Break the bias: Sadie Baron, Reed Smith

In this piece, Totum Director Deborah Gray talks to Sadie Baron, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Reed Smith, a female leader in marketing who has over 20 years’ experience in the field. 

As part of our continued commitment to International Women’s Day (IWD), and this year’s theme ‘Break the Bias’, we are interviewing a number of female business services leaders throughout the year to discuss some of the challenges that the professional service sector is currently facing.

There has been a big change in Business Development and Marketing over the years, is that something you have seen in your role?

There is no doubt it has changed phenomenally, and the pandemic has accelerated some of those shifts. What I see now is the importance of skills around data and digital communications that have risen to the same level as some of the more core functions like Business Development and Pitching. Now, they’re all linked and they complement each other well.

Teams are thinking about how content will be used throughout different channels so this has created a stretch in skills as well as the need for agile marketing. This has been one of the greatest changes over the past few years: you need to be able to assemble almost a squad of people to respond to a situation whether it’s macroeconomic or client driven. For example, the return to office has created a need for a multitude of people to create a market strategy to help clients in this space.

Thinking back to my years in the industry, you used to be able to specialise and stick in your swim lane but now those lines are very blurred. This has been for a number of reasons but mostly due to technology and the rate at which people consume data.

What further progression do you see?

I could see a really ambitious firm getting rid of all the different silo-departments and almost just having an operational function. It would be going back to that ‘squad mentality’ of people who have different skillsets that you can pull on from everywhere, which can then end ‘finger pointing’. 

As we all rely so much on data, I also predict we could see roles such as ‘Chief Data Officer’ appear in the future.

What do you think will be the most challenging/exciting thing to come out of the bidding & marketing area?

  • I think the winners in this game will be the people who can really manipulate and mine data to give a competitive advantage.
  • Industry expertise, industry analytics and trendspotting are all important as they are what helps us differentiate from our clients, having the ability to connect the dots for them and help them look forward.
  • Horizon scanning. BD is too reactive, it is very important for us to be able to look forwards.

In terms of your personal career, how have you managed being promoted internally?

It is a huge accomplishment being promoted internally. On the flipside, it does come with its challenges and they are sometimes hard to navigate.

I describe my experience as inheriting a super-tanker of marketing that was slightly listing and didn’t have all the crew in the right place. We spent quite a long time getting the correct crew, righting the ship and then setting off on course. What I’ve learnt is the course changes and the super-tanker takes quite a long time to manoeuvre around. You have to keep an eye on that bigger perspective, and not get too bogged down in the minutia of stuff.

Top tips:

  • You need to be able to change your style and what you do to be responsive to the business.
  • Focus on a few quick wins in your first three to six months after a promotion. You now have the power to fix things that may have frustrated you previously.
  • Make sure you use your first 12 months wisely to get things done. Whether you’re promoted from within or you are an external candidate coming in, the management of the firm have invested in you and will want to see what you can accomplish.
  • Trust your team. Give them space to do the job you need them to do. Sometimes you may have to re-focus what they’re doing, but that is your role as the ‘eyes and ears’.
  • Get a buddy. Whether this is another Chief, Partner, or even someone from outside the organisation.

What advice would you give to other women interested in following in a career similar to yours?

  • First, don’t listen to the little demon that sits on your shoulder whispering in your ear, saying you can’t do it. If you don’t believe in yourself you can never expect anyone else to.
  • It is okay to fail and it’s okay to try lots of different things and not get them right all the time. If you’re not trying and failing then you’re not trying hard enough, in my view.
  • Be confident and ignore the negativity and the things that perhaps men wouldn’t get commented on such as ‘being emotional’. Fight for yourself, you have to remind yourself you’re good enough.
  • Imposter syndrome is real but when I went into the office in my trainers and when I walked out in my high heel shoes, it was almost like a piece of armour for me. Whatever it is that works for you, use it and don’t be apologetic about it.
  • Play it forward for other women. We’re a force to be reckoned with when we get our heads together and we should support each other. Find your sisters and hang onto them.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

Thank you to Sadie for speaking with us and sharing your valued expertise.

If you would like to be involved or have any thoughts on our ‘Break the bias’ series, please get in touch with [email protected]

Related Links