Mastering Marketing & Rising to the C-Suite

Laurie Ehrbar, CMO

  • Laurie Ehrbar is someone I speak to nearly every weekday. She is the CMO of the company where I currently work. So, she is my boss’s boss! We obviously talk about work a lot and have the occasional chat about our family and leisure time. But it was great to hear about her career and quick ascension in such a male-dominated industry to the C-Suite at a software company.

Laurie began her career in the B2B and the technology space of event marketing before she ventured into financial services. “My combined interest in marketing and technology found a home in the banking industry at Waterhouse Securities,” she said. “I was hired to aid in their rebranding, strategy, and announcement of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of TD Waterhouse across all online media.” 

She obviously made a good impression; immediately following the IPO, she was asked to co-head Customer Acquisition for both the bank and brokerage arms of the company, making VP at just age 26. “The rest is, as they say, history. I went on to attract the attention of other large financial institutions like Citigroup and software companies like ServiceNow, and continued to work in digital strategy, media, and partnerships in some form ever since.”

Now she is the CMO of Bizagi, a Business Process Management and Automation software organization. She describes her average day at work as making her way through a very long laundry list of both strategic and tactical initiatives – a list that seems to grow throughout the day. “I try my best to catch up with members of my team and department heads around the organization every day. I think internal meetings, over those with external agencies and vendors, should always be where I spend most of my time,” she said.

Solving problems and paying it forward

Laurie has done well to crack the world of financial services and tech marketing. I asked her what she liked so much about finserv, as it’s the area that she’s spent the majority of her career. “Simply put: creative solutions and problem solvers are celebrated,” she said.

Both in the financial services and software spaces, her marketing expertise has helped her to succeed. For anyone who is considering a career in marketing, she says that internships are key. “It’s that foundational, on the job learning, that can really help you find what you enjoy. Marketing covers a lot and not all of it is for everyone so finding what you enjoy and where you can add value is essential.”

She also credits where she’s got thanks to people who she’s met along the way. “The people who inspired me the most were those that had faith in me, gave me more responsibility and supported me and my career. It’s because of them that I pay it forward and do the same. I often think about how their faith in me, made me have faith in myself.”

Now she’s paying it forward by supporting her co-workers at Bizagi. Managing a global team, and various projects, she’s spread thin but always makes time for everyone. She’s keen to use new initiatives to push the boundaries and is well aware of the importance of tech trends in tech marketing.  “I think companies will begin to use all the data they’ve been collecting more efficiently. For example, they’ll use data to create more intuitive customer experiences. Also, cloud will be viewed as the only option and on premises will be considered no more secure than a rusty old file cabinet.”

Laurie and the Bizagi marketing team, October 2019

Marking the calendar for family time

Laurie’s professional life has had some incredible highlights so far, including making VP at age 26, and even doing a deal with former Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer. “All were very exciting, but I’d say career highlights pale in comparison to family highlights. I’m most proud of how I’ve found balance during it all. I should rephrase…how I insisted on balance and wouldn’t budge,” she says with a wink. “It’s made it possible to do what I do and be a good mom.”

Juggling a family of three children and a dog means it’s hard to turn off, but Laurie says it is necessary to take the time to be present with her family. “I work from home and that allows me, when I’m not traveling, to be there for dinner, sports and the day to day. The most important part is being available to listen when they have a problem. As my kids have gotten older just being present as much as possible is the most important thing I can do.”

Laurie is very organized at the work, and the same can be said of her personal life. “My family calendar is everything. My kids often mimic me by saying, ‘Is it in the calendar? If not, I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ which is my go-to statement if something falls through the cracks like a birthday party or sporting event. If it isn’t in the calendar, then it’s not on my radar!”

When she’s not juggling work and whatever is written in her calendar, she’s certainly not one for sitting still (unless it’s in a yoga pose or reading a book). “I’m a mom of three, so my spare time is spent doing anything and everything for them. I try my best to incorporate the two. For example, cooking involves trying new recipes, often desserts, with my kids helping me create and eat them. I even read side by side with my youngest on my evenings.”

Challenging male bias

Like many career-women, Laurie has experienced sexist behaviour and male bias, and says it is far more prevalent in software than in any other industry she has worked in. “My list of examples is long and 90% of them are in software.”

“An example of one of the many ‘boys’ club’ conversations I’ve experienced in software was with a man I respected both personally and professionally – as a result it stung a bit more than if I didn’t like him. However, this example illustrates how male bias slips into daily conversation.

