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Meet the Female Frontier honorees: Katy Varner

We chat to the Initiative star about her journey so far

Varner is Initiative’s group director, advanced analytics and one of Campaign US’s Female Frontier 2020 honorees for ‘rising to the top’. Here, we find out what her ultimate career goal is and and why details matter.

Can you sum up your journey in less than five words? 
Solve this problem with data.  

What three qualities do you need to be successful? 
Patience, because I don’t think a lot of success is achieved when I allow frustration to get the better of me. Having thick skin, because sometimes your best ideas will not make the final cut. And being part of a great team, because no one gets anywhere alone. 

What’s your one professional rule? Have you ever broken it?
Details matter. As part of an analytics team, my solutions are always going to be data-driven, and with data it’s important to understand both the big picture and the detailed numbers.  Knowing those details is what gives clients confidence that I know their business well. 

My grad school advisor once told me no research paper is ever "perfect" – it’s just that eventually the deadline arrives. There’s always a detail I could edit or improve, but striving to always improve my knowledge and skills is exactly what I want out of my career. 

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s Female Frontier’s winner’s list?
Calm. Let me explain this answer! I made the change from a career in academia to media about five years ago. And at the time, it was definitely a leap of faith. In such a fast-paced field, it can be hard to remember all the small steps I have taken to reach this point. Seeing my name on this list made me realize that all those individual decisions have added up to something big, and that gave me a sense of calmness – a moment of peace that all those decisions were the right ones.

How does the culture at your organization help you to thrive? 
Initiative leaves space for creative solutions. During my time here, I have been given a lot of complex problems to solve, but I have always been provided with a strong foundation of tools and data to use. I have also been allowed the freedom to arrive at new, inventive solutions. Last year was our "year of the trailblazer" and trailblazing is truly at the heart of what makes Initiative great. 

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you?
My hope is that if I took my team out for a drink, they’d describe me as thoughtful and appreciative of them. My biggest focus with my team is making sure I give thoughtful feedback at all times. It can be easy to get into a habit of giving feedback that skews largely critical and your team might think you don’t value their time and energy, so I actively work on making it my habit instead to give positive feedback. Also, it doesn’t hurt that this approach is backed in science! Positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative.

Who's your biggest inspiration and why?
It’s hard to choose – there are so many successful, thoughtful women in my life who inspire me all the time.  For today, I’ll choose my mom. She infuses everything she does with so much bravery – she is always willing to make hard choices and face intimidating moments head-on. She inspires me to believe in myself in difficult moments and to pursue opportunities.

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? Any tips for success you'd like to share?
Working at an agency is a professional services job, which means the top priority should always be the client. At the same time – success on a daily basis is showing up for your team. Always working to better support the team and never thinking you’re too important for a task is something I’ve seen strong leaders do and that I try to do myself. If you put the team first, and the team keeps client goals at the heart of what they do, it makes it easy to succeed both on a daily basis and in the bigger moments.

What is your ultimate career goal?
To lead a team that is constantly coming up with new, exciting ways to leverage all of the cutting-edge data available to us in media analytics – and then continuing to prove to clients that these solutions can help drive their business forward. Analytics is continually evolving, and I love when I can harness that evolution to drive both my team and my clients forward. 

What would you like your legacy to be? And what would you hate it to be?
I would like my legacy to be that I helped others – whether it’s my team or my clients. I always feel like a meeting doesn’t go well unless everyone truly understands what I presented to them, even if it’s a complex, first of its kind analytics solution. 

Conversely, I’d hate to have a legacy of having built tools or solutions that sound exciting but that no one can understand or get value from. Analytics only works if everyone can use it, so I’d want my legacy to be that I furthered the position of analytics in the media space by making it accessible to everyone.   


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