Chicago-based SVP of Publisher Development, Kelly Merkel, has been in almost every role on the Client Development team and worked out of two different offices over her eleven-year tenure at CJ. Kelly was kind enough to tell us more about her surprising career path, her favorite trick for time management, and the one thing that always clears her head.
Q: Describe your career trajectory. Where did you work before CJ and how did you come across the opportunity to work here?
I had a completely different career before CJ! Right out of college I worked for Union Pacific Railroad for seven years. While it seems unrelated, I worked in their sales/account management team, so I’ve had a client-facing role my entire career. After UP, I went to business school and made a career change to digital marketing. I first heard about CJ while interning for a former client (Cooking.com). After having an opportunity to run Cooking’s affiliate program, I realized I loved the channel and decided to make the jump to CJ!
Q: What does your average workday look like in your role?
My time is spread across working closely with my team on strategy and development, meeting with clients to engage them with CJ, and internal senior leadership meetings to discuss higher level planning for the organization.
Q: What’s your favorite part about your job/working at CJ?
CJ has given me so many opportunities to grow both professionally and personally. In my day to day work, there is always a new challenge to take on, whether it’s learning a new vertical, participating in a stakeholder group, or collaborating with a client. I’ve also had opportunities to stretch myself to take on projects outside of the day to day, including speaking at CJU and ASW20 and being a part of Women in Leadership. There’s never a dull day!
And I’d be remiss not to mention the people and culture! I feel extremely lucky to work with such passionate, engaged, fun people every day. The support and flexibility that CJ offers is very unique.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
Assume innocence. I came across this idea in a training very early in my career. The idea is that when communicating with another person you can never really know where they're coming from—maybe they had a bad meeting with their boss so they’re feeling defensive, maybe they’re about to leave for a vacation so they’re distracted. Going into a conversation with an assumption that whatever energy they are giving off probably has nothing to do with you allows you to be objective when approaching an issue or opportunity.
Q: Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I was a part of the launch of Affiliate Customer Insights and Personalization several years ago. My client was the very first advertiser in CJ to test Personalization. It was extremely exciting to be a part of something that had implications across the organization. For several years after, I was one of the go-to people across CJ for any questions/projects related to either of these initiatives.
You are ultimately responsible for your career so don’t wait around for someone to notice how awesome you are, tell them.
Q: Hardest lesson learned?
Always be your best advocate. If you get a kudos email from a client, send it to your manager! If you want feedback on how to advance to the next level, talk to your mentor! You are ultimately responsible for your career so don’t wait around for someone to notice how awesome you are, tell them. I’ve been in a situation before where I assumed I was on track but never asked explicitly. Then was caught unawares when feedback on improvement was given. Be sure you're getting everything you need in order to set yourself up for the future.
Q: Who is your role model, and why?
Do they have to be a real person? 😊 If not, I’d have to say Leslie Knope from the show Parks and Recreation. She's unapologetically ambitious and fiercely loyal to her friends.
Q: On a Sunday morning at 11 am, we’d find you…
In savasana, finishing up a power yoga class. I go every Sunday. Since the lockdown, this has become even more important to me and I’ve switched to virtual classes. It clears my head and sets me up for the week.
Q: Do you have any habits or routines that you’ve purposely built to maximize productivity for yourself?
I’m a big fan of calendar blocking. I set off specific, limited amounts of time to complete projects or tasks. If I’m open-ended or set a large block of time, I find myself being unfocused. But if I leave myself half an hour or hour to knock something out, I tend to get things done quicker.