First, tell us a little about yourself: Name, Title, Company, How you got there. We want to know your story.
Well, hello there. I'm Erinn Farrell, the SVP of Business Management and Managing Director of the NYC office for space150. It's a mouthful, but essentially what it means is that I am active in the development of space150's growth from both the business (biz Dev) and personnel (HR) side. In addition to those roles across the space150 network, I lead our NYC office in Brooklyn. I've been with space150 for nearly 10 years, which in agency world pretty much means I'm the crypt keeper.
I joined space in 2006 anxious to find an outlet for my project management talents within a creative environment. We were a digital agency before that was ever even a thing, and it was pretty much love at first site. I've spent nearly my entire time at space involved in project management, picking up ownership of much of our business and cultural processes along the way. I love this place in my bones, and it loves me back. Before space, I was in consulting, focused on large scale digital product builds for companies like Oracle and Best Buy. The consulting gig I picked up right out of college, spending 4 years at Cornell University as a Communications major where I played hockey as well. I was born and bred in MN. My Mom is a CIO, my Dad a Graphic Artist, and both of my younger siblings are in strategy, so space150 is pretty much a dream state for me and my upbringing.
This past year was one of massive change for me as I joined our senior leadership group, brought HR under my wing, moved on from project management (handing the reigns off to the extraordinary Katie Brown), and began splitting my time between MPLS and NYC in my managing Managing director Director position. This cross- national lifestyle would be impossible without my teammates: Shane (Husband, aka greatest human ever), Oscar and Olivia (kiddos 5 & 2, aka the "gOOns,") and Mike (Dad, aka Gramps and our partner in raising some kick ass little gOOns).
What is your favorite aspect of working on agency-side and how has that evolved as you have evolved personally and professionally?
The obvious answer is that you get to work on so many different types of problems and businesses, so work is always fresh. But honestly, the best part is the ability to be yourself all of the time. space150, and our owner Billy, haves always been accepting of who you are. As long as you work your ass off and respect those around you, we genuinely don't care about your background, your interests, or what a massive nerd you might be; it's like "¦ "oh you're super into the math behind weather balloon flight, cool we can do something with that." So, how did this help me evolve? Well, besides moving form a khaki- heavy wardrobe to all black all the time, the most amazing thing happened in my first year at space. It was annual review time, I started getting the familiar feedback of "great stuff, great stuff "¦ but she wears her heart on her sleeve." My reaction? I start to say "yeah I know "¦ I need to work on hiding that." Instead, my boss at the time (and forever mentor and work soul mate, Dutch Thalhuber) said "You don't need to hide, you need to take advantage of it." Ding, ding ding! From that moment on I realized that the best version of myself at work, was just that, myself. At space we work hard to appreciate one another's differences and find ways to make them an advantage. We go out of our way to create a family of freaks, and geeks, and nerds, and popular kids. Listen, it's not awesome all of the time, but it is a culture that encourages you to be an active participant, to stare the great, good, bad and ugly in the face. The culture here is one I've been very active in developing, and it's probably this thing I'm the proudest of in my career.
If you could give your 20 year old self three pieces of advice, what would they be?
Have a sense of humor about your career:
You're not going to shoot lights-out every night. You're going to fail a lot. You're going to have wild successes and spectacular failures. You're going to make great friends and get so mad sometimes that your neck will become blotchy and red. You're going to make an embarrassing typo in an email or presentation. Maybe you'll do that daily. You'll have to actually apply math to your daily life (see the spectacular failure note above). You can't control everything you want, and you will rarely be rewarded in the way you are used too. The best you can do into any and all of this is laugh it off. Keep an equal sense of humor about the awesome and shitty things in your career, and you'll be a lot more sane.
Never apologize for caring:
Nope. Not even a little. Care the hell out of it, whatever it is. It might be your career, a presentation, a project, a client, a process, a coworker. If it matters to you and you care about it, then go ahead and care. Anyone who may be offended or surprised or irritated by that care — well, that's their problem. Not yours.
Build a family wherever you are:
There is this belief that to be "professional" you have to be a bit cold, not empathetic, a bit more business oriented. Forget that. Be yourself. Value yours and others' EQ as much as IQ. Define what "professional" means to you (I don't know why I keep air-quoting professional, it just feels right). For me it meant treating others like my family, no matter how hard or difficult or complicated it made it. My most favorite moments in my career don't have to do with work, they are about the have to do with the people I work with.
What do you do to maintain your passion and your drive?
Share it. The moment I start wallowing in self-pity, or frustration, or tiredness, is the moment I'm the most walled off, the most alone. For me, the maintenance of what you love needs to be ever present. It doesn't always have to be some BIG act, it can be small, but holy shit, don't for a minute think you keep loving something if you stop honoring it, if you stop sharing that love. For me it takes the form of mentoring, great conversations, connecting with other women in our industry, allowing my family to be an active member of my work life, pitching our company, presenting internally, and just actively loving what I do. I got GREAT advice right before I went back to work after having Oscar (and feeling that crushing mom guilt of leaving your child at home); "The best thing you can do for your kids as a working mom is to show them how much you love what you do and how it fulfills you." I genuinely try and act in that way every day.
What is your personal definition of what makes a "MPLS MadWoman"?
A woman with enough gumption to believe that she is worth her own attention when it comes to her career. A woman who believes that building connections within our industry, within our city, will create the type of change we are all craving. A woman who wants to leave it better then she found it.
How do you strive to embody what it is to be a MPLS MadWoman, in both your professional and personal life as a wife and mother?
Oh man, this is a hard one. To me, it just gets down to confidence. The confidence and belief in yourself that you will figure it out. The confidence to surround yourself with great people, to call out BS when you see it, to set a daily example of work-ethic and care, to build relationships and teams where there could be silos. The confidence to believe that you might be the answer, and the confidence to acknowledge and accept when you are not. The confidence to champion others. The confidence to always question and push yourself. The confidence to believe in your ability, but not get lost in your own hype. The confidence to ask for what you want, and be ready for whatever conversation comes next. The confidence to be whatever your team needs you to be.
Please do not confuse confidence with comfort, you will rarely find both at the same time if you are growing. The moments when my stride has been its longest, I've been uncomfortable as hell, but tethered to the belief in myself that I could figure it out.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to leadership positions within the agency world?
Build a tribe. Likely my single GREATEST learning this year has been that the type of success I want, is tied to others — my belief in them and visa versa. So, young ladies — look at your life: your friends, your coworkers, mentors, peers, and family. Seek out time for the people in your life who make you better, who challenge and commend you, who push you, who are REAL with you. If you don't have enough of those people, seek others. If you have too many, then share them. Create groups and conversations and connections between people that would benefit from it. Set up coffee with people you admire, and accept every coffee that an intern or a college grad asks of you. Put your awesome vibe out in the world and be unapologetic with it. Most importantly, CELEBRATE your tribe members, remind them of their value, and I promise it will come back to you 10 fold. And then suddenly, finding yourself in a leadership position won't be so surprising, because you will have been doing it all along.
MadWoman of the month is a monthly series of interviews highlighting an amazing woman each month in our community, voted for by the community, and published on the Egotist. We’re thrilled to shine a light on inspirational women. Nominate the next MadWoman of the Month on twitter.