Welcome to This Woman’s Work, a series highlighting how different women are advancing the tech industry, both professionally and personally. Working women receive a slew of advice — lean in, lean out, be aggressive, but not too aggressive. We’re constantly inspired by the women who are paving the way and taking charge in the ever-evolving world of technology.
Welcome Alex Kirby, Head of Programmatic and Audience Data at Dennis Publishing. For those that aren’t familiar, Dennis is a UK-based media company that’s home to brands with focuses on automotive, current affairs, lifestyle and technology. Over the years – and similar to most publishing houses – Dennis has transformed its business from its traditional print roots to a true multi-platform company, including building teams dedicated to digital media and programmatic. This is where Alex and her team come into play.
We met with Alex to learn more about her career and how she’s embracing the constant change of the programmatic space. Alex shares how she grew within Dennis over the past eight years while she reflects on the state of the industry. For Alex, her career has been all about taking on new challenges, recognizing business opportunities and being vulnerable in the workplace. Hear more about what she has to say:
IX: Tell me about your role at Dennis Publishing.
AK: I head up the programmatic and audience teams, meaning my job is pretty varied. I oversee everything from product, strategy and partner management. I even dabble in sales occasionally, and I’m responsible for revenue lines as well.
IX: That’s a lot! How did you end up in publishing?
AK: I fell into the industry by chance, I graduated in 2008 just before the recession hit but I was lucky and got a temp role at the AdOps team at AOL, even though I was completely new to the advertising world. I ended up staying there for two years when I was only contracted for six months.
After I left AOL, I went traveling for a while and then landed back in another AdOps role at Dennis and worked my way up to my current role over the last eight years. In the UK you don’t necessarily need to have a technical degree to get into the tech space, and I think my story reflects that.
IX: Tell me about how you’ve grown within Dennis. Any advice on how to prosper within an organization?
AK: For me, it was partly luck, hard work and recognizing opportunity. I’ve always enjoyed learning and doing new things, so when opportunities to work in the fledgling programmatic space came up I grabbed them. I think it’s important to find something you enjoy doing and that you’re good at, but it should also fit within a business need, this will help you progress more into the role you want. I’m also a strong believer that you can’t expect to always be handed your next opportunity or progression — you often have to seek it out yourself and really push for what you want.
IX: So what advice would you give to women that want to grow within the digital media industry?
AK: Make sure to play to your own strengths rather than being something you’re not because you think that’s how to get ahead. I also think it’s important to have a good support network internally. It can be hard being the only woman in the room, and it can sometimes be frustrating. That’s why It’s so important to have people around you to talk to, rant to, or cry to.
There’s also no shame in a good cry if you need it. I hate the expression, “You’re such a strong woman.” What does that even mean? If you’re a strong woman, you always have it all together? Everyone is strong in their own way, but we can also be vulnerable sometimes, and that’s OK, too.
IX: I think that’s so true. Speaking of vulnerability, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
AK: Programmatic was a new technology and as such represented a threat to the status quo, resulting in some hesitation around it’s adoption. Initially I felt like I was constantly trying to convince people of things I believed in but they were unsure of, but this challenge has definitely allowed me to hone my negotiation and convincing skills. I also struggle with maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I think it’s important to find your own balance and you have to be able to switch off, though it’s getting harder and harder with modern technology and I’m still learning how to navigate that. At Dennis we have an agile work policy which definitely helps.
IX: In your opinion, what has been the biggest positive change affecting the ad-tech industry recently?
AK: There’s been a big push recently to recognise the value of diverse teams, including pushing for greater gender and ethnic diversity. The UK government recently rolled out a policy that companies must release gender pay gap information, which was a very eye-opening moment to see pay differences laid out. Whilst there’s still a lot to be done, I think the right things are happening to move toward a more diverse and inclusive world in advertising.
IX: Switching gears here to a not-so-serious topic…what’s your favorite brand at Dennis?
AK: I have two. I absolutely love The Week Junior – a news aggregation brand designed specifically for children. It’s all about empowering children with knowledge while helping them understand the world. The brand launched as a print brand when most kids were shunning print. It totally bunked the trend, which I love. My other favorite is Den of Geek, which mostly covers movies, games and sci-fi content, I’m a geek at heart so it’s perfect for me!