In our fourth See It to Be It podcast interview, Amy C. Waninger chats with Chris N. West, an opening keynote speaker and seminar leader on digital marketing. His talks have been presented to teams in Germany, Canada, and the UK. His career has taken him to 48 states. He is the Founder of LR Training Solutions, a corporate training company based in Houston, Texas. These discussions highlight professional role models in a variety of industries, and our goal is to draw attention to the vast array of possibilities available to emerging and aspiring professionals, with particular attention paid to support black and brown professionals. Check out some of the SI2BI blogs we’ve posted while you wait for the next episode!
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, every now and then we try to mix it up for y’all, ’cause–so look, dependency and consistency is really important, but even within those lanes of consistency, you gotta have a little bit of variety, you know what I mean? You don’t come home and just eat the same thing every day, or even if you do–you know, you got a meal prep thing–maybe sometimes you put a little red sauce. Maybe sometimes you put a little green sauce. You know, you gotta just, you know, mix it up from time to time. Maybe sometimes you grill it. Maybe sometimes you saute. Maybe sometimes you rotisserie. You gotta just–am I hungry? Yes, I’m hungry, y’all. My bad. Listen, check it out. We have another entry for y’all from our See It to Be It series. Amy C. Waninger, CEO of Lead at Any Level as well as the author of Network Beyond Bias, she’s actually been a member of the team for a while now, so shout-out to you, Amy. Yes, thank you very much for all of your work here. And part of her work has been in driving this series called See It to Be It, and the purpose of the series is to actually highlight black and brown professionals in these prestigious roles, like, within industries that maybe we–and when I say we I mean black and brown folks, I see y’all–may not even know exist or envision ourselves in, hence the name of the series, right? So check this out. We’re gonna go ahead and transition from here. The next thing you’re gonna hear is an interview with Amy C. Waninger and a super dope professional. I know y’all are gonna love it. Catch y’all next time. Peace.
Amy: Hi, Chris. Thanks for joining me.
Chris: No problem. It’s good to be here.
Amy: Thank you. So as you know, this series is designed to help young people, particularly young people of color, see all of the opportunities that are available to them in their careers, in the economy, and we’re gonna spend a little time later just talking about specific support systems available to people of color in your industry, but first, can you just tell me a little bit about how you got involved in digital marketing, then how that evolved into a speaking career?
Chris: Okay, sure. How I started, it was a while ago. I got my degree in marketing, and then I got a job at Google as a marketing specialist, and through that job, part of it was we would go around the country to talk to small business owners about how to use Google products to grow. So this was anything from Google+, Google advertisements, Google map listings, and pretty much all of the Google tools that can help a small business and also a large company out as well. So through that experience, it really helped me figure out what I would like to do long-term in the future and what it meant to me to do that for small business owners and other organizations. And once I started doing that training through all of those small business workshops, that’s when I started realizing that I have kind of a skill for [?] to people. And also, not only that, but skill in digital marketing in general. So I got certified a while back in some of the e-marketing topics and decided to keep pursuing it over time. So then I ended up learning more about the industry as far as speaking after my Google experience, when I started researching more about it.
Amy: So was your background–before you went to Google, was your background in marketing or was it in technology?
Chris: It was in marketing actually. So yeah, it was a degree in marketing. Some of the companies I’ve worked for in the past, it was specifically marketing jobs, and that’s before even Google. And the good thing about my experience at Google is that I would do about two to three I would say different jobs every six months, and I got to really learn what I would like to do long-term.
Amy: The reason I asked about your background before you went to Google is I think a lot of people think of Google as a tech company, and if you’re outside looking in you might think “Well, how would somebody without a technical background get into a tech company?” And I think the lesson from your story is that marketing is a skill that’s transferable to a lot of different industries, including tech, and so we have to think not just about our industry but also about our function and how that function can be used in different industries. Have you found that to be true?
