Talking Brand and Experience with Karen Budell, VP at SurveyMonkey

Karen Budell talks the modern workplace and collaboration.

Zight | May 17, 2021 | 4 min read time

Article Last Updated: October 02, 2023

Talking Brand and Experience with Karen Budell, VP at SurveyMonkey

In this episode, Karen Budell, VP of Brand at SurveyMonkey, talks about her life at Google, moving to SurveyMonkey a few weeks before a global pandemic, and how marketing has shifted to community and product. We talk about the benefits and drawbacks of the modern workplace, how synchronous and asynchronous tools can help the remote workforce, how she is staying a leader at SurveyMonkey, and what the new normal looks like.

Karen’s Journey

Karen identifies as a proud native Chicagoan, where she grew up and resided before becoming a Bay Area native while working for software company Saba, followed by Adaptive Insights.

She then went on to Google where she started as a content lead before eventually climbing the ranks to become Head of Digital Customer Experience Strategy for Youtube Ads.

A long-time fan of SurveyMonkey, Karen was thrilled when offered a position as VP, but never anticipated the hurdles she’d face in her first days on the job trying to navigate a business in a global pandemic. She did, however, feel confident in her ability to lead during ambiguous times due to working at the Chicago Tribune Media Group when they had filed for Chapter 11 during her time there.

“There are a lot of things that you can’t prepare for, but finding ways to be resilient and tap into your team and other leaders to find a path forward makes it possible, I’m grateful to have that.”

The Modern Workplace

It’s been interesting to see how companies are changing policies to evolve with the current situation. At the end of the day, Karen thinks the defining factor of the future of work is flexibility. “It’s about people being given more autonomy in distributed decision making.”

Greater cross-functional alignment and collaboration is also going to become even more critical while working remotely.

One of the big question marks for Karen is that given the now virtual nature of work, the lines between life and work have become extremely blurred, making it hard for many people to truly shut off work mode due to not being able to ever escape the “office.”

As a branding and creative leader, Karen is currently searching for ways to bring the magic back that often comes with people physically brainstorming in a room together with some colored post-it notes and a whiteboard. This level of creativity and productivity is not easily replicated virtually, but with all of the various collaborative SaaS tools available to businesses now, it isn’t necessarily impossible.

Creative Remote Collaboration

SurveyMonkey had only recently begun using Zoom when the pandemic hit. Karen and her team are a fan of the app but think a team gets the most out of it when it’s used in addition to other asynchronous tools. Apps like Mira, Zight (formerly CloudApp), and Slack help keep things moving forward until the remote employees in different time zones have time to hop on the scheduled Zoom call.

With a high volume of creative requests, these asynchronous communication tools have reduced a lot of friction in distributed collaboration. But Karen admits they’re still experimenting to find the formula that best works for them, as most companies can probably relate.

As Joe put it, “It’s all about empathizing and struggling through it together.”

Leading Virtually

Karen had only been working at headquarters for about a month when the Bay Area shelter-in-place began, and she feels very fortunate that she at least had that time to meet her team in person and form a foundation.

One thing that she has always prioritized as a new leader is making time for a one-on-one with each and every person in her brand marketing organization in the first thirty days on the job. “It’s really important for me to get to know them as people, beyond what they do professionally as a designer or what product line they’re working on.”

This helped establish a connection before the relationships had to go virtual.

In addition, she’s tried to really “flex her style and frequency of check-ins” depending on the circumstances and what someone needs in a particular moment. Some weeks her creative directors may require a daily end-of-day check-in and then there are other times where that feels superfluous and no longer appropriate.

It’s all about consistently taking the pulse of your team and adapting to be the leader they need in that specific moment. For this reason, she has also found having non-obligatory but open office hours available to her team to be extremely helpful.

Going Forward

If this time has taught businesses anything, it reminded us that at the end of the day we’re all human.

Karen truly believes this time of re-understanding each other as fellow human beings can help make us better marketers, by really bringing the “knowing your audience” aspect to the forefront.

This environment has also required us all to become more creative thinkers. The need for fast innovation and creative problem solving has never been more critical, and many marketers may have surprised themselves in what they’ve been able to accomplish during this time.

Listen to the episode here

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