Today’s Tech Role Model is Julia Steele. Julia is unflinchingly passionate about empowering others to tell their stories to the world. She began her career doing brand strategy and experience design at game-changing internet brands Gawker Media and Tumblr. Later on, she launched her own brand—Ratter—which set out to revive local news for the internet. Currently, Julia oversees brand reputation at SYPartners, an organization which consults with business leaders on diversity and organizational transformation.
What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?
Senior Strategist, Brand Events and Relationships (yes, this is the second wordiest title at SYPartners). 3 years in March.
What attracted you to this senior strategist role?
I love envisioning a future that doesn’t yet exist, then thinking through and taking the steps it will take to get there. It requires a lot of creativity—a trait I’ve never identified as having, given I’m not a ‘capital d’ Designer.
Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?
I’m an early riser. Each morning, I try to meditate, go to the gym, and write in my journal. (I usually eke out two of the three.) This ritual is key to my success in my role.
I’m in the office by 9, where I strongly prefer to have heads down time for the first couple hours to catch up on any writing or bigger thinking I have to do for the day. We have a room in the office called “the Hideout” which is like the Amtrak Quiet Car. It is my favorite.
11-4 is all about meetings. My role is very project based—at a given time the team is working on 5-8 projects which bring ideas from around the firm to life. These projects result in various media, e.g. our new podcast series, Leading into the Unknown or a new tool like the identity icebreaker we just put up on our online store. I also reserve time each day for relationship building, via coffee catchups or just email. I’m constantly scanning the landscape for interesting business podcasts, newsletters, posts, etc. and writing people (most of the time blindly), with praise. I’m obsessed with Ellen McGirt’s Fortune Race Ahead newsletter, e.g. (Please subscribe if you don’t already.)
For lunch, I usually pop out to Good Stock or Brodo for pick up somewhere in that window. (I am a huge evangelizer of both of these places.) I eat at my desk while answering emails, but it’s far from a Sad Desk Lunch since the new Kobra mural is right out the window.
What skills/technologies help you succeed?
Everything Google. (I love how Google Docs used to be clunky and now the user experience [for my purposes] exceeds Excel. The new feature that allows you to create new docs with a Chrome shortcuts is sent from heaven. [Type “doc.new” into your Chrome address bar, et voila.])
And all of the Slackbots. (Newest obsession: brb.life Slackbot. It allows you to see all your team members wfh/vacation time. It’s like an auto responder for Slack.)
What’s the most fun or creative part of your senior strategist role?
Getting to talk with SYP’s myriad brilliant leaders about their consulting work: What ideas or trends are they witnessing in their client work? And how could those ideas benefit a wider group? Then I get to go out externally and socialize these ideas with our online audiences, journalists, or potential partners, building the reputation of the leader, the firm—and creating a lot of good vibes in the process.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
Not having time to do all the things I want to do as well as I want to do them. The fact that time is finite. Et cetera!
What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?
I work frequently with our design team who are normally confined to working on whatever client-facing project they are on. It’s fun bringing them into the work of the Brand Team, where we don’t have client deliverables, per se, and can play a little bit more.
A few months ago we produced our first podcast, Designing for Humanity, where our Managing Creative Director, Rie, interviews design leaders about how to create a better, more inclusive world.
What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your senior strategist role?
I want to be the best manager on the planet. Not that it’s a competition 🙂 But seriously, I have two new hires starting this month. Nothing gives me more joy than removing roadblocks for my people and generally facilitating their growth and career evolution.
Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?
Tenacity: sometimes with shifting priorities in the firm’s client load, it’s hard to prioritize brand-building and story telling (the “drum beat” work).
Equity: We try really hard to feature the voices and ideas of leaders at all levels of SYP, not just our leadership team.
Intelligence: Companies pay us the big bucks for our smart ideas, so the people who work here are very smart. It helps to be as smart as them!
What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?
My ability to frame a narrative in a way that builds belief in others. Massive improvement in my public presentation of self/public speaking abilities. Despite being a major extrovert in small groups, I have had to learn to overcome extreme anxiety around public speaking. I started by presenting ideas to SYP’s leadership team and now regularly find myself presenting and facilitating large groups of people during conference and workshops.
In your senior strategist role, what metrics define success?
At the end of the day, my team’s remit is to increase SYP’s reputation and valuable relationship capital. There are a bunch of tangible metrics we measure (email newsletter open-rate, social followers, conference attendee numbers), but more fun are the “anecdotal” metrics. In the past two years, have candidates we’re recruiting heard of our work? How many degrees of separation is SYP from a leader we want to work with?
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