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Inclusion Upends Limits and Breeds Leadership

Members of the PDMI’s Women’s Leadership Council talk about why inclusion matters and what they’re hoping the new group can accomplish together.

By Thomas Haire

Women's Leadership Council logo

Launched in January, the PDMI’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) recently surpassed 60 total members, making it — by far — the fastest-growing council in the association’s five years of existence.

The WLC is the PDMI’s sixth council, but one that’s unique in structure, membership, and vision. Led by DR Hall of Famer Fern Lee, CEO of PDMI founding member THOR Associates, the council is designed to provide a forum for women in performance and direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing to learn, grow, and connect. It also provides a trusting community for leaders at every level — from those new to the business to industry legends — to share their expertise, build partnerships, and create a vision for the future of performance marketing.

The Women’s Leadership Council is working inclusively and collectively to create content for all the PDMI’s educational outlets: panel discussions at in-person conferences; webinars; the PDMI’s website; its quarterly publication (Results Magazine); and its weekly e-newsletter. In addition, the WLC has already begun work on a peer-to-peer mentorship program, with more than half the council’s members raising a hand to participate.

The council’s mentoring program will allow younger industry executives to team with and learn from the most experienced leaders in direct-to-consumer marketing.

As part of its mission, the WLC hosted an educational session on March 22 during PDMI East in Miami Beach, Fla. Titled "Brand Leadership and the Customer Experience," the panel featured Lee as the moderator with Direct Results’ Jill Albert, Bluewater’s Sarah Andreadakis, Contour Products’ Brooke Davis, Angi’s Racine Levy, and Media Culture’s Lori Lasky providing powerful commentary and insight on performance marketing campaigns.

During this on-stage conversation, the challenges and opportunities women face in performance and D2C marketing came up time and again. Inclusion, leadership, and growth were recurring themes. In the weeks following the session, we reached out to members of the WLC with a set of questions about those topics — as well as about what they’re looking to give to and get from membership in the council itself. Read on for the thoughts of more than a dozen WLC members about these topics and more.

One of the biggest questions from the Women’s Leadership Council’s panel conversation in Miami was "Does inclusion matter?" How do you respond?

Jill Albert, Direct Results: Absolutely! As humans, we so often navigate to friends, family, and colleagues that are like minded and aspirational. Sometimes we get lazy and fall back on the familiar. As marketers and humans, we should also seek relationships outside of our comfort zone. We want to understand others’ points of view, challenges, and goals. Expanding knowledge and boundaries and looking out into the world is thrilling.

How can we market effectively without this understanding and — more so — without working with colleagues that live and think differently?

Lee Allis-Hayes, Allis-Hayes Consulting: Inclusion is key to allowing people to thrive. People can only do their best work when they feel respected, included, and in the know. Even if they are not a decision maker, having transparency and open communication helps every employee build a sense of ownership in the success of a business.

Keri Beale, QuickBox Fulfillment: Yes, inclusion matters more now than ever. After the pandemic, many companies were in disarray and trying to find their way. The pandemic left many people wondering what to do next.

Diversity and inclusion can enhance the problem-solving necessary to rethink businesses and reimagine industries in the face of unprecedented disruption. And more diverse teams are better at anticipating changes in consumer needs and buying patterns, which can lead to more rapid product and service innovation.

Yeniseth Birrueta, Pacific Media Technologies: It’s funny, as I constantly have this conversation with my kids at home, I have to say it really depends on the scenario. At times, our own misconception of inclusion has led us to miss the mark, and we have made mistakes.

Carey Chase, Modus Direct: Yes, it matters. Why? Because inclusion inherently means growth — both in numbers and, perhaps more importantly, in understanding. There should always be room at the table. If not, make it larger. More perspectives at that table enrich the conversation and the probability that you will learn something new.

Christine Georgakakis, REELZ: Inclusion is very important to an organization’s performance. In these environments, people feel they are valued, respected, and supported. Inclusion allows for creativity and productive thought processes that lead to overall growth. Employees thrive and so do their organizations.

Caitlin Haire, Cannella Media: Inclusion absolutely matters. Without it, you’re only seeing part of the picture, having part of the conversation, reaching part of the audience — even if you don’t realize it. Without inclusion, we are limiting our potential. If we want to be our best, as people and as professionals, inclusion is key.