“Me and this person, we’ll call him Mike, were talking about someone in another department who kept dropping the ball and on everything we requested from them. The person who dropped the ball happened to be a woman. I explained to him that I honestly didn’t know how to get around her to accomplish what we needed. And Mike’s response was, ‘Laurie, you just don’t like her. That’s all.’

“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. He boiled down my valid concerns into a ‘girl’ thing. I’m 100% certain that he never would have said that to a man. Can you imagine? Jim, you just don’t like Bill. That would never happen. It’s those comments, however small, that pile up.”

Rather than seeing it as active prejudice, she sees it more as bias; conclusion bias. Laurie highlights the dichotomy that women are so often faced with: if a woman is quiet, she’s seen by men as weak. But if she’s vocal, she’s seen as bitchy. She’s not the first woman I’ve heard use that example.  

“No matter what a woman says or does those conclusions are stuck in their heads. I think as women we get used to being talked over, so we become either much quieter or much louder.  The middle is simply not an option. In a room full of men, all day, every day, it certainly makes those more prone to shyness, shrink in certain situations.”

One thing’s for sure, Laurie is no shrinking violet. She is confident enough to speak her mind in the office and get things done, which has driven her success to where she is now. And perhaps most importantly of all, she’s found the balance between work and family life. If you want to have some time with her though, just make sure it’s in the calendar!

Quick-fire questions

  • Are you a morning lark or a night owl?    Morning 
  • Active holiday or relaxing holiday?   Active, definitely! 
  • Cats or dogs?    Dogs 
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?   Ozark, and I just finished Tiger King 😉 
  • All-time favourite music album?    WOW that’s hard. Maybe Prince Sign O The Times but I like all kinds of music so it’s hard to name one album 
  • Biggest weakness?   Personal – I care too much. Food related – Cheese covered French fries 😊  
  • What’s your favourite season?  Fall 
  • Favourite snack?   Avocado on wheat toast 
  • Favourite weekend activity?    Hiking  
  • Your favourite female icon?   Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee (I love great female writers). But also Helen Keller so inspirational

Growing a Marketing Agency

Renaye Edwards, Director & Co-Founder, Digital Radish Marketing Agency

Renaye Edwards

  • – Renaye is a great leader, full of grit, tenacity and resolve. But she also has a nurturing side, she loves to help her ‘Radishes’ grow, as she fondly calls her employees. I should know, she gave me my first job in marketing.

Renaye started her career in the post room at Reed Business, a publication company. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I had no idea. I started with maternity cover, stayed there and I was able to network around. I weighed up marketing vs sales, but I took the marketing route. Having done a performing arts degree at university, I liked the creative element.”

As a goal-orientated person, she started to climb the ladder at Reed and worked her way up to Senior Marketing Executive. Then she moved to eMap, now Ascential, where she worked her way up to Head of Marketing. She realized that the tech boom was just beginning and decided to grab hold of it with both hands. “An ex-colleague of mine asked me to help him out with some marketing, and I liked that better than my day job, and felt there was a gap in the market for a B2B agency.”

She teamed up with her eMap colleague Lorna Charlish, and they set out to do some consultancy work. “Neither of us had worked in an agency before, but we felt like there wasn’t [an agency] out there that got under the skin of the audience. We had felt the disconnect ourselves. We had consultants and agencies but the two needed to be blended. Since then more agencies have been pushed to do that, so it’s not quite so niche now.”

Renaye Edwards and Lorna Charlish
Renaye and Lorna

The two of them worked together consulting other marketers, and built up a good word-of-mouth through recommendations from friends and colleagues. And soon, Digital Radish was born…

Named after the world’s fastest growing vegetable, Digital Radish’s motive was to accelerate clients’ growth, using a mix of insight and creativity. They began working with a mix of start-ups, as well as more established companies, such as gaming platform Unity, and even Sport England. Fast forward five years later and the agency has an established team of marketing professionals and provides content, creative and helps businesses with their go-to-market strategy. Not to mention, they have won numerous B2B Marketing awards for their campaigns.

Building a business from the ground, up

Renaye appreciated that it wasn’t going to be easy starting up the agency, but she tackled the opportunity with gusto. “Some people can get lucky, but the set-up of a business and getting the wheels in motion does require long days and nights. You need to be in the right place mentally and financially and have the right framework around you. It’s good to have family and friends to support you. You need to have your mind 100% on the job.”

