97: Lauren Aquilino: Alleviating Burnout and Recognizing the Specialized Skills in Marketing Ops

What’s up folks, today we’re joined by Lauren Aquilino, Founder & Principal Consultant at EMMIE Collective.

Summary: The essence of Lauren’s message transcends the specifics of MOPs; it’s about the symbiosis between finding work that resonates on a personal level and the professional ecosystem that supports it. This is where fulfillment is found, and where problems are not just tasks but puzzles that invigorate the marketer. Her advice was not mere commentary but a call to action for marketing professionals to document their victories, engage with communities, and redefine the value of mops within their organizations, ensuring that the role is not just sustained but celebrated for its strategic importance.

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About Lauren

  • Lauren started her career as a Campaign Manager at Hyland, an enterprise content service provider where she spent 5 and a half years working her way up to Marketing Analyst and later Team Lead of the Demand Programs
  • She later took on the role of Marketing Automation Operations Manager at GE where she owned Marketo and set the global marketing automation strategy across other martech tools as well
  • In 2017, Lauren left the in-house world and joined the dark side of agency at Revenue Pulse as a Principal Consultant. There she would become a 2x Marketo Champion and Certified Expert as well as a Salesforce Certified Admin
  • After taking a career break as a Covid-era homeschool teacher and wrangler of a fearless toddler and attempting to open a coffee shop in a dilapidated 1840s church, Lauren became a yolopreneur
  • August 1st 2022. She joined forces with the acclaimed Sydney Mulligan to launch EMMIE Collective
  • EMMIE is a for-hire network of marketing Ops and Sales Ops freelancers with big tech energy
  • She’s also the cohost of Pretty Funny Business, Lauren’s nonsensical playground brand for the hell of it, a hilarious new podcast with the top marketing and MOPs pros

The Accidental Genesis of EMMIE Collective

When Lauren delved into the creation story of EMMIE Collective, she shared a narrative that many entrepreneurs can resonate with—success often sprouts from the seeds of adversity. Lauren’s journey began not with a deliberate intention to start a martech freelancer network but as a response to the upheaval of COVID-19. The decision to step back from her role at Revenue Pulse was pivotal. Faced with the complexities of juggling work and a young family under the constraints of a pandemic, Lauren sought to keep everyone on one schedule. This pursuit of work-life balance inadvertently set the stage for EMMIE Collective’s inception.

The ambition to purchase a church, a dream stemming from Lauren’s passion for creating a communal third space or eventually a coffee shop, ironically nudged her back to work. Subcontracting for a friend in unfamiliar territory with Pardot became a catalyst for growth. Lauren’s adaptability and openness to learn were instrumental, emphasizing that it’s not the tools that define success, but the fit for the business and the individual’s capability to harness them effectively. What started as a solo venture quickly evolved, and Lauren found herself at the helm of a growing consultancy.

Lauren’s story highlighted the organic nature of EMMIE Collective’s expansion—how one client led to another, and how one consultant brought in another, embodying the adage of building the airplane while flying it. The addition of Sydney to the team was serendipitous, aligning perfectly with the needs of the collective. Her reputation and skills added significant value, illustrating the strength of forming strategic alliances based on mutual respect and opportunity.

Key Takeaway: EMMIE Collective stands as a testament to the unexpected paths that lead to entrepreneurial success. It serves as a sanctuary for those who’ve grown weary of the corporate grind, offering a collaborative network that thrives on flexibility, respect, and mutual growth. Lauren’s experience is a reminder that sometimes, the best outcomes arise from the most challenging situations, and that embracing change can pave the way for unforeseen opportunities.

The Multifaceted Benefits of Side Hustles in Marketing

When Lauren was asked about the impact of side hustles on her career, she offered an insightful perspective that extends beyond the conventional wisdom. She champions the idea of side hustles not merely as additional streams of income but as avenues for personal fulfillment and professional development. Lauren’s stance is that side hustles should be passion-driven endeavors, aligning with one’s interests, such as yoga in her example, to ensure they serve as a complement rather than a detractor from one’s quality of life.

