Key takeaways from C-Suite Meet with Jill Kelly, Global Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Digitas - She Runs It
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Key takeaways from C-Suite Meet with Jill Kelly, Global Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Digitas

By She Runs It

Written by: Anna Slyusareva

On May 30, 2018, the New York Leadership Development Committee of She Runs It provided a fantastic opportunity to learn from Jill Kelly, Digitas’s Global Chief Marketing & Communications Officer. Through her inspiring story, Jill shared adventures and anecdotes from personal and professional life that helped to form her identity and leadership style. Cheri Carpenter, the founder of Better Said LLC, Senior Advisor at MediaLink and the Director of Communications at She Runs It, moderated the conversation.

Jill does not have a typical story one would expect to hear from a communications executive—not speaking a word in English until she was five years old, Jill mastered the art of effective communication, realizing an admirable career in her field.  Also, as a woman and a minority, Jill became a role model for many aspiring women who have high career ambitions.  Adopted from a South Korean orphanage at the age of five, Jill grew up in the Bronx. A South Korean girl in an Irish-American neighborhood, Jill tried to hush her difference in order to fit in. This experience helped her to discover a simple but profound idea—it is our unique differences that distinguish us.

In a conversation with Cheri, Jill shared some moments and ideas that helped to shape her identity and ethics.

Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.

Jill picked up a strong work ethic from her adoptive mother. Being a single parent who adopted her first child at 27 years old, her mother had an exceptional integrity and worked for the same company her entire life. She also taught Jill to not solely focus on things she wants to do but also decide what not to do. “My mother is my quiet hero,” said Jill.

Get enough sleep.

Aiming to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, Jill made a great point by stating that we sleep to be awake when we need to be awake. Thus, by operating on three or four hours of sleep you will not be at your height when you need to.

You are braver than you think you are.

At some point in life, we all may stumble. It’s important to remember that, despite the temporary pain, it is all recoverable.


During the Q&A session, Jill offered more lifestyle and professional tips that help her to strive in a high-demanding role.

A trick to keep up your energy level

Jill reminded that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Have fun with friends, don’t limit your life to achieving professional success. Another secret is to find your trigger. For Jill, it is her daughter’s steps running to the door when she hears Jill’s keys in the lock.

On plans to get to the C-Suite

When asked whether she aimed to become a Chief Marketing Officer, Jill responded that five years ago she didn’t think about that. She urged focusing on getting better at your craft and to “demand the ball,” referring to Abby Wambach’s encouragement to take a lead in her Harvard commencement speech. Jill recommended thinking of knowledge you would like to gain and taking on new projects that can help you to gain this knowledge.

On defining boundaries

Taking into account her high-profile role in Digitas and other activities, such as being a mentor for She Runs It, it is not surprising that a question of when to say “no” came up.  Jill advised looking for teammates to help you out and to lean on the team and family infrastructure to support you.  Jill also noted that it is impossible to take on every project, but you can always find a way to be helpful–by offering counsel, for example. Jill referred to the term “a minimum viable product” as something you can aim at. For instance, when asked to take on an extra responsibility that is not a fit for your goals or is not a priority for the business, you can help by suggesting several ideas to consider instead of declining the request without offering any help.

On recognizing the right time to move

How do you know if you should accept a new role? Jill suggested answering the following two questions:

1)    What is trending in the marketplace? Always try to look into the future—what will change in the industry in a year from now? In five years?

2)    Do I want to be part of it? Among the industry trends you identified, find opportunities that excite you most.

On qualities that lead to success

Regardless of specifics of your role, you are always in a position where you need to “sell” something—whether it is a service or a new initiative. The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important factors to achieving success and persuading people to “buy” what you offer.

On evaluating a new career opportunity

Before deciding on a major career change, ask yourself “What will happen with this company in three years?”. As Jill elaborated, “You don’t want to get on the train if you don’t know where it is heading toward.”

In this sincere and insightful morning conversation, Jill gave many valuable tips to support and inspire She Runs It members in their career decisions. For more lessons from Jill Kelly, read her article “10 Things I Know For Sure—Sort Of” in PR week.