Caitlin Monaghan, a4 Advertising: Inclusion — giving everyone equal access to opportunities and resources and creating an environment where ideas and points of view can be shared openly — is critical to getting the best out of your employees and partners. Collaboration, critical thinking, and real debate push companies to be better and, ultimately, can push them to be more successful. It’s not a straight line, but if we can start with getting the best out of people because their ideas feel heard, and they have opportunities to grow and learn, then they can feel invested in and thus have the potential to give more back.

Jenny Parrish, Ringba: Yes, inclusion matters for several reasons. Diverse teams are more likely to make better decisions because they bring different perspectives to the table. Diverse teams are more likely to be creative and innovative because they are not limited by a single way of thinking. For business owners and managers, it means improved employee morale and productivity. Employees who feel included are more likely to be happy and productive at work. Also, it creates a stronger brand. Companies that are inclusive are seen as more desirable places to work and do business with.

Shira Witelson, RSLT: Being inclusive is being receptive to diverse viewpoints. Why is it important? Because seeking the assistance of people from diverse backgrounds not only fosters equality but also benefits your company by enabling the development of more innovative marketing tactics and strengthening ties with a range of audiences.

Jenny Wixen, NBCUniversal: Yes, inclusion matters not only in the workplace but also in everyday life. Regardless of ethnicity, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender, religion, we all breathe air, we all bleed, and we all are entitled to be treated kindly and as human beings. Without mutual respect for all, life is unbalanced and unnecessarily violent. The more we can help to prevent negativity, the better off we are as a team and an individual. I know that’s idealistic but it’s how I live my life and how I try to inspire my almost 5-year-old to live hers.


Why did you choose to join the PDMI’s Women’s Leadership Council?


Brooke Davis, Contour Products: I joined WLC to grow my connections and learn from the all the legendary women. It’s amazing to have a community that comes together to help each other learn and adapt to each change in our industry.


Fern Lee, THOR Associates: I chose to give birth to the Women’s Leadership Council because I was fortunate, as a woman, to be mentored by strong, intellectual, caring women who wanted me to succeed. I was able to overcome the glass ceiling and want to foster relationships between women that allow women to have opportunities to succeed.


Alexis Rosenberg, Dish Media: I joined the Women’s Leadership Council to meet, learn from, and network with a group of successful women that all had their own experiences in different parts of the performance ecosystem.


Lori Zeller, THOR Associates: The Women’s Leadership Council offers unity among the women in our membership. The experience and ages of the WLC membership vary, yet there is common intention for supportive collaboration, connection, and personal growth.


Albert: Fern Lee! But now that I have sat in on a couple of meetings, I am inspired to learn from and contribute to the council.


Allis-Hayes: I’m in awe of the depth of experience, support, and pure awesomeness that resonates on the screen in the Zoom meeting that is the PDMI Women’s Leadership Council. I’ve yet to meet these leaders in person, and I feel like I have 50 mentors on my side.


Beale: In my industry — third-party logistics, warehousing, and distribution — there are not as many women. It is nice to learn additional leadership principles from other powerful women, and to understand their struggles and learn from what got them through it. The networking is great as well.


Birrueta: Networking and bouncing ideas off other women in the industry.


Chase: Being involved in this industry for most of my career, I have benefited greatly from working for two women-owned businesses. Additionally, I have had the privilege of working and learning alongside countless other women, many in leadership roles. I truly appreciate the brain trust that the women within the performance media industry have built and was excited for the opportunity to learn and share within the WLC community.


Georgakakis: To be mentored and to be able to offer mentorship. Our work together will be inherently different and compassionate. We are a group of women with varying accomplishments and are willing to support each other in accomplishing further goals. We will support each other to be successful.


Haire: To help build and participate in a community of women within our industry. Together, we can create something that is greater than the sum of our parts. Externally, we can unify and amplify our voices on topics and questions that are important to us, as well as to share our unique perspectives. Internally, there’s a tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience, and support within this council community, providing a platform for members to connect, educate, share, and lift up one another.


Parrish: I pursued joining the Women’s Leadership Council for a several reasons, but at the top of that list is to gain experience. Serving on this council is a great way to gain experience in leadership, public speaking, and problem solving. This experience will be valuable in both my personal and professional life. I also recognized that serving on the WLC is a great way to network with other professionals and industry leaders — truly the best of the best. I know this will prove to be beneficial for both personal and professional development. With mentorship programs, written content contributions, and Ted Talk opportunities, joining is also a way to give back. Serving on our council is a chance to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

What are the council’s biggest opportunities to help its members learn, grow, and connect?