Lauren’s experience underlines the necessity for marketers to cultivate interests outside their core job, especially when their work is highly technical and the threat of feeling replaceable looms. In her view, this sense of replaceability is exacerbated when one’s day job lacks a deeper sense of purpose or is entrenched in a profit-driven environment. Side hustles, therefore, can act as a counterbalance, offering a sense of uniqueness and value that one’s primary occupation might not provide.

Moreover, Lauren’s reflections on EMMIE Collective’s business model reveals the value of side hustles in creating a flexible work ecosystem. The collective’s freelancers, including a standout Salesforce admin named Nikki who also runs a skincare business, demonstrate that a side hustle can sometimes become the main hustle. This fluidity showcases how side hustles can evolve and adapt to one’s changing career aspirations and personal goals.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s discourse invites marketers to reassess the role of side hustles in their lives. It’s not just about having a secondary job; it’s about finding joy and purpose outside of one’s primary employment. Side hustles can enhance skills, diversify income, and most importantly, provide a fulfilling escape from the replaceable nature of technical roles. For those looking to embark on such a journey, Lauren suggests seeking out passions that could lead to professional opportunities, creating a harmonious blend of work and personal satisfaction.

EMMIE Collective’s Answer to In-House Marketing Stability

Lauren discussed the unique challenges in-house marketing teams face and how EMMIE Collective addresses them with its network of consultants. Her insights delve into the nuanced struggles of businesses desperate for stability in their marketing operations. Contrary to what one might expect, Lauren finds that clients are often open to the collective’s unconventional setup, likely due to the network’s reputation and the trust it engenders.

The drive for stability is at the forefront of client concerns, especially as the market continues to wobble between a surplus of talent due to layoffs and a drought caused by high turnover. Lauren’s collective steps into this breach, not just offering expertise, but also a promise of consistency that’s hard to find in the volatile job market. Where companies are grappling with the financial and operational repercussions of high turnover, EMMIE Collective provides a team that can absorb these shocks.

Clients have embraced the collective’s model, finding comfort in the assurance that their operations will continue unimpeded, even if an individual consultant moves on. This safety net is particularly valuable in specialized areas where training and expertise are not easily replicated. Lauren shared an anecdote about a client who, instead of risking the hiring and training of a campaign operations manager, chose the security of the collective’s model. This model shifts the burden of continuity from the client to EMMIE Collective.

Key Takeaway: The client responses to EMMIE Collective’s model underscore a vital market need for dependable marketing expertise that can withstand the tumult of the job market. Lauren’s approach with her collective offers businesses not just top-tier talent but also a buffer against the instability of in-house turnover. For marketing operations professionals and the companies they serve, this model could be a template for sustainable engagement, ensuring that knowledge and expertise remain within reach, irrespective of market fluctuations.

Lauren’s Candid Reflections on Being a Marketo Champion

Lauren, when queried about her experiences as a two-time Marketo Champion, offered a down-to-earth reflection that demystified the accolade. She acknowledged the prestige that comes with the title, emphasizing its significance more to the external world than to her personal narrative. Being a Marketo Champion wasn’t a daily badge of honor she wore but a milestone that undeniably propelled her career forward.

During her tenure at GE Lighting, Lauren decided to apply for the Marketo Champion program, a decision that would mark a turning point in her professional journey. The Champion status was not just a nod from the vendor; it was a testament to her caliber of work recognized within the tight-knit community of Marketo users. This recognition came with its set of responsibilities and the continual effort to maintain the standard that the title demanded.

Lauren’s candidness revealed that the path to becoming and remaining a Marketo Champion is laden with hard work. Her decision to not pursue the title a third time was a choice influenced by shifting priorities, illustrating that professional growth sometimes requires focusing energy elsewhere. Her advice to those aspiring to be champions is pragmatic: document your work meticulously. This ongoing process eases the burden when the time comes to compile and present one’s achievements.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s journey as a Marketo Champion underscores the value of industry recognition and how it can fast-track one’s career. Yet, it also brings to light the importance of balance and setting priorities. For marketers eyeing the Champion status, Lauren’s guidance is clear – document your successes as they come, so when opportunities arise, you’re prepared to showcase your expertise with ease.

