Career Conversations with MWI: Kelly Schulz

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Welcome to another instalment of our ongoing series, featuring Marketing Women talking about their careers.

Kelly Schulz is the Head of Brand and Marketing at Belong, Telstra’s challenger brand.  She is responsible for all aspects of marketing and has a team of 20 people reporting to her, directly and indirectly.  She is also vision impaired, has a guide dog named Velvet, and has been legally blind since birth.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career. How did you get to where you are today?

I was meant to be a musician, a pianist, in fact.  The whole starving musician thing was true.  I tell people I got a job at Telstra because I needed to pay my phone bill and that is really what happened.  I thought I’d get a job for a while, make a bit of money and then go back to doing what I love. And here we are nearly 14 years later and I’m still a Telstra employee – which I love.

I started in customer service as a lot of people do. From there, I discovered I had a passion for thinking that things could be better.  I always call myself an optimistic realist – there is always a reality, but things can always be improved.  Over time that led to roles in process improvement and quality. 

Then I landed in Complaints where I spent nearly six years focussed on analysis and insights. That’s where you learn the most about customers and ultimately communication. Most problems can be solved, or would never have been an issue in the first place, with better communication.

From there I went into Customer Experience designing them and being an advocate for customers, or being a Customer Protagonist – a self-chosen title.  Then, last year I got the chance to do something different with this position. 

How has it been moving into this role without a traditional background in marketing?

In the past, I’ve said I didn’t like marketing – I’ve always been sceptical of personalised emails as they aren’t really personalised.  For example, Spotify writes to tell me about new music from Beethoven or Amazon is promoting a new Dickens novel!

The key thing I’ve realised in transitioning to the role and new thinking about marketing, is that it’s all about communication.  Marketing is communicating the brand, our product and what we can do for customers – and in a way that is entertaining, helpful, and not creating those eye-roll moments.

What I bring to the role is the customer perspective and leadership. I don’t have the specific detailed knowledge of how one of our digital ads is created and how it finds its way to a website: I have a great team who know that. What I can do is direct the decision making, the strategic imperative, and the prioritisation to get things right for customers.  I also provide the organisational context and translate the broader business perspective to the team in terms of what our brand and marketing strategy needs to deliver.

How important is mentorship?

Mentors have been really important to me.  Like lots of women, I have suffered from imposter syndrome.  Some of the best mentors I’ve had, men and women, have helped me to understand that this is not true and what I have is deserved.  Everyone is new to something at some time. They’ve helped me to get perspective and move on quickly to be confident in what I know and build my experience.

How do you ensure you’re staying relevant?

I think relevance is relative.  Relevance is about being curious: about what’s next, other people’s opinions and experience of the world, technology, pop culture.  I’m terrible at pop culture, so when I see a reference on social media I don’t know, I am curious and look it up. 

But staying relevant doesn’t mean necessarily adopting all these fads and ideas.  Its just awareness and curiosity to understand them in relation to your own context.  You do you.

Are you a goal setter? How important is goal setting?

No! I’m probably supposed to be a really enthusiastic goal setter – I feel like that’s what’s expected from leaders. But generally, I’m not invested in goal setting.  My favourite colour is shiny.  I’m really distractable. I like to be able to adapt to the grey and the ambiguous: follow the tangents down the rabbit hole.  

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

Just because someone has considered you to be bossy or domineering or attached some negative connotations to your behaviour doesn’t make them right.

It is not a negative to be assertive, stand up for yourself and have confidence because you have all the information, as long as you are flexible enough to hear other points of view.  There will be people knocking your confidence for their own reasons, but it doesn’t usually have anything to do with you.

How has being vision impaired impacted on your career progression?

From the beginning, I thought I had to do more to be equal and I had to prove that I was better than everyone else.  If there was a target, I didn’t just have to meet it, I had to exceed it to be equal.  What I now know is that everyone has that need to prove themselves.

It also took a long time to learn to advocate for myself and what I needed. I was concerned I would be the difficult or needy one and they would find a reason to get rid of me.  What I actually learned is that what I need to be successful in the workplace is probably cheaper than what someone who doesn’t consider themselves as having a disability. Eg. The assistive tech I need, is far cheaper than a fancy chair for someone with a bad back. Everyone is needy – there is no harm in asking for what you need.

I’d also like to think I’ve broken down some barriers. I have many previous managers and colleagues who now have an understanding of how someone who is blind gets on with the job. I’d like to believe that they take that understanding into future recruitment decisions. Hopefully in a positive way, of course.

If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it say?

BANANA! This is a personal joke for me about being noticed and how little people pay attention.  Banana has been my way of doing that – I’ve added them to executive presentation packs and it used to be in my email signature to see if people would notice.  So I’d put Banana out there just to see what happens.

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