Knowing Your Audience: Showing Up in the World and Zooming Out
A Firm Beliefs conversation with Julia Monti
Julia Monti, Senior Vice President of Brand Communications at Mastercard, recently joined Bliss CEO Cortney Stapleton for a candid conversation about the present and future of marketing on the Firm Beliefs podcast. With nearly two decades of experience in the communications industry, Julia shared valuable insights about knowing your audience and balancing your professional life with your personal one.
Below are highlights from their discussion.
Cortney Stapleton, CEO of The Bliss Group: What is your closest held firm belief at the moment?
Julia Monte, SVP of Brand Communications at Mastercard: I think if I were going to go on the personal side, I could talk all day long. I’m a mom of two and there’s a lot that goes with that just in terms of how I view the world and show up and model that for my girls. On the professional side, I really try to prioritize what matters and that sounds so simple and cliche, but I have found it is one of the hardest things to do day by day.
Cortney: When you show up at work, how do you focus? With so many distractions, so many advertisements and meetings, how do you really focus on what matters so that you can close your computer at the end of the day and feel like you really accomplished something?
Julia: One tip that somebody recently told me is to pick one thing that you’re going to focus on accomplishing that day and make it really mean something to you. And sometimes, it’s going to be something on the personal side – focusing on your kids, focusing on networking. Sometimes it’s something on the work side, making sure you can check that box and feel comfortable with it.
Another tip that one of my early bosses gave me, which I love and think about all the time, is that you can show up and work long hours every day but accomplish very little. So, it’s really trying to draw the line between activity and impact – and that impact can mean a lot of different things. I think when we show up, we try to do a good job for our companies, our friends, our families and our communities. So really thinking about what matters and making sure that we’re living up to that.
Cortney: That sounds amazing, simple, yet so challenging. So, looking back on your career, what are the three things you wish you knew at different junctures and why?
Julia: One of my very first jobs out of college was at a fine art museum in Syracuse, New York where I worked in development. Part of the job was to be in charge of all the volunteers. If you’ve ever been to a fine arts museum, you know that there are a lot of docents, and they are generally elderly women very graciously giving their time. One of the things that I learned in that moment is you must really know your audience and appreciate that audience. As a communicator, you have to know who you’re speaking to and understand their needs, their desires, what really drives them. For a lot of these docents, particularly women of their generation, they didn’t have the opportunity to work. They were expected to be home, but they created these really vibrant volunteer opportunities.
Another thing: ask the question. I think particularly young women, hopefully it’s less and less the case as new generations enter the workforce, but we don’t always ask the question. When I had my first daughter, I was thinking about how I was going to [balance a baby and a career]? And my boss at the time said, “You should work from home two days a week, my boss did that for me and I’m going to do that for you.” So, I worked just as hard and just as long on those days, but I didn’t have the commute, so I was able to focus a little bit more on my family. It was just enough of the gift of time, but also the gift of permission. I have a wonderful team at MasterCard, people who are in all different stages of their own life journeys and I try to think about that with that same compassion and making sure they understand that they have that permission. It’s so important that we’re empowered to ask the question.
The third thing for me is to always consider the implications of the news. As communicators, we’re reading headlines constantly and we’re thinking about what they mean. There are so many headlines about AI – what does it mean for me and my own skills as a leader? And what does it mean for my team and making sure that they have what they need to really excel for years to come? What does it mean for our company and making sure that our brand stands out? Our CMO at MasterCard, Raja Rajamannar, is just such a thought leader in terms of emerging technology and making sure that we’re experimenting and testing and learning and kind of stepping outside of ourselves and the day-to-day and thinking big, which is not always easy to do.
Cortney: At the event that we were at earlier today, we talked about AI predicting the future. Looking forward, what are the beliefs that you think are important to the future of either our industry or your job or career? Or are you forming any new beliefs at work or outside of work? And based on that, what advice would you give to others?
Julia: I think it’s really important to zoom out. In our day-to-day jobs, we focus on the task at hand. We focus on what we know, the experiences that we’ve had. And it’s really easy to just continue on that same path. I feel like what I’m learning more and more is just the opportunity when you take a step back and you think about what new skills can I take or how can I raise my hands and learn something new? How do I continue to develop my skills and grow and adapt?
I think the other big thing for MasterCard is around purpose and just thinking about how we as a company and as a team can do well for the business, but also do well for the world around us. I have a lot of fun in my job. I get to work on some really cool initiatives. Just a couple weeks ago we announced this new pilot for an AI-fueled chat pod for small business owners that’s inclusively designed and really thinks about the specific needs of a very diverse population of small business owners.
Cortney: The last question I like to ask everyone is, do you have a favorite quote or a personal mantra that you want to share?
Julia: I do. There is a quote that I always go back to, it’s a paraphrasing of Sheryl Sandberg, and she said that the most important professional decision a woman can make is the partner she marries. Which to me has always been really important because you want a true partner. You want somebody who, particularly as a professional woman, is going to really help you fulfill your potential. Be a partner at home who knows the chores you have to do and the daily slog. But if you can find somebody who helps you be better, then it makes the rest fun and easy in good times and bad. And it’s not just about the one person, it’s really about that community you build around yourself. Nobody can do any of this alone in their workday or in their professional lives, so really making sure you have that right network and support system at home and at work – it’s critical.
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