Lauren’s approach to professional challenges is both preemptive and grounded in self-respect. She stresses the importance of creating an environment where everyone, from consultants to clients, feels valued and respected. The concept of “no shitty clients” isn’t just a casual phrase—it’s a principle that guides the EMMIE Collective’s client relationships. By setting clear expectations and boundaries from the outset, Lauren ensures that her team only engages with those who treat them well and respect their expertise.

This stance is crucial because, as Lauren points out, the happiness of her consultants is paramount. If they are discontent, it echoes through to the clients and affects the quality of work. The mission is clear: keep the consultants exceptionally satisfied, ensuring they are well-compensated, engaged in projects they enjoy, and shielded from negative client interactions. However, Lauren acknowledges that despite these precautions, difficult situations do arise.

When confronted with less-than-ideal circumstances, Lauren advocates for authenticity. She advises staying true to oneself and maintaining professionalism. Acting as part therapist and part consultant is sometimes part of the job, providing a space for clients to vent while still offering solid, professional advice. The key is consistency and steadiness, demonstrating to clients that you are a reliable presence regardless of the circumstances.

Key Takeaway: The core of Lauren’s message is to avoid problematic situations when possible, but when they’re unavoidable, tackle them with authenticity and professionalism. This approach not only helps in managing difficult professional relationships but also ensures that personal integrity isn’t compromised. Lauren’s experience serves as a reminder that in the complex dance of client-consultant relationships, those who remain true to themselves and their values are best positioned to navigate challenges without losing their cool.

Advancing the Marketing Operations Field

Lauren confronts the question of maturing the marketing operations (mops) sector with a sense of urgency and a touch of frustration. She recognizes a pattern of recurring issues that plague the industry—a cycle that seems to perpetuate itself with the birth of new companies and the expansion of existing ones. From her perspective, the problem isn’t necessarily the complexity of the issues, such as form errors or GDPR compliance, but rather the industry’s approach to addressing them. The expectation that marketing teams can simply ‘figure it out’ leads to a constant state of catch-up rather than advancement.

Despite the evolution of marketing tools and strategies, Lauren notes that foundational challenges remain. This is, in part, due to a disconnect between those at the forefront of marketing technology and those just entering the field. There is an assumption of knowledge that often doesn’t exist, and it’s a gap that needs bridging. The focus should be on education and proper implementation, which means bringing in teams of specialists who can not only execute but also impart knowledge.

Lauren suggests that the way forward involves recognizing the ongoing learning curve within the field. For veterans of marketing operations, she recommends patience and a willingness to mentor. This would facilitate a shift from simply using tools like HubSpot to understanding the strategic implications of these tools. Such a shift is essential for the maturing of the industry.

Key Takeaway: To advance marketing operations, there needs to be a collective shift towards structured implementation and ongoing education. Lauren’s insights call for a balance between innovation and foundational understanding, ensuring that all team members, regardless of their experience level, are aligned and proficient. This involves experienced practitioners stepping into more instructive roles, patiently guiding newcomers through the intricacies of mops work.

Nurturing a Lasting Passion for Marketing Operations Amidst Industry Challenges

Lauren addressed the issue of maintaining enthusiasm in marketing operations, acknowledging the talent crisis and the reality that not everyone is cut out for the sometimes monotonous rigors of mops work. Her personal drive stems from a genuine love for problem-solving—a trait she identifies as crucial for anyone in this field. The same fascination that sees her engrossed in logic puzzles for enjoyment is what makes the intricacies of marketing operations stimulating rather than draining for her.

This intrinsic motivation is key to enduring the challenges that come with the territory. Where some see repetitive tasks, Lauren sees opportunities to engage in a kind of cerebral craftsmanship. It’s an aspect of the job that often goes unnoticed: the satisfaction derived from solving complex problems and the joy found in mastering the tools of the trade, whether that’s building Smartlist filters or crafting Salesforce reports.