Chris: Yeah, that’s true. I never really thought of it that way, but yeah, that makes sense. Like, doing something that you can use in different industries as well. Because even as I was there, I was probably, say, out of 100 people, I would say maybe 10 people, you know, were minorities. Yeah, so I think it’s still a challenge for them as well as far as being more diverse with the teams that they have, and especially the marketing team I was a part of, it was rare to have diversity. But yeah, having something that you can transfer to go to multiple industries and try to figure out how to stand out is really important.
Amy: That’s great. And so what was the biggest surprise to you about–you know, as you kind of went through school and you decided, like, marketing was gonna be your focus, once you got into the work world, what surprised you about the job or about the function that you didn’t expect while you were in school?
Chris: Oh, okay. I didn’t expect to have to kind of, like, have to deal with the politics side of everything, you know? Like, dealing with the organizational structure. I thought I would just get the job, everybody would be fun and happy, no issues, no drama. [laughs] You know? But going in there and learning that it’s not just about the job, it’s also about how you can deal with different types of people with different backgrounds within the organization? So that’s one of the main things I learned, and then also being able to be a leader and communicating your ideas, where as before, when I was in college, I was kind of on the quiet side, you know? So, like, learning in corporate, you have to kind of, like, communicate your ideas to the right people. So that’s the one thing that I’ve tried to get better at over time, right, when I got into the workforce.
Amy: Yeah. I think so much of success in an office or success in a business is not doing good work. I think–so I know a lot of women and a lot of people of color, we tend to suffer from impostor syndrome. We’re worried that we have to kind of prove ourselves and prove that we’re good enough to be where we are, and I think what we tend to miss is the political side, and it’s we’re spending so much time with our heads down trying to do the best job we can that we don’t take time to make sure that other people know that we’re doing a good job. Have you found that to be the case?
Chris: Yeah, I think that’s true with many people that I’ve met in the past as far as anybody trying to go after, like, their goals. I think people have so much–many people, when they get into the workforce, they get so much experience, but nobody knows about the experience, you know? It’s like everybody, so many of you are doing awesome things, and then they don’t even put it on their LinkedIn profile what they’ve done, you know? They don’t have a–if they’re trying to market and they don’t have a website to showcase what they’ve done. And I guess some people think it might be bragging and everything, but you’ve got to think about who’s gonna tell the story. You know, who is really gonna tell your story, and in general, no one’s really–not many people are gonna know what experiences you’ve had unless you tell somebody or you say exactly what you did. So you just–I feel like people gotta spend time to learn how to market theirselves and kind of showcase things that stand out with their career.
Amy: Absolutely. Building a personal brand is so important, and it starts–whether you’re doing it intentionally or not, it starts the minute you step into the job.
Chris: Yep, the minute. Yeah, it definitely changes pretty quickly. [laughs] Especially if you’re trying to network within the organization and trying to get promotions. [?]. It’s not just about the good work you’re doing.
Amy: Yep. So your brand is really what other people are saying about you, and if other people don’t know that you’re there, then you don’t have a brand, and that’s tough. It’s tough to overcome that. So I always tell people, “Look, it’s not bragging if it’s true.” So if you’ve actually done it you better speak up, ’cause it’s not bragging if it’s true.
Chris: Somebody else is going to speak up for theirs though, right? You gotta stand out these days.
Amy: So if somebody’s not in marketing and they’re thinking that might be a really good field for them, first of all, what characteristics or what strengths do you think play well in a marketing space for a person?
Chris: For a person? I would say being able to look at things and figure out how to make things better, how can you improve awareness about a brand. A lot of it I feel, when it comes to marketing, you gotta have new ideas on a constant basis. So if you’re the type of person that is always looking at how to make something better or maybe make something look better or you’re able to connect with multiple people, I think it’s definitely a good career. And as far as–there’s so many different types of marketing. There’s marketing yourself and then marketing at a corporation level, and if you work at the corporation level you really need to know, like, the latest trends or what’s going on, what companies are using to market their organization, and these days it’s not about just being able to design a brochure anymore or just being able to create a logo, it’s more so people want everything, you know? They want you to know about social media, something about it. You don’t have to be a complete expert, but you need to know what’s going on out there as far as, like, the different channels. E-mail marketing, social media, things like that.
