Women in Business: Stacy Simpson, Chief Communications Officer, SapientNitro

Stacy Simpson is the Chief Communications Officer for SapientNitro, part of Publicis.Sapient. In this capacity, she oversees global communications, strategic and brand marketing strategies for SapientNitro, as well as the global corporate communications strategy for Sapient.

With more than 13,000 employees in 35 offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific, her role at SapientNitro is to lead international, domestic and regional communications and brand marketing teams in creating and executing strategies that increase awareness of the brand and the innovative and breakthrough work her colleagues deliver daily to clients around the world.

Prior to joining Sapient, she was the senior vice president of global communications and brand marketing for IAC, a leading multimedia company, where she led the brand marketing and communications functions for IAC and its more than 50 consumer internet and media brands. She has also held senior positions at IBM and in public relations, media relations and strategic communications in Washington, DC.

As a Boston native, Stacy recently returned from New York City to her hometown. Stacy graduated from Syracuse University with Bachelor's degrees in broadcast journalism and public policy. She still looks great in orange.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was growing up, my siblings were often sick. As "the healthy child" in the family, I took on whatever role was needed in each situation--sometimes I was the storyteller who kept my sisters entertained, other times I proudly fended for myself so that my parents could focus on giving my siblings the care they needed. Regardless of which hat I wore on any given day, there was one constant for me: the desire for information. I was always asking questions, connecting dots, seeking answers and searching for reason and order amidst the chaos. The power of information was my way of giving my sisters, my family and myself hope and encouragement.

I channeled the curiosity that fueled me as a child into my studies as a broadcast journalism major at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. As a journalist, I had to identify who my audience was for each situation and create and guide a story accordingly. I drew upon the same skills of asking the right questions, analyzing the connections between ideas and people, and arriving at a strategy for telling stories that would resonate with audiences.

Following college, the transition into a career in communications was a natural one for me, applying my storytelling skills to help shape the way internal and external audiences understand a company and the issues facing our world and the industry today.

I'm a firm believer in the age-old view that information is power. Today, I take every opportunity in my role as an executive, a woman, a mother and a contributor to my community to share my passion for knowledge and to instill in others the thrill of asking the right questions and finding the answers.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the Chief Communications Officer of SapientNitro?
Every experience is a foundation for those that follow, so I can honestly say that each role I've had has helped shape my view of the world and the contributions that I make today.

I started my career in the non-profit sector, surrounded by people who had made it their life's work to arm others with information and to lend a voice and a perspective to issues that are often overlooked. As I moved into the radio industry, and then later into the technology space at IBM and then into multimedia at IAC/InterActive Corp (IAC), the need to communicate--to craft a story worth hearing, to create a connection with an audience (internally or externally), to build a relationship across mediums--grew steadily in its importance and its urgency.

If you put all of my experience into a blender--the altruistic, change-the-world ethos of the non-profit sector, the storytelling and immediacy of broadcasting, the technology and business acumen of IBM, the entrepreneurial and industry-disrupting spirit of IAC-- you will get a set of experiences that are the foundation for driving an integrated communications and brand marketing function at SapientNitro, as the agency is all of those things in one.

In an environment as complex and chaotic as the one we as communicators and business leaders find ourselves in today, we have to enable an environment of risk-taking as we create various strategies for the company, be it marketing, press or internal communications. Of course, these opportunities come with trial and error scenarios, which is just part of the growing process in any career. You can't be afraid to fail, but you should absolutely be afraid to not try. At SapientNitro, we create a space where our people can "fail forward" to break boundaries to better serve their always-on audiences.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Personally, I don't have balance, but I do have a "mix." I have chaos and excitement and deadlines and family obligations, like most working women. All of these things compete and at any given moment on any given day one thing wins out over another. And I'm OK with that.

I surround myself with people who understand my professional commitments, what's expected of me, and what I expect from myself and offer unconditional encouragement and support. This provides an (almost) guilt-free atmosphere that allows me to focus 100 percent of my attention on whatever I'm doing--whether it's at home or at the office. When I am engaged with my family, my focus is on them. When I am working, I am singularly focused on my work. I don't talk to my family when I'm at work. I know that if someone needs me, they'll call. Blending work and family life simultaneously can often be productive, but for me, too much multi-tasking can cause me to miss those key moments, both personal and professional.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure in the communications industry?
I have had more of each than I could possibly list. I will say that my proudest moments have come on the heels of taking risks, of doing the thing that terrifies me, that seemed almost too big to imagine tackling. It's at those moments when you know that you've challenged yourself, your team, and your company to move out of their comfort zone and to reach for what's possible.
Throughout my tenure I've seen great strides in the role of women in the technology and new media communications worlds. Because of the breadth of roles and expertise a communications program provides, I have learned the importance of bringing together a team of people who are able to not only carry out the mission of our organization but also who teach others to do so. It makes me proud to look around our current marketing team and see smart and gutsy women coming to the table with ideas that will catapult our company into the future. But, I know there is still room for improvement. In our company alone, we are constantly looking for the caliber of women to fuel our creative and leadership teams, while striving to enable an environment that attracts them.

