Women in Business: Q&A with Daina Middleton, CEO of Performics

An expert in the digital marketing space and marketing professional with more than 20 years in the industry, Daina Middleton is the global CEO of Performics, one of the largest search and performance media agencies delivering performance marketing solutions and quantum business results for a list of blue chip clients by applying innovation and solving complex challenges. She is known for thought leadership in the social marketing space - creating a new marketing lexicon including "participant marketing" - and has developed several ground-breaking market intelligence tools where brands can utilize social listening to effectively compete in interactive marketing.

Before moving to the agency side of the industry, Daina spent 16 years working at Hewlett-Packard in key marketing positions. She was involved early in exploring the marketing impact of the then unknown phenomenon called the "Internet." At the time of her departure she was the director of advertising for HP's $28 billion global Imaging and Printing Group, managing both digital and traditional mediums.

She is a regular industry speaker with appearances at Conversational Marketing Summit, ad:tech, WOMMA, VideoNuze, and iMedia, to name a few. She was also named as one of Mobile Marketer's 2011 Mobile Women to Watch. This year, Daina released Marketing in the Participation Age.

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

I have had a number of life experiences that add unique perspective to every day occurrences. For example, my summer job while I was in college was working as a rangeland fire fighter for the Bureau of Land Management. So, when someone says "things are burning down" I likely have a different perspective on the urgency and significance of the actual situation. Beyond unusual life experiences, I actually believe that leaders also improve through learning how to be an effective leader. Leadership is difficult. Sometimes I think people believe leadership is an innate skill - either you possess it or you don't, when in fact much if it is learned. Every day I am working to be a better leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Performics?

I was lucky enough to spend 16 years at Hewlett-Packard Company working in a number of marketing positions. HP was a great company that invested significantly in its employees through training and experience. I underestimated this investment until I left the company. Few people have had the benefit of training across multiple disciplines: HR, legal, finance, project management, diversity, marketing - you name it - I got it. On top of that, I rarely held the same position for longer than two years. This well-rounded foundation has been invaluable and differentiating for me.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It's a constant struggle. The most important thing to remember is that I am the only person who will draw the line here. Work is never finished. I also know that I am better at work if I get some distance and perspective, and so I force myself to walk away and do the things that feed my soul. It's one of the reasons I live in Wyoming. It feeds my soul.

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

In the beginning it was building a vision that employees could believe in. Performics had been bought, sold, and merged a number of time in a few years time. Building leadership trust and a company vision was a key initial challenge and one of the biggest highlights was recognizing the rewards of seeing that vision come to life. Lately, it's about extending that vision globally. The challenge is to maintain global consistency in vision, deliverables, quality and consistency of service, and balancing this with the individual market characteristics.

What advice can you offer individuals hoping to establish a career in digital marketing?

All marketers are digital marketers today. It's a great time to enter the space - fast paced, dynamic, and all about nurturing participation. There are so many ways to develop expertise independently - get Google certified - for example. I would also encourage hands-on experience. Do an internship that allows you go get your hands dirty. This is the best way to learn and find out if it is the environment where you want to work.

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

There are plenty of them. I think one of the biggest is the fact that there are seemingly subtle but important gender differences that have an impact on women's everyday effectiveness in the workplace - especially when leadership is still highly male dominated. For example, women have a different decision-making style than men. It's not wrong, just different: collaborative, inclusive, and tends to be more considered. Because decision-making is a critical leadership skill, I have seen women criticized and misunderstood because they followed their own decision-making approach and their male peers assumed they could not make an independent decision. This may seem minor, but can become fundamental when someone's leadership capability is questioned because of the misunderstood gender style difference. Gender differences need to be acknowledged and discussed openly and style diversity encouraged. Many women entering the workplace are unaware of gender biases and are startled when they surface because they are unaware they exist, or how to deal with them. And, they can have serious consequences. I have seen a woman lose a job because her peers and boss did not believe she knew how to make decisions.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

Lean In has done a great job of raising awareness about the fact that there are still gender issues in the workplace. I also love that Sheryl is inspiring confidence in women of all ages. Even now, I could still use a dose of confidence now and then. What's missing is identifying the gender differences that are important and openly discussing them. "Leaning-in" isn't always enough - and can even make things worse if these differences aren't recognized or understood. Furthermore, some women are in situations where they cannot afford to" lean in." Then what? That's the book that I am looking forward to writing.

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

I enjoy mentoring others. I have been lucky to work with a number of great women throughout my career. Most significant is having an independent sounding board from someone that I can trust from other women. This is important even if not a formal mentor relationship.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have always admired my Mom, who has been a leader her entire life. I admire author and activist Gloria Steinem and Washington Post great Katherine Graham and her grand daughter Katherine Weymouth. Hillary Clinton is an admirable leader and is a global advocate for women.

What are your hopes for the future of Performics?

Performics has a great future reinventing performance to accelerate the great missions of our clients around the globe.