Advisor Spotlight: Nikki Mendell
Nikki Mendell is a #BUILTBYGIRLS WAVE Advisor and has experience as a Partnerships Lead. In her previous role at Meetup, she formed strategic partnerships to amplify the brand and develop new business and growth opportunities. Prior to Meetup, she spent 4 years at Refinery29 managing brand strategy, marketing, and communications.
Day in the Life
Explain your previous role to me
As a marketing consultant, I focus on brand development, strategic partnerships, multichannel marketing strategy and business development opportunities for startup clients. While at Meetup, I launched a brand partnerships practice, where I worked on building out a framework that would allow brands, nonprofits, media companies, and other organizations to partner with Meetup and connect with their global user base. It was a combination of brand building and business development, and my goal was to drive awareness for Meetup and unlock new revenue streams.
I’m a natural born storyteller, and I try to help companies figure out their brand identity in order to stand out, and then leverage that unique offering in order to drive business goals like revenue and audience growth. It’s about understanding what the brand wants to achieve and finding the best words to communicate it, and matching the brand with the best partners or building out new business models to achieve those goals. It’s also knowing the best channel and frequency to reach their audiences.
What did you study in school and how does it help in your day job?
I studied Creative Writing and Communications in college and I think that it’s a big part of my success. As a creative individual in the tech industry, it’s really valuable if you’re able to communicate effectively, and being a good communicator is two-folds: Being able to write is one, speaking in different workplace “languages” is another. Those communications skills have come in very handy as I pursue partnerships because it helps me articulate my company’s goals while finding synergies with partner goals.
What practical skills do you need to be successful in this particular position?
Definitely being able to work cross-functionally. Brand shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. It's something that's being expressed through things like written material, the product experience, brand ambassadors, your customers, word-of-mouth, etc. When executing a campaign or partnership, I work with everyone from Designers to Engineers to UX Researchers in order to bring concepts to life. In short, be a good team player and be ready to lead across many functions.
What advice do you have for young girls who want to be in your position right now?
What I do doesn't fit in a box and it never has, but I’ve been able to succeed by taking lessons and skills with me to every position I’ve held. I believe that strong foundation in the communications space can contribute to continued success. As a junior team player, learn how to pitch ideas and don’t be afraid to reach out to people. It's such an important skill no matter what you do. If you want to be a marketer or brand expert, you must have a strong knowledge of what communications channels exist (e.g. social media, events, email, website), their strengths, and how you can use them to reach your goals. Ultimately, a strategic mind is needed in order to make decisions on how to best prioritize the tools that will help you reach your goals. And - being a great communicator is important, but it’s a bonus if you’re familiar with analyzing data so you can measure the impact of your campaigns.
In general, if you want to work at a tech company or any innovative industry, be open to your role evolving to meet the business needs. Know your strengths and what you can contribute but also being open to what needs to happen to get the job done.
Early in your career, what advice did you receive that changed the way you approach your work?
Believe in the value you can bring to the table. When I first started at Refinery29, it was really daunting because I was the only in-house PR person and I felt much younger than other people in the room. I was reporting directly to the CEOs! It was intimidating until someone told me “Why wouldn’t they listen to what you have to say? They chose to hire YOU for this role. Just because you don’t have as many years of experience - get comfortable speaking up and don’t be afraid of being out of place.” I learned that there is immense value in diversity of thought and experience.
And one final piece of advice that I carry with me, from a mentor of mine named Fran Hauser, is the importance of developing great relationships with your colleagues. Being nice in the workplace can be your professional superpower. (In fact, she wrote a whole book about this - see here!).
Why did you decide to get involved with BBG as an Advisor?
I believe in paying it forward because I’ve been lucky to have had some great mentors in my life. I grew up with a nice sense of female mentorship around me that shaped who I am today. My mom is a force and an incredible person, I went to an all-girls summer camp, and I’ve somehow always worked with lots of women in the workplace. I think it’s important for young women to know how to tap into their unique strengths, feel confident, and learn how to support one another as they pursue their goals.
What tangible career advice do you have for Advisees out there?
1. If you feel anxious that you’re not the right fit for a role or you don’t have the right experience, there are steps you can take to change that. Make sure to study, ask a lot of questions, and try to talk to people who have been in your shoes. You should do what you can to arm yourself with as much information as possible and believe that you are more powerful than you think.
2. Saying the wrong thing isn't the end of the world. It’s important to participate and to show that you’re engaged. If you don’t know how to do something, trying to Google it first. If you still can’t figure it out, then ask the question. Being resourceful and self-sufficient is very important!
Share your WAVE Advisee experience with us.
It was great! I was really impressed by Linda’s maturity and enthusiasm, and how she internalized information and brought thoughtful questions to the table. We would talk about something in a session and she would come back to the next session to tell me how she applied it.
We worked well together because I was able to show her how to shape her creativity as a strength. While she loves math and science, I could tell that she has a creative side to her too. In our sessions, I tried to teach Linda how to communicate her ideas through storytelling, which she said was extremely helpful for her hackathon project. (Which by the way, she won!)
What advice would you give to professionals advising for the first time?
While I can’t teach my Advisees how to code, I can help develop their interpersonal skills (because no matter where you work, people will be there)! There are lots of intangible workplace etiquette that they don’t teach in school. For example: How to send a professional email, the importance of a follow-up email, how to lead a call, or be on time to meetings. These are things that are not obvious to a high school student -- not because they’re not smart -- but because they may not have the right role models to share that information with them. These sort of lessons were invaluable as I got my start - life skills should be a required class for everyone!
What role has networking played in your career?
Meeting new people and having informational conversations have been an essential part of my career. It’s so important and it’s worth your time! I only learned about WAVE because a former boss introduced me to Susan Lyne who connected me with Nisha Dua (#BUILTBYGIRLS founder).
I try to schedule coffee and breakfast meetings often because once people get to know you, they are willing to help you and think about you for the right opportunities. Don't be shy about it. If there's someone you really want to talk to, just reached out.
Someone once said to me “always take the meeting.” Why? Because even if you’re not sure if that person can contribute to your life or goals, you never know what ideas a conversation can spark within you, or who they might be able to connect you to that will get you closer to your goals.
What would be your one message to the #BBG community?
Remember that your first job is not your last job. Don't be afraid to try something you're not really sure about - every risk is a lesson learned! And, stay gracious and kind. It’ll take you a long way.