Women in Business Q&A: Bennett Porter, SVP Marketing, SurveyMonkey

Bennett Porter joined SurveyMonkey in May 2011 and oversees brand strategy and all marketing communications functions. Previously, she was VP, Marketing of Yahoo!’s Emerging Markets practice, responsible for marketing in Southeast Asia, South America, India, the Middle East and Africa. Bennett also managed the Yahoo! Buzz Marketing team and developed award-winning programs for non-traditional marketing. Prior to Yahoo!, she worked at Ogilvy, and Manning, Selvage and Lee in New York City. Bennett received a BA in English from The Colorado College and an MS from the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have won the boss lottery! I feel very lucky to have had amazing bosses throughout my career that have played a role in shaping my life. They’ve given me the opportunity to experience some exceptional moments that have made me the leader, colleague, and friend that I am today. I had – and continue to have – a chance to work with some truly inspiring leaders who really pushed the boundaries in terms of creativity. When you “grow up” under the tutelage of people who always demand that you break new ground, it’s both exhilarating and terrifying.  

After paying my dues in a few agencies, I was lucky enough to get a job offer at a pretty new company called Yahoo!. I remember going to my college reunion and my classmates telling me it was the worst idea they had ever heard of. This internet thing wasn’t real. And, why would you work at a place with such a stupid name?! Well, I did take the job at the company with the stupid name, and it began a more than a decade-long run of amazing bosses and colleagues. I worked under amazing business leaders, and my remit was simple: do what had never been done before.  

My work took me around the globe. I got to experience big global events and quiet foreign villages. Whether it was online shopping, dating or music, we broke new ground by blurring the lines between marketing, public relations, media and branding. I got a multidimensional view of marketing and the value it brings to organizations.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SurveyMonkey?

Our team is set up as a central organization that services the corporate needs of SurveyMonkey and our partner functions. This stems from working at agencies early on in my career. It made me ridiculously – even viciously – customer-focused, and has also paid off in keeping us accountable. I never thought I’d appreciate the discipline of keeping billable hours, but i do!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SurveyMonkey?

The highlight is definitely working on the strategy and execution of the all-new SurveyMonkey, which debuted in mid-July. It’s a great example of how brand can drive strategy and direction. We were ready to move beyond the business of surveys and into the business of data. As we started the project, we launched a survey (of course!) and found out that we do so much more than deliver research results.  We were powering people’s creativity, curiosity and innovation. We also found out that SurveyMonkey drives so much value for customers because the platform connects them with the people that matter most – in real time and at scale.

We worked with local San Francisco agency, Eleven, and landed on a new mission to – Power the Curious.  Then, we were able to quickly identify what is was that we could deliver to customers to help them innovate and gain a competitive edge – People Powered Data. People Powered Data is the voices and opinions turned into actionable data that anyone within an organization can use to help shape their creativity, strategy, and business.  

We launched new features like SurveyMonkey Genius, and products like SurveyMonkey CX that bring the new positioning to life. To see the impact of this exercise and the work rolled out to our millions of customers is tremendously gratifying as a marketer. Marketing was a truly a strategic business partner leading the change. It’s exciting and a once-in-a-career opportunity.

The biggest challenge was the sad and sudden passing of our CEO Dave Goldberg in 2015.  Nothing prepares you for such a loss. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, and I’m so grateful to have been surrounded by the people that knew and loved Dave and SurveyMonkey.  It was a true test of resilience, which we passed together.  The team, company and its leadership has been truly inspiring.  

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

If we are talking about a career in marketing, I’d say: “Don’t let your executive peers paint you into a box of ‘brand is about colors and patterns’.”  You are as much of a strategic counselor as a chief product, engineer or financial officer. Claim this role.

