Pavilion Member Q&A: Career Growth through Community
Here at Pavilion, we love to see connections through our community turn into new opportunities.
We interviewed two Pavilion Members about their career trajectory, how work continues to change, and how Pavilion continues to support their career growth.
Jen Spencer, CEO, SmartBug Media
Stephanie Valenti, CRO at SmartBug Media
Q: Jen, last time we spoke, you’d just taken on a new role at SmartBug — now you’ve leveled up again. What do you love about SmartBug — and what’s your next career aspiration?
Jen: I love the people (internal and external) and the work. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of inbound marketing, so to have the opportunity to immerse myself in it every day with people who love it, believe in it, and are brilliant at it is truly a gift. Every partner we collaborate with, every client we work with is another opportunity to learn more about the world we live in. I get to meet such a diverse group of people from so many different industries. I used to say that if I could be a full-time college student, I would, and I feel like SmartBug gives me a little bit of that. I learn something new every single day.
As far as my next career aspiration is concerned, I really just want to be a better version of myself—for me and for those around me who trust me with their own careers. I’m just a couple of months into this CEO role and recognize I still have so much to learn. The SmartBugs are helping me along the way!
Q: Stephanie, what made you want to pursue a role at SmartBug?
Stephanie: I loved my time as a COO at Loftwall, but I had a strong desire to break out of my current industry and take on a new challenge. When I reviewed the role, it seemed like a perfect match. I thrive in scaling B2B organizations and I am passionate about helping companies grow! SmartBug hits both needs perfectly! If this was not enough, every conversation I had during my interview process made me more excited to be a part of the SmartBug team. This company is truly special!
Q: What advice would you give to other executives struggling to hire or retain top talent? What has worked for SmartBug?
Stephanie: At the end of the day, people want to work for, and with people that they trust, respect, and have fun with. Here at SmartBug we focus heavily on collaboration, growth, active authenticity, and try to incorporate a whole lot of fun. But this alone is not enough, we are constantly thinking about incorporating new creative ways to invest in our people. For example, we have internal mentorship programs and just invested in Pavilion for Teams!
My advice to leaders struggling with retention is to talk to your people! Find out what they are looking for, how they are feeling, and what motivates them to stay. If you don’t ask, the perception could be that you don’t care. If you don’t care, people leave.
Jen: Plus one to everything Stephanie mentioned. I’ll add that I believe it’s our job as leaders to understand the people we work with and look for ways to align their goals with the company’s.
SmartBug Founder and Chairman Ryan Malone took me through an exercise a few years back. He asked me to write up a wish list of things I wanted in my life, whether financial, career-focused, or personal. That list had everything — from wanting to be able to pay for my twins’ college education (happening this fall, people!!) to entering the C-Suite and being able to carve out time to teach workshops and speak outside of my role at SmartBug to eventually writing a book about my journey and lessons learned. We reviewed it together and determined which of my wishes SmartBug could help support, and he never forgot about the list, even when I did. Every time I crossed one of those “wishes” off the list, we did it together.
Q: We know SmartBug is 100% remote – how does SmartBug keep employees connected and engaged? Any creative ideas you can share?
Jen: I originally met SmartBug when I was a client back in 2014 and I recall being so amazed that the team was 100% remote because they all seemed to know each other incredibly well. When I joined the team as VP of Sales and Marketing in 2017, I learned that SmartBugs conduct “Get to Know You” calls with all team members. This simple act of hopping on a call with someone and learning about them—not their role, but who they are as a person—was incredibly effective at building camaraderie. I had worked with people for years in the same office but never really knew much about them.
We’re a “pay it forward” kind of company, so given the change in the market and with so many companies shifting to remote work, we’ve recently been publishing our tips. Here’s an article one of our Senior Directors, Sandy Moore, wrote about the “Get to Know You” call at SmartBug.
The past two years have been challenging for everyone, and bad news worldwide continues. How do you make sure your team is prioritizing wellness?
Jen: Prioritizing wellness is deep-rooted for me. I started my career as a high school teacher and studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As an educator, I knew my students would not be able to thrive in my classroom if their foundational needs were not being met.
This still rings true in the workplace. With our flexible work model, our teams can adjust their work days and weeks to fit their schedules. As a leader in the organization, I’ve tried to be transparent about taking care of myself, whether that’s by joining a call while taking a walk or pulling myself off of video to grab a bite in the kitchen when I’ve managed to book myself in back-to-back meetings. I’ll even let team members know I need to lie down for a bit and will be back online in an hour. My hope is that if they see me doing it, they’ll have the confidence to do it for themselves, too. We’re not machines. We all need to take time to be human.
Q: How did the two of you connect through Pavilion — and how did that lead to you working together at SmartBug?
Jen: When I was backfilling myself looking for a new CRO, I knew Pavilion was the best place to source talent. Having been through CRO School and having led a Rising Executives Cohort, I saw firsthand the incredible people in this community. I took advantage of the network and shared my opening with people like Leslie Greenwood, Pavilion’s VP of Member Advocacy—who, in turn, recommended I speak with Stephanie.
Stephanie: As a Co-Chapter Head in Dallas-Fort Worth, I have a close relationship with Leslie. Through casual conversation, I mentioned to her that I was going to start casually looking for my next opportunity. She immediately looked at me and said, “ You have got to connect with Jen.. you two would be a rockstar team!” The rest is history!
Q: How has Pavilion supported your career growth?
Stephanie: Pavilion has pushed me to be a more confident me. In the past, I focused internally with my employer — with no external visibility. I found myself in the position of all of my eggs in one basket. When I joined Pavilion almost 2 years ago, I knew I had made the right decision almost immediately. If someone asked me to do something, the answer was YES! ( even when I was so nervous I wanted to cry). This includes Podcasts, Webinars, 20+ mentees, and the list goes on. That mentality has supported my transition into the tech world, has promoted me to be a facilitator of many of the Pavilion University programs, and supported me in building my external brand.
Q: Who is Pavilion for? What do you tell people who are hesitant to join Pavilion?
Jen: Pavilion is for professionals who want to become the best version of themselves. It’s for people who are willing to put in the work and take the time to learn and grow. The sheer number of resources available to Pavilion members is mind-boggling. But, you won’t learn through osmosis. You have to set some goals and carve out the time to invest in yourself.
Interested in joining a community of executives like Jen and Stephanie? Learn more and apply here.
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