Nearly 60 percent of women contribute to the U.S. workforce and they account for more than half of all workers in management and professional occupations. Over the next decade women have the potential to add trillions of dollars to the growth of the global economy. Yet gender inequity continues to create significant hurdles for women in the workplace. These obstacles are particularly evident in the technology industry, where women hold just one-quarter of the jobs and only 8 percent of leadership positions.
Women in tech are paid less and promoted less often than men—disparities that have contributed to nearly 60 percent of women leaving the industry at midpoints in their careers. Additionally, women-led tech firms receive less funding, despite studies that show they get an average 35 percent higher return on investment than their male counterparts.
These issues have inspired several women in Minnesota to devote their lives and careers to breaking down barriers, overcoming obstacles and transforming the technology industry. “Women in Leadership Transforming Tech” is a series of feature articles and a white paper that highlight these extraordinary individuals and their journeys.
A Banner Beginning
More than 20 years ago, Nina Hale was among an emerging group of marketing professionals who believed digital technology was about to disrupt the advertising industry.
It was around the time a pioneering ad campaign offered an optimistic look into the future of tech, touting access to digital applications we take for granted today—GPS, video chatting, voice recognition. But the groundbreaker was the campaign’s web banner ad, which appeared online with a provocative message: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.”
Whether it was the first-ever banner ad has been hotly debated, but the concept undeniably excited businesses and marketers around influencing audiences in an entirely new way—with interactive content. Agencies shifted their business models, new digital firms started popping up, and marketing execs like Hale began specializing in online media.
An overachiever in high school and an American cultural studies major in college, Hale’s talent for understanding what motivates human behavior and her drive to be best in class were an ideal combination for a digital marketer. The process of constructing a campaign and utilizing new technology to track, measure and influence audience engagement energized her. She went on to develop successful marketing programs for big clients such as Motorola, National Geographic Society and Time Warner Cable.
In 2005, the population of the World Wide Web reached a historic 1 billion users. For Hale, there was no better time to make her own history. She leased a modest office space in south Minneapolis and hung a shingle. Nina Hale, Inc., a performance-based digital marketing agency, was born. Initially a solo practitioner, Hale primarily provided digital strategy for a variety of local and national businesses.
Back to the Future
Hale’s long-term vision for her company was much bigger. She planned to grow into a firm of digital marketing experts that provided high-level strategic work along with tactical execution. The staff would share her passion for using technology to help clients succeed and her desire to create a workplace culture that valued inclusion, collaboration and professional development.
She also envisioned sharing the profits of her booming business with the team that made it happen. “My life goal is not to have a lot of money; my goal is to continue to pursue my interests, to be philanthropic, to be generous,” Hale said.
It wasn’t long before Hale’s vision was actualized. In 2014 she reached a milestone, transforming the business from a sole proprietorship to an employee stock ownership program (ESOP). Today, more than 60 employees own 100 percent of the company. The change has been a significant driver for new business and continued growth. “The results have been absolutely great and it’s all due to our amazing staff,” Hale said.
She has since stepped out of the CEO position and now fills a significant role as “chief promoter” for the agency. As a visible expert, she frequently speaks on what’s new in digital marketing technology. These days she is hyperfocused on attribution modeling, which measures all interactions a user has with a website, identifies the most meaningful touch points and uses comprehensive data to determine the advertiser’s return on investment.
“People’s use of digital is so much more complex today,” explained Hale. “The ability to build a strategic plan for our clients across the continuum of digital is really important.” In fact, the significance of attribution modeling has largely influenced a return to the agency’s startup days when the focus was predominantly strategic work.
Staying on Top of Trends
Today, Nina Hale, Inc.’s partnerships with clients like Blue Cross Blue Shield and Land O’Lakes call for teams of people with multiple disciplines. As such, a commitment to staying on top of trends, ongoing education and building technical skills is greater than ever. Multiple learning and sharing sessions take place every week.
“There has been a lot of research on the amount of time digital agencies should focus on learning. In order to be successful, you have to spend 5 to 10 percent less time on billable hours, so that you can research and test and stay on top of trends,” Hale explained.
In addition to digital marketing trends, Hale speaks on one of the hottest topics in tech—the importance of designing cultures that allow companies to attract and retain the right people. It’s a subject she knows well. Nina Hale, Inc. received four best workplace awards this year alone, including being named one of Inc. Magazine’s 50 Best Places to Work in the country.
About the author: A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris Olsen has devoted her career to connecting individuals and organizations using the power of words, images and experiences.