06/12/2014 12:08 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Joan Coraggio, Group Director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA

Joan Coraggio has built a 20 year career in the strategic planning and execution of Event Sponsorships and Experiential Marketing programs. She has worked to evolve Event Marketing in to a more multi-dimensional experience that includes the latest social, digital and media integration-- reflecting the changing technology trends.

Currently she is the Group Director of the Brand Integration team at Saatchi & Saatchi LA working on the Toyota account. In her role, she guides strategies that focus on lifestyle passion points and interests that reflect consumers' dynamic lives. Her team develops and oversees national Toyota sponsorships in sports, music and other lifestyle interests that support the 23 Toyota vehicle models. Programs include a variety of music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Stagecoach, sports relationships such as Supercross, Bass Fishing, Triathlons and the Dew Tour as well as athlete sponsorships and strategic partnerships including Lifetime Fitness Clubs and Bass Pro Shops. Last year her team managed over 300 events across 1,000 event days.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I learned from a very early age that I'm ultimately responsible for myself. Growing up, my family dynamic revolved around my parents both being older. My mom was 46 when she had me and had been diagnosed with a terminal illness years before that. It's amazing when you really consider the courage and faith that took. She was that kind of person though; unshakable in her approach to life. My two brothers and I grew up knowing that we wouldn't have our parents long, and they made sure that they were preparing us to be self-sufficient. We learned the importance of delivering on what you promise.

Life forced my dad to be a pragmatist, but he had a quirky personality. He worked in a fairly mundane job but in his off-time, he was always creating some odd backyard invention or art piece. I was both simultaneously intrigued and embarrassed about his latest tinkering.

One day, I came home from school, and he had dissembled our old washing machine, turning it into a crazy watering apparatus in our front yard. I was mortified. I remember whining to him, "Daaad, what is that thing? What are people going to think?" The look on his face was sincerely perplexed as he answered, "Joanie, why would I care what people think? Nobody would ever have a new idea if they always worried about what the neighbors thought." He was so right. I have always found myself gravitating to those that were non-traditional thinkers. The kind of people who follow their personal compass, are inquisitive and willing to take risks.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Saatchi & Saatchi LA?
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I spent several years on the back lot at Universal Studios producing events and working with many dynamic and, sometimes, challenging personalities. That experience taught me how to read a room and identify subtext in conversations. I also learned that some of the most intriguing and creative people were often times not the ones with the big titles. Great ideas and innovation can come from anywhere and anyone. It just takes the right moment of inspiration to bring them to light.

Working in any agency is very fast paced and fluid. Things can change up until the last minute as ideas develop. At Saatchi LA, I have an incredible team that has been together for quite a while. It's a little unusual in the agency world....but then again, I think our agency is unusual. Saatchi has been a partner with Toyota for more than 30 years and our client demands not only great creative ideas, but well-integrated, dynamic ways to bring those ideas to life. In order to deliver that, people need to feel they are part of something bigger and have a voice. Having a broad collective of disciplines under one roof at Saatchi is truly the key. If you need an answer or idea, you know where to find the right people...even if that means planting yourself on their desk until you figure out the solution.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Hmmmm....I'm not exactly sure I do. I try not to look for balance on a daily basis because it's rarely there, but if I look back at the past month, most times I feel fairly good about it even though the pieces are never quite equally balanced.

I'm a mother of a 10-year-old daughter, and she's grown up observing me in this current role. I know at times it's been tough on her, but she also thinks my job is incredibly exciting and understands that it's an important part of who I am. She knows that when it's our time together, I won't let other things interrupt us or distract me. I focus on quality, not quantity. We are very fortunate to have great family on both sides, and I'm grateful every day for that and will never take good health for granted.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Saatchi & Saatchi LA?
I've worked on so many incredible projects at Saatchi, some of which were initiatives for Toyota. The Tundra Endeavour Tow, which helped bring the Space Shuttle to its new home in Los Angeles, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one I will certainly never forget.