Albert: Everything in the space of marketing is changing. As women, we take on the world’s challenges. It is our nature. As leaders, we are uber busy, yet focus will always be among the most important factors to drive success. Together we can develop partnerships and trust that will drive collaboration, sharing of ideas and knowledge, inspiration to challenge one another through discussion and conflict, and the opportunity to learn and expand expertise together.

I’d love to see this team identify core goals and perhaps break out into teams to tackle subjects of important learnings. Each team would then present findings to the entire WLC — perhaps monthly.

Allis-Hayes: Local opportunities in other cities would be helpful. I was unable to make it to Miami, and I’m not sure I can get to San Diego, but I may try.

Beale: Widening the industry backgrounds with new members would be very helpful. It would pull strong leaders from multiple industries.

Birrueta: With so many women in different stages of their careers, the WLC has a unique opportunity to learn from each other, find ways to give back to the community, and see if there are ways to attract new customers to the conventions.

Chase: We are all connected via social media/video meetings/webinars, and PDMI does a great job managing those touchpoints. That said, I think there is a big desire for people to meet up and see each other in person. In addition to the two major conferences, maybe sponsoring some smaller, regional events in key media cities could introduce PDMI to a new audience? This would be an opportunity to do something fun on a smaller scale and build relationships.

Davis: I think three main opportunities the WLC can focus on are mentorship, career development, and regular networking events. This is a large group of women, all with unique and different talents across the nation. Setting time for us to learn from each other during our monthly Ted Talks has already impacted my own career by exposing me to different sides of TV media I don’t see in my everyday job responsibilities. It has also helped me plan my own career and shown me new opportunities I didn’t know existed.

Georgakakis: Opportunities to meet and discuss varying topics at conferences or smaller gatherings. Knowledge sharing via workshop opportunities, Ted Talks, and volunteer work together.

Haire: The mentor program is an incredibly valuable asset to the council. The benefit of formalizing such a program within this context, on top of all the other benefits, is that it presents the opportunity to take the feedback from the mentor/mentee relationships and compare/contrast across the group to identify common themes and features to help the council shape its agenda going forward, increasing the impact, and serving the most good.

In general, though, through giving the women on the council the skills and confidence — be it education, networking, awareness, mentorship, etc. — to find their own voice in a way that’s authentic to them, the WLC is providing members with their own tools needed to learn, grow, and connect.

Lee: We do monthly TED-style talks, which are inspiring and thought provoking for growth. We are also instituting a mentor-mentee program that will open the funnel for thought leadership and overcoming day-to-day job challenges.

Parrish: Provide training and development opportunities: WLC could consider providing training and development opportunities on a variety of topics for personal and professional growth.

Create opportunities for networking: WLC could create opportunities for members to network with each other and with other professionals in our industry. This can help members to build relationships and to learn from each other.

Support professional development: WLC can support professional development for its members by providing recommendations for conferences, workshops, and other educational opportunities. This can help members to stay up to date on the latest trends and to develop new skills.

Finally, provide mentorship programs.

Zeller: Meeting monthly and in person at PDMI East and West. Contributing to articles and speaking at the meetings or being on a panel. And being able to pick up the phone or write an email, such as:

Dear XXX, As a member of the WLC, I am grateful to have the opportunity to reach out to you. Would you please send me a few times next week that I can send you a meeting Invite to discuss (a personal matter) or (something that came up that I don’t know how to respond to) or (an idea I have for XXX).

What areas can the WLC not only help its members achieve their goals but also help drive the goals of the PDMI as a whole?

Albert: Inclusion; artificial intelligence (AI); audio; best practices with influencers/public relations; and ideation — bold ideas!

Allis-Hayes: Networking, job resources, skill sets. We’re all busy, so finding time is a challenge.

Chase: We are at such a pivotal moment in media, linear/streaming television, and advertising. There are days that feel like everything is changing all at once. Now more than ever is a great time to share varied experiences to hear what is working, what is not, and what needs to happen for a successful future. We need to rewrite the playbook.

