Women in Leadership is a blog series dedicated to highlighting influential women behind The Dude. In it, we'll explore topics like how they came to the tech space, what they're working on and where they see the industry going.
This month, meet Kelley Crawford, Senior Director of Brand Engagement.
Q: What was your experience like leading up to Dude Solutions? Had you worked in a tech environment before?
I had an interesting journey leading up to Dude Solutions. However, the short answer is no, I did not work in a tech environment before. I graduated in 2003 with a Communications degree in Advertising and a minor in Marketing from Appalachian State. As many can attest, a Communications degree can lead you in a lot of directions, and often times, not at all where you hoped or expected in the early parts of your career.
I was ambitious and starry-eyed and beat down the doors of several big advertising agencies until someone would give me a shot. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I started as an unpaid intern, spending many of my days organizing thousands of client files in a storage closet in a parking garage. It wasn’t all bad – I rotated departments between stints in the garage and learned more in a few months than I may have in all my time in college. It was a dog-eat-dog world. I collected a lot of lessons there, mostly that I was absolutely not prepared for any aspect of a career in advertising. It was devastating at the time.
After my time at the agency, my career took a few twists and turns as I sorted through the reality of where I would have to start versus where I wanted to go. I worked in sales and customer service at a wood company. Yes, I sold wood and I loved it! I learned a lot about the importance of great customer service, which gave me a solid foundation for the future.
From there I took a detour to be a graduate assistant at a nationally renowned vet school. My hopes were that I could work there and get in a program to cover my tuition to go back to school. I was going to become a college career counselor and help ensure students were prepared for what I felt like I had learned the hard way. As fate would have it, shortly after I started there a job was dropped in my lap to go work at a local advertising agency as an office manager.
I still had my agency dreams and knew what I had to do at that point – I had to work harder than anyone else. I had to be first in and last out. I had to take any task without complaint, anticipate needs and go above and beyond. I had to prove that I was valuable and could do more. It only took a few short months to move into an account assistant role, and then quickly into an account executive role and so on. I loved the work. It was a wonderful mixture of creative and business, working with clients to develop their brands and award-winning ad campaigns. I was surrounded by an amazing team that helped me grow. It was exhilarating.
I worked in the fast-paced and incredibly rewarding world of advertising for seven to eight years and, unfortunately when the market turned in 2007, I was laid off. Whew, that was one of the most challenging years of my personal and professional life. As fate would have it again, my grandfather became very ill with cancer, and with my time off, I was able to get to know him better and help take care of him while I re-calibrated on my career and searched for work. I learned a lot about life during that time, none of which I regret. It made me stronger and more confident about what I am capable of. It taught me that there is a lesson to be learned in everything that happens, and instead of asking why something is happening to me, ask what it is trying to teach me.
After months of searching for work, I found a job as a marketing manager doing consumer mass marketing for a telecommunications company. It was grueling, and I knew I needed to find a more stable company in a sustainable industry that took great care in their culture and values. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) was exploding onto the scene, companies were popping up everywhere and the future was clear. I just needed to find the right company and then convince them to hire me with no previous technology experience.
Enter The Dude. I found an incredible opportunity to help start the marketing team for one of our start-ups at the time, FacilityDude. There was a big learning curve on the technology side. However, it wasn’t insurmountable, and I was trained and coached by the best. Nine years later and all I can say is what an awesome journey. There have been peaks and valleys, but I have grown and flourished in ways I never imagined alongside and with the help of passionate and inspiring people doing the incredible for such a unique and deserving client base.
Q: What is your official title at Dude Solutions? What are the responsibilities of your role?
I am the Sr. Director of Brand Engagement. First and foremost, my most important task is leading and empowering the [incredibly passionate, talented and creative] Brand Engagement team to bring The Dude brand to life through compelling content, design and communications (i.e. social media and public relations).
Our job is to drive awareness and engagement with our brand, partnering with others in the company to do so (from developing content and thought leadership in our markets to drive new clients and retention to creating campaign for recruitment to help bring on and retain employees). In my role, I am also responsible for partnering with executive leadership and other stakeholders to drive our brand strategy and ensure we are unified as a company with what people see, think, feel and do with our brand and how we need to grow and evolve the brand to align with our future aspirations as a company.
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader at this company? What do you feel you bring to your role that inspires others to see you as a leader?
I’m not sure it matters whether I consider myself a leader at Dude Solutions. I’d like to, but it’s not up to me... it’s really whether others consider me to be a leader through my actions and impact. I know that I’ve been given the opportunity and platform to be one, which I don’t take lightly, and I just hope that I make a positive difference in the lives of those I work with leading to the best possible outcomes and results.
What do I bring to my role that inspires others to see me as a leader?