Amy: And so if somebody sees themselves in that profile, that they’re an idea person and they like staying up on trends and that sort of thing, where can they go? What kind of resources are out there to help people learn more about the industry, learn more about the function and kind of feel out if it’s a good fit for them?
Chris: I would say the American Marketing Association. That’s where I started. That’s where I got a lot of my experience, and over there you’re gonna meet people that that’s what they do on a daily basis for a full-time job. They’re marketing managers, marketing specialists, directors, executives. So pretty much everybody [?] goes there. So they have the national level, and of course they have, like, pretty much a lot of local chapters on the professional level in pretty much all of the major cities. And even if you’re a student, they have, like, a college [?], which was a part of when I was a college student. So that’s the best way to start. So every month they’ll give you what’s new, what’s going on, and they’ll give you ideas on how you can stay up to date.
Amy: That’s great. And so I’m guessing since you’re a speaker you do a lot of work with the Association now. Probably on the other side, right?
Chris: Yeah. You know what? I haven’t really started. I plan on it in the future, you know? [?] But I do work with other associations, but yeah, that is definitely a plus that comes with me being a part of it. I’m probably more likely to be able to speak at some of those events, so yep.
Amy: So I think it’s interesting, because it took me so long to even realize that–so I’m a first-generation professional, and it took me so many years to realize that associations even existed and what they were for and how I could use them, you know? And to me it’s a great tragedy of my career that I didn’t figure that out sooner. And it’s funny, because I’ve done a few of these interviews now, and every time I ask somebody “How do people learn more?” They always mention an association, and I wish I would have asked that question when I was younger to people who were experienced in different fields.
Chris: Yeah. It’s like–so many people that go to the associations, it’s part of the same goal, you know? They’re all trying to reach the same goal, but then what they’re doing [is] they’re trying to look for new ideas from other people, and it’s just, like, a good environment, and it’s not–I feel like it’s different from just going to a networking event, ’cause a networking event, you have so many people with different types of goals. Some people are looking for a job. Some people are looking to network for business. So it’s like… usually those don’t work out, but if you go to an association, it’s specifically what you need. So, like, targeted basically.
Amy: Exactly, and they usually offer educational sessions at their meetings or their conferences, and so, you know, you can find something depending on what your skill level is or your experience level. You can find something that is applicable to you, and then you can network with people who have similar experience or more experience and get involved and really learn and kind of build a name for yourself within your industry just by volunteering, right?
Chris: Yeah, just by volunteering. Yeah, that’s a good way to really get to know the right people in there. So volunteer your time whenever you can, whether it’s local or national. I highly recommended it.
Amy: Excellent. So can you tell me a little bit about what you think about the current or future talent demands in marketing? Do you think that this is an industry or function that’s going to need to staff up over time, or do you see it kind of leveling out or trailing off in the near future?
Chris: I think that the demand is gonna get higher because more and more organizations are realizing the importance of being online and understanding what’s going on. So you have many people that have been in marketing for a long time, but they’ve done it the traditional way, so there’s still, like, a high need for people to come in to do, like, the online marketing side of it, social media and digital marketing. So that continues to grow as more and more people get online, more and more people depend on it. And I think especially since organizations these days are actually making revenue from online channels, you know? Like social media and the digital marketing channels. So it’s more and more needs. So I think it’s just gonna grow, but yeah, definitely understanding more than just one area of marketing is what I’ve seen, and if you look at many job descriptions, they’re gonna ask you for those multiple areas. Not just being able to use Photoshop or just social media but e-mail marketing and, yeah, everything.
