In a recent conversation with Jacki Kelley, CEO of Dentsu, Julie Roehm explored the impact that professional challenges can have on building a career in marketing while also struggling with work-life balance. Kelley opened up about her background and history working in a variety of agency settings.Through the exchange of personal and professional experiences, Roehm and Kelley shed light on the value of starting from scratch and the character development brought on by professional challenges.
Kelley recounted the story of what it was like growing up on the family ranch in rural Colorado. Her participation in the community’s 4-H program became the place where she learned the importance of hard work. Kelley regularly woke up early to feed and take care of the steer, eventually selling them off at the county fair. “We learned a lot of hard work early on by virtue of our 4-H projects, which were always tied to the ranch and really my family’s belief that you learn a lot at an early age by taking on responsibility for something like that,” Kelley explained.
Kelley attended Pepperdine University, a school that coupled together her need for strong academics and strong Christian faith. There, she landed an internship at USA Today, kickstarting an accomplished career in advertising. Traveling from Los Angeles to Dallas and later Washington DC with the company, she worked a variety of roles from circulation to sales training. In 2006, Jacki left USA Today, where by that point she held the position of head of advertising, due to a meeting she had with Wenda Millard at Yahoo. Kelley explained to Julie Roehm, “For those of us who loved building brands, Yahoo was the obvious place to go because they were teaching marketers how to build a brand on the web.”
As consumer behavior changed at lightning speed, digital advertising began to take off, and Jacki gained interest in being in the center of the action. She described the challenge it was for her moving to Yahoo! as shifting to an unfamiliar playing field: “I really felt like it was time to become a beginner again,” Jacki said. “Wenda challenged me to do that and set me up with the structure and the role that allowed me to be a beginner again and not have to know everything about digital.”
Using her experience at Yahoo! as a springboard for success, Kelley continued to move her way through the digital marketing and advertising industries. She continued to pick up positions with brands like Martha Stewart, Universal McCann, and eventually Bloomberg. Kelley explained finding a home with Bloomberg due to the company’s values in diversity, transparency, thoughtfulness, and efficiency. Her values also aligned with those of the company: “I always felt really proud about working there, because I knew every profit dollar I created went right into making our world a better place.” Additionally, she considered Mike Bloomberg’s proposition that she become his COO successor a supplementary learning experience as she was assigned the tasks of running supply chains and tech services, a role she didn’t feel qualified for at first.
Not only did Kelley gain new professional skills, but she also learned a great deal about the industry as well as her ideal job at Bloomberg. Eventually, she realized her calling belonged with agencies, leading her to make the change to Dentsu. “I think Dentsu is the most modern in how we’re thinking about the future of a holding company and how we serve clients,” Kelley noted, explaining that the values at Dentsu resonated with her own. Julie Roehm also found this sentiment relatable, sharing that professionals sometimes have moments where they simply realize what they need to do next to remain challenged and successful at the same time.
Kelley wrapped up the conversation with Roehm by sharing that her forward-thinking mindset and empathy serves as the main focus and purpose of her career. However, most notably, it’s her thirst for knowledge and development through challenges that keeps her moving forward. “I always encourage people to become beginners again. Only when you are really awkward in what you’re doing, are you, I think, really learning at a level that is meaningful.” Roehm concurred with Kelley’s viewpoint, adding that she felt Kelley was successful not just because of her skills but her passion for giving back and helping people.
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