I believe it simply comes down to how I treat people. I lead with compassion, and I am not afraid to be vulnerable (sometimes to a fault) and encourage others to be as well. Once people feel like they are heard and can let their guard down, and they don't fear judgement or failure, they are most likely to push through obstacles, collaborate openly and do their best work.
Q: What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?
We are going through a lot of change in the marketing organization ensuring we have the right strategy and structure for growth. Right now, I’m very focused on leading and supporting the Brand Engagement team through this change with the team at large and being available but also constant, consistent and reliable in my feedback and communications as we navigate new waters.
We have several major initiatives that we’re working on right now to help solidify the foundation and infrastructure of our team and greatly improve our efforts and impact. A couple of highlights for the Brand Engagement team are the redesign of our corporate website and developing and launching our first fully integrated thought leadership campaign focused on the changing workforce. These are both massive efforts that will have a major impact on the company, providing greater value to prospects and clients on their journey with Dude Solutions.
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments or wins while at The Dude or in other tech-related ventures?
First, personal and professional growth. I often have people say to me, “Wow, you’ve been at one company for nine years. That’s rare these days. Do you worry you’re not growing or you’re getting stale?” HA! We have experienced rapid growth and change and with that, I have as well. I have been afforded the experience of what feels like working at five companies and it’s been tremendous.
It has been full of peaks and valleys, and it’s not been an easy journey or for the faint of heart. But someone once told me that if it was easy then everyone would be doing it, and then well, I might not want to do it anymore. I am a different person than I was nine years ago, a better and stronger person that has grown more resilient and adaptable, smarter and more capable and a much more realistic and humbler manager and leader for my team.
Second, Dude Solutions new brand strategy, identity and story. As many people can tell you, I spent three years hard at work advocating for a project to help unify and solidify the Dude Solutions brand. Last year all that work was realized when we launched a new identity wrapped around the powerful story of our clients and employees and the inspiring work they do.
That three years of stops and starts taught me a lot about the importance of timing, and when it came together, it all made sense. It was incredible to work with our executives, employees and clients to help develop the new brand, and I’m most proud that it’s a brand that we built from the outside in and truly represents the thousands of voices that make up Dude Nation.
I hope others feel that and feel the admiration we have for our clients and the inspiration we take from them to help improve what we do so we can help improve what they do.
Q: What, if any, have been your challenges navigating being a leader in this industry?
Hands down – managing through change. We are a growth company in a space where there are a lot of market dynamics driving a high rate of change. Figuring out how to plan, adapt, manage and respond to change inside and outside of the building has been a constant learning curve that has kept me on my toes.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about being a woman in the tech field, or advice for other women carving out a space?
#1 Surround yourself with those on the same mission as you.
#2 Be composed, be confident, be courageous.
#3 Don’t give up, don’t ever give up. (Who doesn’t love that Jimmy V. quote?)
Q: What do you think makes for a good leader?
First and foremost, an orientation to serve and help others succeed. I like this quote by Colin Powell:
“Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.”
Q: In what ways do you help create leaders?
It may be quite bold to say I help create leaders, but rather help develop leaders.
I hope that my actions and my words encourage and challenge my team and others to be confident in their ability to be a leader now or in the future, to be out in front with solutions and a genuine desire to help others, to have a voice in things that matter to them and use it in a meaningful way, to be bold and try new things even if it scares them, to take ownership of their work and the importance of their own say:do ratio and to help them think beyond themselves and about the greater good of the team or the company.
Q: Who has been a leader you’ve learned from?
This is not an easy question. There have been a lot of leaders that I have learned from (good and bad) and continue to learn from inside and outside of our organization. We have leaders across The Dude that inspire and encourage me every day, and for that I’m truly grateful. If I had to pick one person, Tom Knox, our Chief Revenue Officer, comes to mind. He was my boss and mentor for my first several years at the company, and even as the company has grown and we’ve moved around, he’s continued to be someone I’ve watched and learned from. He has taught me more than I’m sure I even realize about every aspect of leadership, and what it really means to show up for the team and bring my best self to work.
Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader?
Whew... I’m not sure we have enough time for all the lessons but here are some things that come top of mind.
Always assume positive intent. To be honest, that is a lesson I’m still learning and practicing every single day inside and outside of work. It's where collaboration and work can go very right or very wrong, and when it goes wrong, it can not only derail a project but ruin teams and relationships.
Being a leader is a choice that we make every day in how we show up at work and for our team. It’s not easy. There are days it’s tough to look in the mirror when things around you aren’t going well but your team and those you work closest with are often a direct reflection of your actions and behavior (good, bad and ugly).
It can be uncomfortable. There is always work that can be done to improve. There is the immense weight and responsibility of ensuring your team has what they need to not only be successful but also enjoy the place they spend a good portion of their life. Being a leader is not only accepting but embracing that it’s not about you and genuinely being able to find great joy in helping others reach their goals and achieve things they may not have known were possible.