Amy: Excellent. So you had mentioned that when you were at Google you were maybe one of a handful of people of color in the marketing team that you were on, and I would imagine that that’s the case for a lot of people of color in different companies around the U.S. I know that there’s–and I’m gonna screw up the percentage, but something like 3% of marketing executives are women or something like that. Like, a really low number. They have a whole conference around it now I think. So where can people go who maybe feel a little alone or they want to get involved but they don’t want to be the only in their office? What kinds of communities exist for people of color that can help them feel connected so that they can maintain their stamina while pursuing their passion.
Chris: Okay. A lot of times I think there’s different organizations–and, you know, if they’re part of an organization, many companies are starting to have, like, communities within their organizations, such as… I can’t remember. Within Google, there’s, like, Black Googlers or something like that, things that are specific to a niche within your organization so, like, people can have a different experience. I mean, even in different associations there’s always–there could be subgroups, you know, that specifically target a different group of people. So I’ll say it starts with the associations, and then from there figure out what the other organizations specifically on, who they are, like, what kind of culture they have.
Amy: That’s helpful, and I think too that the importance of employee resource groups or business resource groups or affinity networks, whatever they’re called, the larger companies tend to have those, where you come in and you kind of, you know, pick a group that you feel more comfortable with and find a mentor maybe or at least, you know, know where to go for some help navigating all of the politics like you said earlier and, you know, kind of getting the inside scoop on some of the unwritten rules of the workplace, ’cause those rules change wherever you go, right?
Chris: Yep, yep. Or you can always create one too. [laughs]
Amy: That is true. So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your work as a speaker. We talked a little bit earlier about impostor syndrome, and I’ll get to that in just a second, but as a speaker, you know, we have to position ourselves as experts, and the term “expert,” right, there’s no national certification of expertise that you go and you take a test and then somebody says, “Here, you’re an expert. You can use that in your brand or your title.” So what do you think makes someone an expert in their field? What makes you an expert in your field?
Chris: When it comes to being an expert, I would say it’s really just experience. Just, like, what kind of specific experience have you had when it comes to what you’re talking about or what you’re doing? Because there’s a lot of–I mean, literally you could just wake up tomorrow and call yourself an expert. [both laugh] So how can you stand out from everybody else? And what I always recommend is specifically getting experience. I mean, sometimes people say they can’t get a job so they can’t get the experience to become an expert, but you can always volunteer. You can always, like, do stuff for free for an organization. So for instance, when it comes to marketing, I’ve done stuff for free for organizations just to get experience, and then once I learn it and once I get good at it, then I can say that I’m an expert, you know? That’s when I know the ins and outs of it. And then you realize that you’re more advanced than the audience that you’re trying to reach as well. For example, if your audience is small businesses and they have nothing to do with marketing and I’m a marketing person, if I’ve worked with an organization for about six months or a year where I help them with their marketing and then help them drive traffic or revenue, then I’m an expert to the small business.
Amy: Oh, I love that. So you see expertise on a continuum, and so long as you’re ahead of the person you’re talking to, you’re an expert.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. And then also experience though. [both laugh] So I’m not saying read an article and then you’re an expert, but [laughs]–
Amy: Right, actually knowing how to do it. No, I think that’s brilliant. So have you struggled with impostor syndrome yourself?
Chris: Yeah, I think so. I mean, sometimes–I’m trying to remember what impostor syndrome is. It’s “not good enough,” right?
Amy: Yeah. It’s the feeling that, like, the more you know, the more you feel like you don’t know, so you never quite feel like you’ve arrived, or you feel like–the way I’ve experienced it is I feel like people are going to find out that I’m just faking it. And so, you know, the way that manifests itself for me is I have, like, a wall full of certifications to prove to myself that I’m not just faking it, right? [laughs] So what does that look like for you?
