Women in Business Q&A: Lisa Herdman SVP, Director of National Programming & Branded Entertainment, RPA


Lisa runs the day-to-day of all national video, national radio, and branded entertainment investments for RPA. Her philosophy is to approach each negotiation fairly and with the most relevant resources to maximize a positive and efficient outcome that meets the clients' needs and objectives.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in a family with generations of strong women in the workforce. Both my grandmothers worked: one as a seamstress and one as a bookkeeper. My mom had a successful and interesting career as a court reporter (she was the court reporter for the Menendez brothers' trial). And I even had a great aunt who was a buyer for Frederick's of Hollywood in the '60s. While financially they needed to work, I remember that they were all very well-liked by their co-workers, in part because they worked so hard, but mainly because they were happy DOING their jobs. They were do'ers, and I'm proud to have inherited that quality. I'm a leader today who will always be a do-er.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at RPA?
I've been at RPA for 23 years, so it's essentially been my only place of employment. RPA has afforded me freedom to constantly reinvent myself and expand my position over the years. I started as an assistant to the national TV buying team and progressed to my current role as SVP of National TV & Branded Entertainment, as well as co-chairman of the management committee at RPA.

I've always evolved in my position and stayed relevant within the industry, and never felt the need to go elsewhere to do that. When I became the "buyer who got bored" in the late '90s, I realized there's much more we can deliver to our clients' brands through our national TV negotiations in the form of Branded Entertainment. I encouraged the idea that the marriage of media and creative could be an additionally effective way to reach our clients' consumers through the power of TV. By aligning relevant brand messaging with the TV programs that our clients' audiences are watching, we can appeal to their affinity for the genre or talent or format of what they are watching. So, we began negotiating product placement within TV shows, produced custom productions that included TV show talent engaging with our clients' brands, etc. We even got products in major motion pictures that stemmed from TV buys. I am proud of the never-been-done-before productions we create with our TV network partners and clients such as NBC and Apartments.com and HGTV and La-Z-Boy. My time at RPA allowed me the freedom to explore and experiment and ultimately become the expert in this field. All the while, I grew into being a leader, and built lasting relationships with smart, passionate people.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at RPA?
As far as highlights go, one is when I became a working mother after eight years with RPA. I'd established myself as a hard worker, a loyal worker, and a team player who delivers results. And RPA proved to me that they appreciated my contributions, and shared my values by understanding that even though my hours shifted (I stopped getting in at 7 a.m.) I would get the work done -- and I do. My daughters are now 16 and 14, and I've had the invaluable experience of being a happy working mother -- a term I prefer over "successful working mother" as I have often wondered how to define (and who defines) the word "successful" -- thanks to the partnership RPA has offered me.

As for challenges, one of the biggest I experienced at RPA was a few years ago when American Honda moved their media business to another agency. I'd worked on that account my entire 20-year career, and I'd never experienced the loss of a major account before. It was devastating for so many of us. That company, those people, and those cars had been such a big part of my life. But despite that negative experience, I wanted to stay at RPA and contribute to leading the reinvention of the media team, which has been an incredibly rewarding challenge. We are a forward-thinking team of experts who actively contribute to emerging media processes and resources in this constantly evolving media marketplace. And we're working with like-minded partners to develop and negotiate the most effective media plans for their specific goals and objectives.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I would say that regardless of which job you land in the media or advertising industry, make a specific point to learn the other disciplines around you. If you are entering the media world as an assistant to a national or local TV buying team -- make sure you learn what it is to be a media planner, a digital planner, and a digital buyer. Make sure you look at an entire media plan holistically to learn what part your role plays in the overall media mix for your client. Take the initiative, make friends in other departments, and keep your eye on the big picture beyond your particular discipline.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
What I've learned is that I can be as personal, and sensitive, and passionate about my job as I want to be. The trick is mastering self-awareness and responding to situations as needed -- not as you might feel -- and with compassion for the others in the room. This tends to be the most conducive to collaboration. Media is a people and relationship business, and what I work on daily is how to respond in the most appropriately passionate, and compassionate, manner.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For one, the company I keep -- I am a happy working mother because of the support of a great agency. The things I value at work and in life such as family, solid work ethic and client satisfaction are also what RPA values. Second, over the years, I've learned that the issues and excitements that are going on in the office at 7 p.m. will most likely be there the next morning (except in new business). And third, my daily practice of meditation. It's remarkable how much it helps me clear my head to make room for whatever comes my way at work or at home.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe the balancing act of work and home with the least amount of guilt is something that can be improved upon. I have had a positive experience with this issue and I believe that more companies can make a deliberate effort to encourage and acknowledge the need for that balance by outwardly offering flexibility to working parents. This can lessen the anxiety related to feeling like we are not meeting expectations at home, and at work.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I believe mentorship goes beyond the one-on-one experience. I know younger professionals watch those of us who have been around longer and study how we conduct ourselves. Therefore the idea of mentorship impacts my everyday life at RPA by being aware of my actions and how I function as a leader. Being a parent of two teenage girls has helped. At times it's challenging to delegate duties when I know I can get it done myself (there's that "do-er" creeping in), but I know the impact of that decision is ultimately a better mentor move. I also initiate communication; I'm supportive of women during personally and professionally challenging times and offer guidance where applicable.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire the women who are currently in strong leadership roles that were historically filled by men. I consider these women pioneers. I'm sure the road was not easy, but their intelligence, tenacity, relationship skills, and compassion all broke through and subsequently paved the road for other women. A specific contemporary I admire is Anthy Price. She was a longtime leader in the studio space, took 7 years off to be at home with her daughters through their teenage years and then returned to the marketplace in an equally (if not more) prominent position within the studio-marketing world. She and others have proven that we don't have to make a lifelong choice to solely be in the workforce or solely work as a stay-at-home mom.

What do you want RPA to accomplish in the next year?
Right now, our industry is going through a lot of volatility -- so many brands are moving media budgets from one agency to another, all at once. At RPA, we're focused on cultivating a home base for our clients -- one that offers stability and confidence so that together we can navigate this evolving creative, strategy, and media space with trust and transparency. I would like for RPA to continue to provide what we believe brands need today -- a successful working model of a full-service, agile agency that offers custom media opportunities based solely on their individual marketing, advertising, and business needs.