Proud Dentist, Proud Dad

An Interview with Sara Smoler, Forbes (US & Canada 2019)

In today’s world, having an idea and proffering it into the market as a product or a service is far from enough. In the age of great media fragmentation, the competition is fiercer than it ever was before. Globally, consumers are more demanding, distracted, and present than ever before.

In other words, companies must stand out from the crowd in order to make their brand relevant and matter in the world.

Marketing and Advertising as a term has been around since ancient times. Nowadays, a brand is often the pillars that distinguish a brand perception in the eyes of their consumers.

A solid advertising strategy can not only increase brand awareness, sales, and drive revenue, but it can also improve the image of a company against its competitors in the long-term.

However, behind every good advertising campaign and brand strategy, you may not realize there are teams, that dive deep to make this work relevant, tailored, and meaningful to a variety of consumers.

Meet Sara Smoler, who manages USA Business Development at Ogilvy a renowned name in the advertising industry. Sara herself has worked with admired brands such as Coca-Cola, American Express, and IBM.

Ever since she discovered her passion for the craft, Sara has had a plethora of success in the company, growing through the ranks to now help manage Business Development for the USA portfolio of the global organization.

Most recently, Sara was named on Forbes’s30 under 30 US & Canada 2019: Marketing & Advertising”list.

This is her story, enjoy it!

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Hi Sara, thank you so much for doing this interview with me! Would you mind introducing yourself? Can you tell us more about who is Sara Smoler? How did you choose your current career path?

Sara Smoler:

Sara visiting Ogilvy’s London Offices in 2016.

Of course! I’m so excited. I was born and raised in Michigan and grew up in the suburbs of Detroit.

I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (Go Blue!) and always knew I wanted to move to New York. I used my summers during university to figure out what I did not want to do.

I interned in the fashion department at a high-profile fashion magazine in New York one summer — and quickly realized that was not for me.

Being able to explore different options and not be afraid of taking low-risk opportunities has really helped me figure out what I am passionate about, professionally. I’m incredibly curious by nature and think my curiosity has helped shape my career today.

Anyways, I was drawn to living and working in New York City, and after graduation, I took an internship. I figured it was the quickest way for me to get to New York, and settle in. Looking back, it was probably the smartest move I made to not rush to get a full-time job after graduation.

Where so many of my friends at that point were settling to get a job, any job, whether it was “right” for them or not, I had the luxury of taking the summer to really explore the city, talk to many different types of people, and get a greater sense for what I wanted to do full time.

So, this internship I took was at a small agency in New York in their Business Development department. I had no idea what the job entailed when I first started. I honestly fell into New Business, without realizing that it would later become my career.

I loved the work, the energy, and the fast-paced nature of the job. That summer, I was able to help secure the Global Agency of Record assignment for Intel (the work that aired with Jim Parsons called “The Future”). I suppose the rest is history!

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on being among Forbes 30 under 30! How was that experience for you? What do you think contributed the most to it?

Sara Smoler:

Sara and Forbes 30 Under 30’s at the first ever Women’s Global Summit in Israel this past Spring.
Sara and Forbes 30 Under 30’s at the first ever Women’s Global Summit in Israel this past Spring.

Thanks. It’s been an incredibly humbling experience. I recently traveled to Israel for both the REALITY Under 30 Women’s Trip, as well as the first Forbes 30 Under 30 Global Summit.

That experience was honestly one of the best trips I’ve taken. Not only I was able to visit a country with such rich history, but also I was able to be surrounded by an incredible group of inspiring and strong women who were part of the Forbes Under 30 community. I’m excited that Forbes is hosting their first Detroit Under 30 Summit in the fall, and I’m personally looking forward to having many of my new friends experience my hometown.

I’ve always prioritized building relationships in business. Point blank — work will always be work, and the work will always be there. At the end of the day, I’ve realized that developing relationships with colleagues across all levels has helped bolster my success and foment my growth within the industry and at Ogilvy in particular. I’m certain this probably contributed to my recent accolades.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Now, can you tell us more about Ogilvy? Why is it important?

Sara Smoler:

Sara visiting Ogilvy’s Tel Aviv offices during her recent visit to Israel.

Sure. For those who are not familiar with the agency, Ogilvy is one of the most prominent marketing communications brands in the world with offices across 83 countries.

For nearly 70 years, Ogilvy has helped build some of the most valuable and iconic global brands including American Express, IBM, Dove, IKEA, and Nationwide.

At Ogilvy, we “Make Brands Matter.” We believe that in today’s world where you have more of everything — brands are more important than ever.

Brands, ultimately, help stand apart from the chaos and fragmentation in the modern marketing world.

In many cases, this means defining a new role for the brand during a pivotal point in time. If a product, service, or idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to them — in addition to being utilitarian — then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.

This is why some of the most iconic brands in the world have turned to Ogilvy and continue to do so today. Our work is not just about selling products; it is about helping to carve out a voice, reason, and permission for our clients to exist in their consumers’ lives. And we do this by “Making Brands Matter.”

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

As a business development manager, how do you find new opportunities? What would you say are the best and worst parts of your job?

Sara Smoler:

David Ogilvy, our founder, profoundly believed that “new business is everyone’s business,” and that New Business is the “lifeblood” of an agency. It’s what keeps the agency running, ultimately helps fuel agency job creation and agency reputation. But, New business is not something that has to happen behind closed doors.