How is SapientNitro making a difference in worldwide brand awareness?
One of the most exciting things about working at SapientNitro is that we view the world in a different way than any other company I've experienced and that view informs both the work we do and the way we work together. The agency was founded on the premise of enabling human potential, and we fulfill that vision by helping brands transform to better serve their consumers in a rapidly-changing, always-on world - and we help to change the world in the process.

Its remarkable to be part of an agency that has received nearly 100 creative awards in the first part of 2015 alone for the breakthrough work we've delivered for our clients, as well as consistent ratings as a leader in industry analyst reports, ranging from Gartner's annual assessment of digital agencies to Forrester's analysis of the most innovative agencies.

It is now well accepted that to engage the digital consumer, brands need a new set of connected capabilities that span marketing, technology, commerce and consulting. SapientNitro saw this opportunity 10 years ago and has been building those capabilities inside one organization. We started as a "challenger brand," but have come to be seen as a key player in a changing agency landscape, as evidenced by the acquisition of Sapient by Publicis Groupe earlier this year, to create Publicis.Sapient, the world's most advanced and largest digitally-centered platform focused exclusively on digital transformation and the dynamics of an always-on world. The platform leverages unmatched capabilities in marketing, omni-channel commerce and consulting, underpinned by tremendous depth of technology expertise, to help clients advance their ways of working, given the daunting new reality of a highly-connected operating environment.
I'm proud to be part of a company that stands for breaking boundaries where technology, storytelling, and humanity meet.

What advice can you offer those seeking to have a career in communications?
Everyone has their passions and goals, and it's critical to stay true to those. Even more so, it is important to know what you bring to any table or conversation, and how to leverage this. We each have unique talents, and we have to not only utilize them, but also be empowered by them. My journalism and broadcast background gave me "ownable" and marketable skills early in my career--the ability to draw connections, understand what makes something newsworthy to an audience, and create concise, compelling stories. It was important to me to find opportunities where I could use, and build upon, these skills to be a voice on the team with a unique perspective.

Someone looking at a career in communications needs to recognize, and adapt to, the landscape of diverse opportunities that come with this field. Your unique skills are likely someone else's weakness. Understanding that, and being able to collaborate, can result in some powerful unions that can take a company from relatively "unknown" to global awareness. It's not only about delivering information, but rather developing a strategy with identified goals that answers, "Why is this important?" I ask this question daily to evolve and design strategies around campaigns that maximize results for the company.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Institutionally, there are still not enough women in senior leadership positions. It is each of our responsibilities as leaders to teach and mentor colleagues in earlier career stages and it is a critical component for influencing and shaping the next generation of the workforce. Individually, women at any stage of their career need to trust themselves--trust that your character, education and experience, which has taken you to this point in your career, will take you to the next stage. One thing I like to remind people of is that it isn't necessary to have mastered every aspect of the job or project you're about to take on, you only need to have the skills and the instincts to know you have the right foundation for any challenge. We get better when we take risks, learn from our mistakes, and incorporate those learnings into the next experience.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I enjoyed the book and appreciate that she used her position to create a space for this conversation. Each of our experiences is different, but the more we share our voice and personal truths, the more these issues and conversations become commonplace and easier for our next generation of leaders--female and male--to participate in. If we can't talk about it, we definitely can't fix it.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was encouraged by my collegiate mentor to do what I love and never apologize for it. She taught me to pursue my passion and reminded me that you cannot fake enthusiasm. Her advice resonated with me. The hours and demands of any communications role are extensive, and if you are not dedicated to it and sincerely excited by it, then it is time to look for another opportunity.
My first professional mentor came into my career very early on and she shared the wise advice that no one is going to build a career for you, save for your retirement, or plan your health coverage for you. It is up to each of us to save, plan and create for ourselves. It was sage guidance at a critical time in my career and in my life. Throughout my career, I relied on her advice--and in absence of her guidance, often asked myself what choice she would make in my situation--for significant decisions, including moving across states and exploring new verticals that challenged my comfort.

I believe mentorship should begin young--in high school even--to set a strong foundation for personal and professional discovery. This mentorship, or partnership, aids in developing passions and talents that will be carried throughout a lifetime. As a mentor myself, I know what a responsibility and honor it is to offer guidance. I learn more about myself while mentoring than I do in many other aspects of my career, and it is a wonderful reminder of how much opportunity there is to learn from each other.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many women in every generation who have done so much to push the boundaries of what's possible--Barbara Walters, Ginny Rometty, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Tina Fey, and my mom, to name a few. I believe we encounter teachable moments and people to learn from every day, and we just have to be tuned in enough to know it when we see it and to seize the opportunity. All of these women, and so many others, have seized the opportunity and helped to show each of us the way forward.