Carat Convos: Angela Steele, CSO, Carat US

“Data is the enabler, but it is not the answer. It is the human side, the art in the art & science, that makes the difference.”

What’s a quick view of your ideal day?
In my ideal day, I am not limited by geography. In the same day, I can spend time at all of our offices. The other thing about my ideal day, and I dream for this day, I get to spend the entire day with our client leads and talk about the work. I really love diving into the product of what we do.

What do you look forward to the most in the next 6 months?
I think the next 6 months are going to be the most critical 6 months at Carat. With the recent acquisition of Merkle, we have been focused on how we bring some of those capabilities into our day-to-day and into our product. We are focused on our ability to tell stories with data, how we use data to better understand humans to do what we do better. We have to be able to use it to tell stories and to evoke creativity in what we do, because it’s not about the data it’s about what we do with the data.

What is the best piece of advice that you have for young professionals?
It is so critical to love the industry you are in. It sounds cliché, but it is important that you at least love the business that you’re in. Also, remember it’s called work for a reason. You’re not going to love every moment of every day, and you shouldn’t let that throw you into an existential crisis of ‘what should I be doing with my life.’ Just take a step back and if you love the business that you’re in, then you’re in the right place. When you’re having a day that is just a grind, remember this is work for a reason. If it were fun all the time we probably wouldn’t get paid. Keep it all in check, you need to love what you do, but at the same time it’s a bit of work.

You commute often between Detroit and New York. That is a lot of time to spend on a plane, what do you do while traveling?
I try to balance things that get me outside of the day-to-day. There are certain podcasts, like the hidden brain NPR, that are an amazing way to understand the phycology of human beings, and even though we spend all of our time talking about data and the use of data, the human factor is so important. It is what people do and why they do it that makes a difference, and that podcast gets at some of the unbiased ways that we make decisions. That psychology, as a strategist, is really important for us to understand. It takes that combination of what the data tells us and the human understanding that really makes a strategy a strategy. I also go through analyst reports while traveling. I forgot what a great resource it is, we should all be listening to our clients’ financial webcasts, it can give you so much rich information that helps you better understand your clients.

In the media industry, we always talk about optimizing dollars and efficiencies and getting the right message to the right people. What changes have you seen in client conversations in terms of solving efficiency challenges to the business challenges?
The buying and savings conversations are not going away, but we have to understand the context of why that is important. It is the source of R&D, money savings goes to development, it goes to innovation and if we understand that it helps us think about how we do it and it helps us reposition the value that we bring to clients. We are bringing them resources for innovation by delivering savings, so it is just a shift in the way that we think about that. Every client is looking to solve big business challenges, and the role of media is actually much more, they are looking for strategic business partners. There is a shift in expectations with the media agency having the most data, the most knowledge of consumers. We are the closest to technology advancements that we are expected to be the thought leaders in solving bigger business challenges beyond just media.

What does it take to be a good leader?
I think it comes down to one very simple thing, having values and being transparent about those values. I once worked with someone that said, ‘Values aren’t values until they cost you money.’ I think that is what it really means to have values. Having that level of values that you’re willing to make business decisions that may not be the best for the bottom line, but are best for the people or overall business, best for the long run. That is one of the reasons why I am proud to work at Carat, I’ve seen our leadership do this, where we made some tough decisions, but they were the right decisions for our people. I think it’s a combination of having those values, really putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to those values and leading by example, actually implementing that in the day-to-day.

You had mentioned before the humanity behind the data can you talk a little bit more about what that looks like in terms of how Carat makes decisions?
I think the big thing for us to keep in mind is the humanity behind the data and to remember that in two ways: 1. applying the data to insights that then drive the work that we do 2. remembering it as individuals and embedding that into our own ethics. Are we using the data in the right way and ensuring we are thinking like human beings? We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer, how we can use data to help people become better people.

What do you think helps foster a culture of both creativity and innovation?
Usually when people talk about this it is in the context of what can the company do to create a culture of innovation or a culture of creativity. There is absolutely a role for the company, but it starts with individuals and it comes down to a mindset. When I look at the people who are the most innovative or the most creative, they have a mindset of ‘it can be done, it can be solved, we can figure it out’.

One of my favorite words is ingenuity, and I think ingenuity is what it takes to be creative and innovative. So, I think it first comes down to individuals having a can-do attitude and that then opens new possibilities, new ways of working. The second step is that the company fuels that mindset, and that is what we are already doing in Carat with Brave Brews and Brave Booze, along with constantly communicating what we have learned at events like SXSW and CES.

It’s the combination of those two things that really fuel creativity and innovation. Its art and science and I think the overarching thing, from a Carat product standpoint, is that data is the enabler, but it is not the answer. It is the human side, the art in the art & science, that makes the difference.

So, you spend a lot of time in Detroit, you spend a lot of time in New York. What is your favorite thing that you cannot get in New York?
Besides a house and a backyard that is 30 minutes from the office; my other favorite thing, that I think is a hidden secret that only Detroiters know about, is we have the best Mediterranean food in the whole United States. You can’t find Mediterranean food anywhere else like you can find here in Detroit. So, to anyone who is visiting Detroit seek out the food.

What is it like as a professional female working between cities with the whole family dynamic? What does that look like for you?
Chaos. Chaos all the time. You just have to set your expectations that it is going to be crazy all the time, and that crazy is the new normal. I think the thing that keeps me motivated is that my twins are girls. They are 5 years old, and if they see it as normal that their mother is working and has a very active career, they will not only aspire to the same thing, but they will also believe that it is ok and they won’t have guilt when they get to that point in their lives. I think that we are setting an example and paving the way for future generations, and it is really important that we do.

You said something that is an interesting word for women right now, the concept of guilt. Being in a position to influence so many female leaders, not just at Carat but across business in general, what does that mean for you in terms of facilitating a culture and how you lead a team that is learning from you?
I think it is critical that myself and women leaders are transparent. I think we are kind of caught in this trap of too strong is unlikeable, too nice is weak, but being transparent is critical and it is a way to cut through all of that. That is something I try to adopt in my own leadership style, but I also think it is important for us, as an organization, to be transparent about where we may have improvements that we need to make and what we are doing well.

Get In Touch