Digital Radish
The Digital Radish Team, 2016

She and Lorna are both very diligent and have devoted themselves to their start-up. Their bond and shared tenacity are certainly what helped to get the agency off the ground. “If you’re looking to go into business with someone, choosing the right partner is key. You need to set expectations and boundaries from the outset and know the value you can both bring to the table.”

Lorna is very analytical and detail orientated, while Renaye is excellent at networking and drumming up new business. And their both brilliant at thinking outside the box and rising to the challenge.

“Confidence is really key,” says Renaye. “I was told by a grey-haired old man once when I started out that I wouldn’t succees because I didn’t have at least 10 years of consulting experience behind me. When you get the bumps in the road it’s easy to question yourself… But you have to have self-belief – people can smell it on you going into a pitch. If you’re not confident, then the person you’re speaking to won’t buy what you’re selling.”

As the agency grew and they employed more full-time staff, Renaye, Lorna and the business all went from strength the strength. “We won a few awards which gave us more exposure. Then the more interest we had, we were able to carve out more of a niche for ourselves, concentrating on what drove the most value… We like to put a twist on things. We have a strategic offering, and a creative side, and are very results-focused, which puts us in good stead. When it comes to awards entries, we have the data and insight to back up what we say and do.”

Growing a successful team

While Renaye values the awards Digital Radish have won, when questioned about the highlight of her career, she talks about the team that she’s built up at the agency.

“I love now seeing things happen with little input from me – I love watching other people grow in their roles; I love watching them step up to the plate and see them flourish. I get more satisfaction out of that. You know that you’ve influenced it in your own way and nurtured the staff.

The Digital Radish Team, 2019

When hiring, they look for people that would make a good ‘radish’. “It’s someone who shows that they’re hungry for development, a willingness to succeed, that wants to climb the ladder, and has a focus on what they want to do. You need the over-achievers and someone who’s a team player, you need a balance.

The agency world is fast-moving and requires people to do all sorts of work, and at a start-up like Digital Radish, that sometimes means working outside your remit. Renaye says it’s easy to see who those people are, which has helped them build their Radish family.

Running a business and a family

Renaye and Lorna both had their first children within Digital Radish’s first few years. Renaye took maternity leave in 2016 to have her daughter, and, understandably, saw a significant shift in her life.

“In the early stages when they’re young, you feel guilty and dead on your feet because they’re up all night and you’re still trying to work. I felt like I wasn’t being a good enough mum, and two steps behind at work, not being a good wife or friends. But you need to be kinder to yourself. You can’t do all of it.

“I learnt to be better with time – and we’ve developed a second layer of management in the business so can get back for bath time. We’ve made the business work for us. And I’ve seen a shift in the business, since I went on mat leave as other staff had to step up to the mark.”

At Digital Radish the two-tier management means that Renaye is not as entrenched in the everyday, but she can quickly add value to accounts and be involved in the strategy or content. “My role is in New Business; I go out for coffee and have speaking slots at events – that takes up the majority of my time.”

Renaye Edwards
Renaye at work in the office

Running their own business, Renaye and Lorna are fortunate enough to be able to make being working mums feasible. But she appreciates that it’s not always that easy for women in business, whether you’re a mum or not.
“I would like to think that things have changed a fair bit, but I still feel in some industries it can be the old boys’ club mentality. Although with women like Sheryl Sandberg and Michelle Obama around us, the world has changed, even in the last four years. People are more in tune with the issues. But there are women who are higher up are feeling that they have to behave a certain way… women potentially take on a harder character at work rather than show their true persona. They still prove themselves every day and work harder and faster to earn their right there.”

One thing’s for sure, with a successful marketing agency, a team of keen and bright staff and a string of awards under her belt, Renaye doesn’t need to prove herself anymore.

I chose Renaye as the first woman to feature on my blog because I admire her work ethic and appreciate the opportunity that she and Lorna gave me in my first job moving from journalism to marketing. I enjoy seeing the new work that they are doing with Digital Radish, and I recommend you check them out… www.digitalradish.co.uk

Quick fire questions

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Morning lark.

Sweet or savoury food? Savoury.

Cats or dogs? Neither . not an animal person!

What are you watching on Netflix right now? Tiger King, or Safe – I love crime & murder mystery.

What music are you listening to right now? I always go back to Whitney Housten, the classics.

Biggest weakness? I’m not good with detail and I hate negativity.

What’s your favourite season? Spring.

Drink of choice? Vodka Lime and Tonic.

Favourite holiday destination? Thailand.

Your favourite female icon? My mum.