We've also helped develop Toyota's sponsorship and support of the Women in the World program, which Tina Brown launched. I've had the pleasure of hearing the stories of some of the most inspirational women from around the globe who are changing the opportunities for women in their countries.

There have been some challenges as well, no doubt. The tsunami in Japan was a tragedy that affected all of us on a human level as well as a business level. It was an eye-opening reminder to keep things in perspective and never take anything for granted.

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in event sponsorship and marketing?
Event sponsorship is part science, part strategy, but also perhaps most importantly, part sociology. You need to be a constant observer of human behavior. Live events have a unique role in our lives. Even though so much of our connection to people is through virtual communities, there is something magical that happens when people come together to focus on a common cause or passion point. Tapping in to that energy is what will make the difference between good and great within the relationship.

My advice to women seeking a career in this field is to learn to become comfortable making decisions and helping others make decisions. Be decisive but flexible in your plan, because it might (and probably will) change at least once along the way. Often times, the success of our business is determined by how thoroughly you can execute a plan, and follow through. Waiting too long to decide often means lost opportunities.

I think this field attracts a certain personality type. It's not for everyone. People tend to have an aversion to routine. We are visual adrenaline junkies. We love to create and grow projects into something we haven't seen before, take those learnings and apply them to the next. We tend to be obsessed with the nuances and most people in this business have a quick wit. It's a survival skill. A sense of humor is a trait that I think reflects resiliency. You have to be able to take it in stride when the unexpected happens....because it will happen. There's a reason contracts have a force majeure clause.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I still think that it can be a struggle to be taken seriously, especially younger women. Our tendency to look for consensus in a group or meeting can sometimes seem like indecision. It takes time to become comfortable in having an opinion and putting yourself out there by sharing it, but I think it's crucial.

Years ago, I had someone give me a good piece of advice that I still use every day. Before every meeting, ask yourself, "Do I know what the objective of the meeting is?" and afterward ask yourself "What did I contribute?" If the answer is, "I don't know" to either one of those, then you probably failed yourself and the rest of the room.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I related to so many of the insights in the book. I think that most of us can be our own worst clients. We can go to the mat to sell someone else's creative ideas to a client or put the school principal in his place, but when it comes time to discuss our salary or negotiate a deal on our own behalf it's much easier to settle. We often do our jobs and hope that people will recognize all of the efforts and invite us to sit at the table instead of assuming that seat is rightfully ours.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have to say that I have been so lucky in my career to know a couple of very incredible mentors and teammates that I've learned from. One particular boss of mine was very special to me. We worked together at two different companies. He is a seasoned veteran and has an incredible knack for educating the entire room in something they didn't know before, without making anyone feel insecure or defensive. That's a gift.

There is one mentorship experience that is very special to me, and I'm honored to be part of it. I participated in the Global Sports Mentoring Program, launched in 2012 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. 2014 will mark the third time that Saatchi LA will host two emerging female sports leaders from visiting countries. The program connects American female sports and business executives with international women who are building sports programs for women and girls. This mentoring program is a cornerstone of the State Department's broader Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative, which aims to increase the number of women and girls worldwide who are involved in sports. These women are incredible, many of them working to create sports programs for women and girls in communities where nothing of its kind currently exists.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
In the past few years, I have been fortunate to hear several amazing women speak including Madeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Arianna Huffington. These women have made remarkable history and have helped to guide the way history is told.

One of the most inspirational women to me is Leymah Gbowee, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her leadership of the non-violent protest in Liberia that helped change the course of the country's political state. Her story is unimaginable to most of us in this country, living with the freedoms that we have. Yet when she tells her story, and you understand how she moved a network of women in to action, she exudes such vibrancy and has the ability to speak of hope and joy even after the devastation that she has seen.

What are your hopes for the future of Saatchi & Saatchi LA?
I think it's important for Saatchi LA to continue to strive to be the best agency it can be in new and innovative ways. The industry is constantly evolving, and we need to continue to be on the cutting edge. Our integrated approach helps us to do that, but we also need to be creative in ways that challenge, inspire, motivate and excite both the agency and our clients.