And, don’t take the responsibility lightly. Use every opportunity you have to bring your brand to life for your customers and make sure that it flows through the products and services your company offers. Talk about it early and often. Great companies focus on building their brands as much as on building products and technologies.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

A great idea can come from anywhere or any department. I’ve seen great marketing ideas passed up because they didn’t come from the marketing department. This is sad.   Don’t have so much pride that you shut down good ideas because they didn’t come from the “creative” group. Some of the best ideas I’ve ever worked on came from collaborating with other functions outside of marketing.

Invite and encourage other voices for brainstorms or creative development. They are extremely valuable. For example, during our recent brand project, the user-experience, product and engineering groups were just as essential in creating and rolling out our new brand as our team. With their innovations, we were able to do in 90 days what would have taken a year.  There’s still much more to do, but we’re happy with the progress we’ve made as a team.  

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It’s easier to maintain work/life balance at SurveyMonkey because it’s built into a some of the company’s values to Prioritize Health and Celebrate the Journey.

We recognize that there’s not as clear of a line between work and life anymore.  So, we encourage family to be part of our journey. Not only do I sometimes bring my kids to work, but I bring them on business trips. I got this tip from a friend and successful business woman who said, “There’s never going to be a perfect work-life balance. You just have to figure out how to integrate the two, so it all works for you.” She would take her kids on her business trips, and they’d go and do something outside of the office as well. I now do the same, and recently brought my daughter to Portland. She was also “working,” sat in on presentations, and even crashed the office Pride party. We spent a day together exploring the city. It’s great exposure to the workplace for her and quality time for us.  

While work and life continue to blur, our team makes a concerted effort to respect the time people spend outside the office. This respect comes from the top. I remember when I was on maternity leave at SurveyMonkey and had not heard from my boss.  I was getting a bit nervous. Upon my return to the office, I asked: “Why didn’t you email me?” He looked at me and simply said: “You were on maternity leave.” And then, he proceeded to take me through a list of topics to tackle now that I was back.

At that moment, it dawned on me that it’s a discipline not to fire off an email to a teammate who has the day off or on leave. You’re sending the wrong signal.  Be respectful of people’s family time. They will work harder for you.  Our employee engagement numbers show it.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

There are serious questions being raised about how women are treated in Silicon Valley. This isn’t new. A few years ago, we ran a survey in an effort to provide information on how women were being treated and we must change these statistics.  

Another challenge I see is if you are not a woman who codes or builds products in Silicon Valley, your perceived value within an organization is diminished. Women that sit in business functions like HR, finance, legal, communications and marketing are wildly successful in tech companies. Yet, they are rarely as celebrated as a mid-level male engineer.  

Women at the top of these career tracks are not as valued as in male-dominated career tracks. We see that in earnings, public perception, and the amount talent and career development they get. It is very important to spend more time fostering female founders and engineers. However, we need to spend an equal amount of energy valuing and retaining successful women in other functions.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I’ve talked about what a difference strong bosses have made in my professional and personal life. They’ve all had a wonderful mix of setting ambitious business agendas and an unwavering personal belief in me. It’s made such a difference, and it’s another lesson I’ve learned. Let people know you believe in them. It’s that simple.

I should also mentioned how much I learn from colleagues and teammates. I’ve learned as much from the people next to me than I have from bosses and mentors. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the smartest people. I think back to the team I worked with in Singapore who taught me about emerging markets, and my buzz team who continuously amazed me with ideas and creativity.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

At SurveyMonkey, I’ve been privileged to meet and work with some of the most exceptional business leaders in the world--male or female! Selina Tobbacowala, Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg, and most recently - Serena Williams.  

They are forces of nature that have been inspirational, supportive and inspiring.  What I admire most about them is their courage.  And while they’ve all demonstrated different types of courage over the years, I admire their personal courage the most. 

What do you want SurveyMonkey to accomplish in the next year?

I want SurveyMonkey to be a champion of curiosity in the workplace. I believe curiosity is the new business currency.  We live in an very competitive environment. Companies grow and fail faster than ever. If we can help businesses navigate the sea of data they’re swimming in and take action, that would be extremely fulfilling.

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