me as to why I had not been vocal about being burnout or overwhelmed at work. And while this was not the first time I had felt burnout at my job, it was the first time I decided I was going to finally do something about it, in a first step to overcoming this fear of failure. I eventually discussed these feelings with my manager (also a Type 3) who seemed to be empathetic to my news, but never made a plan with me to unload responsibilities and decrease my workload, which would have led to improvements in both my performance and my mental well-being. But, it was a good job with a high salary and I had the chance of eventually being a director before the age of 35, so I kept telling myself it wasn’t that bad. I always try to strive to have an “attitude of gratitude,” as they say.

Choosing to risk job stability for a startup

Then one day out of the blue, I received a call from the founder of a brand new startup called SwayDM. It’s a paid messaging platform that helps users filter their inbox and get paid for responding to direct messages while allowing others to finally be able to get in touch with them. He explained the MVP, how he selected the talented individuals that made up the team, the market research that was done, and why he was ready to finally promote the platform. He asked if I would be interested in developing and executing their marketing strategy, which was a huge opportunity for me. I knew it was an interesting idea but I wasn’t looking to leave my dependable, six-figure job that I had worked so hard to keep. After all, I was working downtown in the heart of the city and had my own office, happy clients, and co-workers that I had finally built relationships with after coming back from working from home for the last year and a half. Still, this idea captured my curiosity and I kept coming back to hear more about the long-term goals and vision for the company, why SwayDM was different, and how I could help. I knew the Type 3 in me would have never entertained the idea of leaving stability for a company in its infancy, but then again, I wanted to challenge myself to use my wings and grow. I knew that if I didn’t take this opportunity now, I may never get another shot at building something from the ground up. Here was my chance to be creative again; to take a risk of possible failure and leave everything behind that I had worked tirelessly to achieve for a shot at building something far greater that could bring millions of people together. So, I put in my notice and took the leap. Life is too short to let fear keep us trapped in our comfort zone. Why not aim as high as we possibly can to become the best that we can possibly be?

A female leader in business 

Do I feel I have to prove myself more than my male counterparts? Absolutely. Speaking your mind in a corporate environment is not something many women are naturally inclined to do, so learning how to use your voice, negotiate, and sit at the table during meetings are all a part of our professional lives that we have to learn how to develop over the years, which already puts us behind the majority of men who speak up without giving it a second thought. However, I do think there is strength in numbers and the more workplaces we have with females in leadership positions, the more likely their female counterparts will feel comfortable doing these things and stop feeling a need to work harder to be on equal footing with their male co-workers. Until then, we should continue to encourage, motivate, and advocate for one another.

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