Davis: One goal the WLC can help PDMI with is continuing education. Every year, new hurdles pop up between legal, tech, or just the way consumers purchase. The WLC already has a focus on sharing knowledge between members, and that can certainly be expanded to all of the PDMI. One example is creating space for younger members to interact with the legends, either to pick their brains on potential business ideas or navigating a new career. We can work harder to connect every PDMI member so that we can grow and learn together.

Georgakakis: Be a resource for women in business, whether leadership or female-owned business. Offer workshops, speaking opportunities, publications, and use social media to highlight our work.

Haire: The stronger we’re able to make our council members, the stronger assets they are to the PDMI. I see a lot of value in addressing topics surrounding how we can better identify and advocate for our own success within a traditional workplace environment. Examples include recognizing and addressing unconscious bias in the workplace; education on differences between men and women when it comes to work styles, communication, etc.; how to advocate for oneself; and so on.

However, looking at the council: having us identify and agree on, say, three or four common goals for us as a group that we could also utilize to educate and advocate for within the larger PDMI could be very beneficial. It would give us something that we could structure our content creation around for wider efforts and could help to provide inspiration for council Ted Talks, check ins or open conversation, etc.

Lee: Inclusion; learning how to open up with thought leadership; how to speak to other team members; education; and the ability to speak out.

Parrish: Education and training: WLC can partner with members to offer training courses, or they can develop their own in-house training programs. They can also host webinars and other online educational events.

Networking: WLC can host regular networking events, such as conferences, trade shows, and social gatherings. They can also create online forums and discussion groups where members can connect with each other.

Advocacy: WLC can lobby government officials on behalf of their members, and they can also develop and publish position papers on key industry issues.

Public relations: WLC can create and distribute press releases, develop and maintain websites, and use social media to promote the industry and its benefits.

Zeller: Boundaries when it comes to inappropriate work behavior. Education in different aspects of the changing marketing landscape. Subcommittees that overlap the WLC and PDMI Council initiatives.

What does leadership mean to you?

Albert: Empowering, inspiring, developing bold ideas. Working outside the lines, listening, teaching, serving.

Allis-Hayes: Leadership means working for the good of the group, not the individual leader. Egos are put aside, and the right thing is done. Leadership involves vision and a mission, but also heart and realistic life values.

Beale: Inspiring others to work together toward a common goal. It encourages and enables people to do their best work. Leadership is understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and admitting them, as well as those of the team. Holding people accountable and being consistent and fair within all levels of an organization.

Birrueta: The best way for me to describe leadership is being able to bring a group together and grow each day. Having them tap into their creativity, talent, and then they feel like they want to provide input to you without hesitation because you listen.

Leadership is knowing you don’t have all the answers and, even if you have been doing it for 25 years, there might be a better way of doing something if you give someone five minutes of your time to show you.

Chase: It means sharing what you have learned but also listening to those you lead.

Davis: Leadership means putting others before yourself. You are actively thinking and implementing new ways to improve someone else’s life. This could be catering lunches each month to show appreciation, or it could be having a tough conversation with someone who’s been slipping. Your goal is always to serve others and guide them to greatness.

Georgakakis: Being an inspiration to others and motivating them to achieve great things. Being able to guide people to their highest achievements.

Haire: Leadership is about finding unity and inspiration in chaos, harnessing that chaos, and transforming it from a scary unknown to a propelling force forward — all the while connecting with and motivating those around you to keep going forward. Totally easy, right?

Lee: Leadership is channeling your thoughts to assist team members and have people align their collective ways to execute various needs of an organization to move all forward with positive intent.

Monaghan: Leadership is the practice of setting an example for others — and it doesn’t matter what level your job title is. I think leadership often gets confused with being a manager. You don’t need to manage people to be a good leader, and I have often experienced managers who are not great leaders. It’s the act of showing up and being accountable. It means a great deal to me in my role and in my career, and it’s something to always to be improved upon, to learn about.

Parrish: To me, leadership is about inspiring and motivating others to achieve a common goal. It’s about creating a vision and a plan, and then working with others to make that vision a reality. It’s about being accountable for your own actions and the actions of those you lead. And it’s about always striving to do better, to be better, and to make a difference and a positive impact.

Zeller: Leadership is the ability to see in others what they don’t see in themselves and guide them to their potential.

To join the PDMI Women’s Leadership Council, you must be an employee of a PDMI member company. Membership on the WLC does not preclude you from serving on any of the other PDMI member councils. To get involved, simply reach out to Thomas Haire at


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