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Charting a Course in Consulting: Meet Michelle Harden

By Leilani Yau

January Consultant of the Month

 

After 20+ years commuting into New York City for a variety of advertising agency roles, Michelle Harden pondered a better life. In a pivotal moment, she got laid off, and an old friend introduced her to EM and Adobe, where she’s enjoyed orchestrating sales events for the last two years.

What are you currently working on?

I'm in the field marketing group for Adobe’s North American digital media and enterprise sales team. Before COVID, I put together programs and ran small in-person events, then we shifted to virtual. I had to learn how to use ON24 and work with marketing to send email invitations to those virtual events. Everything was totally new. I was happy that they asked me to do it, thinking, "Wow, here I am at 50 years old, learning brand new systems." Moving forward, I’ll be focusing on executive events, such as Adobe Summit in April.

Michelle’s Keys to Success

 

  • Deep ad agency experience
  • Using friendly connections to work opportunities
  • Having a growth mindset
  • Solving for unexpected circumstances
  • Drawing the line between work and home life

What was your favorite project to work on?

I definitely miss in-person events, as I liked seeing an idea through and how customers responded to it. For example, one of Adobe’s New York offices has a rooftop terrace, and having events there was all the rage during summer. We invited ad agency reps to monthly happy hours where we’d introduce new contributors from the Adobe Stock portfolio. It was a neat, intimate way for agency folks to talk directly to photographers or artists.

It was also interesting to shift to virtual and learn from successes and failures. For a recent event, we invited Michael Symon, a chef from the Food Network, to do a live cooking demonstration. We sent each of our clients the ingredients, an apron and a cutting board. The chicken didn't get delivered to some folks and we had to Instacart it at the last minute. It was stressful, but ultimately, they were able to cook and engage with the chef for an hour.

Why did you decide to become a consultant? What path did you take?

I aspired to not work nine to seven anymore. I was commuting to New York City, an hour on the train. It was getting tiring and I had a baby, so I wanted to make the situation better. All of my experience before starting consulting was working at various advertising agencies in media planning. When I got laid off from the last one, I was able to do small side projects for clients in my network. Then a friend from college, Christine Keefer, (EM Account Lead) asked me if I had ever thought about consulting, and put me in touch with Adobe. Originally, my role at Adobe was a good fit because I started in field marketing targeting ad agencies in New York. Being in the area made it so they didn’t have to fly out for their programs.

What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?

Making sure that the work day stays contained. I find myself drifting into my home office every once in a while and checking email. Another challenge is that most of the people I work with are on California time. So, even if I’m ready to start the day, no one is around yet; then it gets busy from 1:00 to 5:00. I've learned that I can start later — I can go to the gym after my son goes to school and get some laundry done. My day ends around 6:30 or 7:00, when West Coast colleagues start telling me to log off.

What do you love about consulting?

The best part is learning so many new things. Starting out in a new industry, it was hard to ramp up. I found myself lost and always taking notes. Advertising has a lot of acronyms, but marketing and Adobe acronyms were a real challenge. Now, I can't imagine not doing what I do.

How do you market yourself?

I’d say reach out to the folks at EM. I love looking through the job listings every Monday. It's interesting to see what types of companies and jobs are out there for consultants. I never realized what’s out there. I know that I would be able to reach out to people I've met through Adobe too.

What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?

We have a place in Rhode Island, close to the beach. My husband went to school in New England. His father had a boat and they used to always go to Rhode Island. He introduced me to it and I fell in love with it — it's beautiful. We have a small boat, and in the summer, I can live and work from there. Otherwise, my son is really into soccer and lacrosse, so we spend a lot of time on the field watching him play.

What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?

Don't be nervous about starting in a role that might not match exactly with your background. Open yourself up to learning new things. As a consultant, people understand that you might not know exactly the way they work, but they look for you to bring new ideas or just to learn. Get as much out of it as you can.

When I got laid off, I was getting to an age where I wasn’t sure who’d hire a 40-something who had been doing the same thing forever. As a consultant, everything I’ve learned is new. And I feel like, "I can't believe this is happening to me. I'm so lucky. Pinch me."

Leilani Yau

About Leilani Yau

Leilani Yau is a digital marketing consultant, specializing in content marketing and social media for small businesses and non-profits, and helps clients L.O.V.E. (Listen, Offer, Value, Engage) their target audiences online.

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