Chris: Oh, okay. Yeah, that does happen, you know? Like, I feel like, depending on your–I mean, for me it was more so like since I was younger I started doing some of that speaking stuff, like, younger, and then of course being a minority I kind of have to say–I feel like I have to say every single thing that I’ve done, you know, because if I don’t they’re gonna go, “Oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” you know? [laughs] So yeah, it does feel that way sometimes. It does feel like that sometimes, but I start to remember that “Okay, I do have legitimate experience,” and I start to look at what have been the testimonials? You know, what have been the reviews? After the event, I look at the reviews. That kind of helps me understand that “Okay, I feel like I am at that level that I’m at right now.” But yeah, I feel like it’s a constant struggle, especially when you’re trying to move forward. So, like, when I first started, I was so used to doing, like, really small events that I thought “Okay, I can’t do an event with more than 10 people, you know?” [laughs] Like, and then realizing, like, just trying stuff and realizing “It’s okay.” You gotta grow somehow, right?
Amy: Yeah. No, I think that’s great, and I like that, that, you know, you just keep growing and just keep taking the steps. I think that’s so important. Do you feel like you have to clear a higher bar than others? You said that, you know, you feel like because you’re black you have to, like, list everything you’ve ever done so that people understand that you’re the real deal. Do you feel like that there’s a bar and then there’s a bar for you that’s higher?
Chris: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I definitely feel that way, ’cause you have to–’cause yeah, I look at it as… when people see, like, people like myself, since I’m black, you know, they don’t really see this type of person in that position, you know? Like, you don’t see that many minority speakers out there, or even just like I said, like, when it comes to marketing and tech companies. Since they don’t see it that much, they probably automatically assume that you don’t know what you’re talking about, you know? [laughs] There’s been times where I walk in to the presentation and people don’t think I’m the presenter. You know, they probably don’t think I’m the presenter, so I have to, like, really show up and meet all of the expectations, and I feel like I have to do a little bit more too. So I gotta kinda give 110%, you know, instead of just trying to give an 80% or 70%, you know, and getting by. And people can get by, you know, but if you’re in a different category, I feel like you do have to put a little bit more effort in. And I think one challenge is that initial reaction too. Initially when people see you, then after they hear your content and everything like that, that’s when they kind of understand “Okay, this person is an expert,” but the challenge is the beforehand. You know? What matters is before, right? In order to get a client, you still have to present yourself effectively and show that you know what you’re doing. So that’s where the challenge is. Like, everybody can like you, but it’s like you still have to get that client first, right? [laughs] So there’s the bar, right? Yep.
Amy: Yeah. No, I definitely–I can definitely see how that’s true, and I think the more differences a person has relative to the larger group the higher that bar gets and the more hurdles you have to clear and the more you have to prove yourself, you know? And that can be exhausting. I was a woman in tech for 20 years, and, you know, I would have men much older than me–when I was younger at least–who would say, “Oh, you’re a really good programmer for a girl.” I was like, “Hm. You know what? I fixed your code.” [laughs] But they didn’t want to hear that, right? So yeah, I can see how that could be a life-long frustration. Now that I’m older, I think that it’s not as bad for me personally, but, you know, I’ll never outgrow being a woman, right? I still get that occasionally, right? And we’ll never outgrow our race, and we’ll never outgrow our ethnicity or, you know, coming from another country or having a disability. Like, these are things that, you know, are a struggle over and over and over, but, you know, I long for the day when we can just all be taken on our merits and given the same benefit of the doubt.
Chris: Yeah, that’s–hopefully one day, right?
Amy: We’re a long way. [both laugh] We’ll see, we’ll see. So I want to ask you, in the time that we have left, to finish two sentences for me. The first one is “I feel included when ________.”
Chris: All right. So… I feel included when I’m informed about new opportunities.
Amy: Ooh, I like that. Okay, and “When I feel included, I _________.”
Chris: When I feel included, I work better with the group and I give back.
Amy: I love it. And I think that’s true with most people, right? Most of us, we want to know what’s going on, we want to give back, but if we don’t feel safe to be ourselves, we can’t put ourselves out there like that.
Chris: Yeah. You want to feel included, right?
Amy: Absolutely, absolutely. Chris, thank you so much for your time today.
Chris: Yeah, it was great. Thanks.
Amy: Okay, thanks.
Chris: It was awesome stuff.