There are many ways in which new opportunities are sourced. It’s truly a collaborative process. Former clients, switch jobs and want to work with us, employees have friends who can turn into clients, we also actively prospect and turn cold relationships into client relationships all the time.

I truly believe that I have my dream job. Some days, I don’t even feel like I am at work, because I genuinely love what I’m doing, and who I am working with. I love that New Business brings the best of the agency together, that you really do bond with different people across a range of skill-sets and work towards a common goal.

I love waking up every day not knowing what the day ahead holds. It’s funny, I tell people who ask what I do that I wear so many hats. Some days I’m a creative, a strategist, a producer, event planner, writer, it really just depends on the day. I love being able to work with every internal team in the agency, globally, but also being able to partner with leading CMOs and help solve some of their toughest marketing business challenges.

I will say that new business at an agency is not for everyone. It moves at an incredibly fast-pace given tight timelines and high-pressure situations. I work long hours, but that is just the nature of the job, especially the days leading up to a large new business pitch. Of course, that is all worth it when we win a pitch — it is incredibly rewarding.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

According to you, what are the top three most important values in business? Please explain.

Sara Smoler:

That’s easy. Building great relationships, having a relentless curiosity, and approaching your work with a sense of divine discontent are the three most important values in business.

Investing in making great relationships in your industry, your organization, will pay dividends in the long-term. It puts a human aspect back into business, where I find people can become quite transactional. As I’m originally from the Midwest, I focus many of my days in building great relationships with colleagues and mentors.

Holding a genuine curiosity and not being afraid to ask questions (even if they are dumb ones), is important — I see it as the only way to learn. I rely on my teams internally and often find they are the ones both challenging me to do better, and teaching me new and interesting skills.

And finally, Divine Discontent — a guiding philosophy that David Ogilvy used to shape the corporate culture at Ogilvy that I still find true to this day.

There’s a spirit of innovation, excellence, and creativity, always looking to improve or go above and beyond that resonates deeply with me. I’m constantly thinking about how can things be better, streamlined, efficient, and I think that’s the culture of divine discontent that I know I’ll take with me throughout my career.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

If you can change one thing in your life, what would it be? Why?

Sara Smoler:

I wish I had more time or more hours in my day to devote to my passion projects. I’ve been lucky that I’ve incorporated many of these projects into my role at work.

However, I wish I had more time to spend doing things I love — outside of work!

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Have you ever failed? What is the best way to deal with failure?

Sara Smoler:

I fail often. It’s a different mindset than when you’re in school and are afraid to fail a class or exam. Professionally, you learn a great deal from your failures.

I genuinely believe making mistakes early on is the best way to learn and improve. If something goes awry, I find value in discussing what happened and how it can be improved upon so that it does not happen again.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

How do you define success? What about happiness? What matters in life?

Sara Smoler:

I do not define success or happiness in terms of material possessions or financial wealth. Success and happiness are interconnected in my opinion. If through my work I’ve been able to create positive change, lasting impact, and a legacy that reflects who I am as a person and what I believe in while helping others along the way — I’ll be both successful and happy.

Sara with some of her incredible mentors and former colleagues.
Sara with some of her incredible mentors and former colleagues.

To me, relationships matter the most in life. I’m fortunate in that I have a strong network of mentors, role models, former bosses, friends and family that constantly inspire and push me out of my comfort zone to achieve things I never thought were possible.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Do you have any future plans?

Sara Smoler:

My goal has always been to achieve a position as a Chief Marketing Officer before I turn 30. I have 4 years left! We’ll see what happens. Ultimately, I’m excited with where future opportunities lie and hope that in ten years, I will be in a role that allows me to utilize my skills in a way that helps organizations strengthen their brand and grow their business.

Right now, I’m infatuated with consumer-focused start-ups, emerging technologies, and corporate innovation groups, that are doing interesting and provocative work to drive tenured brands in new directions.

I try not to take myself too seriously. I think people sense that across my social media channels, too. Sometimes, I’m the only one laughing at myself. I’ve also been taking Ballet Classes, something I never did until recently.

It’s never too late to learn a new skill or push yourself in new directions. That said, I hope in ten years I’ve been able to perfect a pirouette. I love the rigor and discipline that ballet provides.

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Finally, is there something I did not ask you yet you think is important to talk about? What is the best advice you can give to the ones who still struggle to find their perfect career?

Sara Smoler:

If I could offer any advice to someone beginning their career, I’d tell them to be fearless, use your youth as your strength.

Being the youngest person in the room is often a blessing, not a curse, and you learn more by asking questions and failing than not asking at all.

The best advice I once got was from a senior colleague at Ogilvy. He told me that everything that comes across my desk or email is my responsibility. This has encouraged me to go above and beyond in my role.

In fact, I recently was just telling someone about a time years ago, when I was responsible for hand delivering a final RFI (request for information) submission to an influential pitch consultant. This was a document that executive teams had been working on for over three weeks, and ultimately was the first step in a multi-phased pitch process.

If we did not deliver this on time, as an agency, we risked being eliminated from the process. Not only did I make sure to drop the package off in enough time, but I ended up taking a picture of the doorman with the package — as evidence should anything go awry that we had been successful in this delivery.

Funny enough, the consultant got word of the picture and I’ll never forget how he emailed my boss then, praising my tactics and demanding I get a raise! It was hilarious and made our agency stand out.

Sara plays many roles at Ogilvy, including actively looking for new clients, reading the industry trades, and attending Advertising Week (pictured here) to keep a strong pulse on the industry.

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