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Women in Business Q&A: Raina Penchansky and Karen Robinovitz, Partners at DBA

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Raina Penchansky, DBA's Chief Strategy Officer, is a seasoned strategic marketer with over fifteen years of experience building luxury, technology and entertainment brands. She began her career in technology, traveling cross country with Microsoft for their consumer products launches. She then transitioned into the entertainment world, overseeing large-scale premieres and awards campaigns and ultimately went on to manage global launches for venerable names including Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture, and Corum Time Pieces.

With a wide and varied background that includes roles with Edelman PR, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, she joined Coach in 2002 where she led global communications strategies across marketing, events, public relations and celebrity initiatives.

Karen Robinovitz, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of DBA, has been working in the media for twenty years. She got her start as a journalist, writing for Women's Wear Daily, where she was on staff for three years. She went on to be a Contributing Editor at both Marie Claire and Elle Magazine and for seven years, she wrote features for venerable publications including The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, In Style, New York Magazine, and more.

Raina Penchansky:

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life for me has always been about trial and error; being rooted in taking chances and never being risk averse. I think if you're scared of something it generally means it's the right choice.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at DBA?
I've been so fortunate to have worked for crazy yet truly brilliant people who have informed my approach to so many things. What I have valued the most is consistency. When you know what to expect from someone and what their expectations are, it gives people the ability to thrive.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DBA?
Highlights are easily every time we help a client achieve something they have always wanted to do. Also, those moments when we break down a door that has never been open to a digital publisher before. Challenges are remembering not to obsess about the small things. You want to stay focused on attention to detail but also know when to let go.

How have online influencers changed the digital landscape?
They've changed how you shop, eat, learn and pretty much live your life in general. It might sound crazy but there's no other way to answer this question if you really think about their impact.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Know what you want to achieve; things will inevitably shift and ultimately never end up where you think they will but its important to have a clear goal in mind. That energy drives a lot of positive movement.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try to be completely in the moment no matter what I'm doing or whichever role I'm playing. If I'm with my husband I try to focus on our time together. Though I may not always be successful in carving out a lot of time, I make sure it's focused time. When I'm working, I'm working. I try to create solid focus for each area of my life and that ultimately makes balancing a little easier.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Feeling the need to follow whichever "women" focused trend or news cycle is hot at any given moment. I think every woman inherently knows what choices are right for her, but the pressure to follow what they're seeing and hearing at every turn can sometimes be overwhelming.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I love mentoring people. I pride myself on being intuitive and I love the opportunity to combine that with real life applications.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I read a book in high school by Dawn Steel called "They Can Kill You But They Can't Eat You" and it has stayed with me since. She was one of the first women to run a major Hollywood studio and the anecdotes and experiences she describes are amazing.

What do you want DBA to accomplish in the next five years?
I want us to grow in the same way we have till now, intelligently while simultaneously aggressively.

Karen Robinovitz:

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have always been a risk-taker, and have always been the one who wanted to try something new before it was the norm. I am the type to make a bold move without a safety net because there is always something to be gained from taking a chance. The perfect example is how I met my husband 11 years ago - through online dating. I remember when I tried it for the first time, everyone thought I had lost my mind (I had my first online date in the late 90s), but it clearly paid off. This is what I try to inspire in everyone around me - the importance of taking chances. You will always learn from trying and failing, but never from not trying at all.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at DBA?
Everything we are doing now is the culmination of the past 20 years of my career. Because I spent 10 years as a journalist, I have an intimate perspective on both content and creators. After writing for magazines and newspapers, I authored books and transitioned into television and film deals, which opened my eyes to Hollywood and also gave me a sense of what it is like to work with a talent manager. Through that relationship, I got to understand how to best support clients on the management side of the business; I know what I needed when I was in their position, so I know what to provide. As I segued over to the marketing and PR side, it enabled me to understand the brand side of the story on multiple levels. And being that in the last 10 years all of my work has been in the digital space, I was able to bring all of my experience together in a holistic way.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DBA?
The highlight in general has been starting a company and looking at the world of online influencers as talent, and promoting and backing them before it was globally accepted. To see what started as four people in an apartment grow to 37 people in four offices is sometimes hard for me to even believe. I spent most of my career working for myself, from 1997 until we launched DBA. So a lot of the challenges were around the things that go hand-in-hand with having partners -- realizing where each of us shine and allowing each other to embrace what we each do and working together to build the right kind of staff. There are always surprise obstacles you never expect, but they all wind up being highlights when you get through them.

How have online influencers changed the digital landscape?
The online influencer has propelled the online space - he or she is the reason social media continues to grow. Channels like Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and blogs provide platforms for creatives to express their point of view and share content. I think what this group of talent has done more than anything else is really change the way brands market themselves. It used to be that brands would broadcast their messages through their own channels or through the hiring of faces - celebrities, artists, athletes, etc.... Now there is a new talent pool that curates its own content, integrating branding in ways that are organic and personal. It provides new ways to see things. When people ask me where all of this will go and if it will die, I always say that it is only getting bigger. Content and talent have always been important fibers in the fabric of our culture, from ancient times where audiences reveled in theater, to print publications to radio to television. The Internet has just opened a new forum, and the creators will nimbly evolve insomuch as how and where they share their creations as new technologies emerge. Now it's more important to have both talent and an audience, not just one or the other.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
You can't do everything and do it well. Make sure you surround yourself with others who have strengths where you have weaknesses and listen to their wisdom. Also trust yourself and your vision, but be flexible enough to move and adapt as you need to. And don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something; if you really believe in it, you can.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's vital to keep your other interests, whatever they are, and find ways to integrate them into your life. I also tend to put the phone down on Sundays though it's not always easy for me to do that because I love what I do. It doesn't really feel like work to me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Sometimes I think the biggest issue is, sadly, other women who get competitive or aggressive as you succeed. My partners and I promote a very female-friendly environment and support not just each other but our colleagues, clients and teams. One woman's success opens the door for another's. I also think there is an intrinsic pressure - whether we place it on ourselves or it comes from society, family, etc. - to be everything to everyone. We don't have to be. We can make our own rules and do things differently from the generations before us.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When I interned for WWD in college, my supervisor was an energetic, open-minded editor who treated me like I was an emerging journalist, not just an intern. She gave me so many opportunities to learn, and because of her, I was offered my first job after school at WWD. I think of her generosity all the time. The fact that she pushed me towards my goals was really helpful at a scary time. But when I moved to New York after graduation, I was on my own. I will never forget being 22 years old and calling a female editor whose information I received from a friend of my mother's friend. She was an editor and I was really in need of finding someone to talk to me about how the media world in New York worked. She didn't really give me the time of day, and I swore that when I was in a position to support or provide advice to someone that I would. I have since spent time with a lot of young women who, like me, craved guidance. It is an amazing feeling to be able to see someone grow, and we are proud to offer a mentorship practice at DBA to students and young professionals. On some level, I think we launched a management division to provide mentorship to the new creatives who have emerged.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My mother has been an amazing role model for me. She is now 68 years old and runs a large business in Florida with eight offices and no signs of slowing down. She was a mathematician and working as a computer programmer when she was 24 years old, a time when no women were in that field. I admire so many pioneering women who did things differently and paved their own paths. I also admire Diane Von Furstenberg in fashion, RoseLee Goldberg in art, Shonda Rhimes in production. They are all examples of outliers who brought something new to the world.

What do you want DBA to accomplish in the next five years?
The list is pretty long. I also think it has to evolve as technology changes. Our DNA is being first to market with what we do and we are committed to continuing that. We have been going global with offices in Europe and Asia. And we have a lot planned that we can't make public quite yet.