Lauren also touched on the importance of community in keeping the flame alive. The mops community, to her, is a collective of friendships and professional relationships that provide support, share knowledge, and offer a sense of belonging. It’s this very community that can turn a challenging day into an opportunity for collaboration and camaraderie. For Lauren, belonging to such a community underscores the fact that even if the job itself sometimes feels repetitive, the social and collaborative aspect brings a refreshing and rewarding dimension.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s passion for marketing operations is sustained by her innate love for problem-solving and the robust community that surrounds her field. Her advice to those considering a career in mops is clear: seek work that inherently interests you and engage with the community. The latter not only provides support but also enhances the job’s fulfillment factor, ensuring that you remain motivated and find satisfaction in your work, no matter how tough the going gets.

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Understanding the Complex Role of Marketing Operations Professionals

Lauren shed light on the multi-dimensional challenges marketing operations professionals face. The common misperception of mops roles as simple taskmasters—clicking buttons and sending emails—is a major factor contributing to the profession’s lack of appreciation and subsequent burnout. There is a disconnect between the perceived simplicity of the role and the complex, often technical, reality of the work involved. Lauren points to an example where a single individual is expected to manage a multitude of sophisticated platforms—a testament to the undervaluing of mops expertise.

The problem is compounded when companies prioritize expanding their tech stacks without proportionally supporting their mops teams. Lauren recounts an instance where a client was gifted a new marketing tool as if it were a mere trinket rather than a significant addition to their workload. She echoes the sentiment of a former colleague who believes that the cost of supporting a tool should be triple the price of the tool itself, highlighting the importance of adequate resources and staffing to manage these systems effectively.

Furthermore, Lauren touches on the historical tension between marketing and sales, noting how this dynamic often leads to marketing being seen as subordinate, with its operations and budget being the first on the chopping block during financial cutbacks. The conversation extends to revenue operations (RevOps), where despite the integral role of mops, the leadership frequently defaults to sales.

Key Takeaway: There’s a clear need for a better understanding of the value and complexity of marketing operations within organizations. Lauren’s insights advocate for a reevaluation of how marketing ops is perceived and treated. A shift towards recognizing the specialized skills involved and the importance of adequate resources could help alleviate the burnout endemic in the profession and lead to a more balanced and respected role within the business ecosystem.

Should Marketing Operations Pivot to a More Technical Identity?

Lauren pondered the nuanced question of whether the term ‘marketing’ adequately represents the depth and breadth of responsibilities that fall under marketing operations. The current nomenclature, she suggests, might contribute to the underestimation of the technical and cross-functional nature of the role. Lauren argued that the work of a marketing operations professional extends far beyond traditional marketing activities, touching various business-critical processes that are foundational to the smooth running of a company.

This expansive role often includes managing lead conversion and distribution processes, as well as providing operational support to business development representatives and other teams. The challenge, Lauren notes, is communicating the importance and complexity of these tasks to those outside the department. The introduction of terms like Revenue Operations (RevOps) might be an attempt to address this misalignment by encompassing marketing, sales, and customer service operations under one comprehensive umbrella.

Yet, despite the attempts at rebranding, Lauren acknowledges a persistent issue: bandwidth. Marketing operations teams are often expected to undertake significant projects that exceed their resources. This leads to what is known in the tech world as ‘technical debt’—the accumulation of maintenance work that gets passed down and often discovered by new hires tasked with database clean-up, much to the knowing amusement of veteran team members.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s insights point towards a need for a redefinition of marketing operations to reflect its technical and strategic significance within a business. A shift in perception, coupled with transparent communication about the team’s capabilities and needs, is vital. Emphasizing the technical aspects of mops might garner the recognition it deserves, enabling businesses to allocate sufficient resources to manage and invest in their marketing technology stacks effectively.

Redefining Marketing Operations’ Impact on Revenue

Lauren addressed a common misconception in the business world—the notion that marketing operations (mops) teams don’t directly contribute to revenue generation. This misconception stems from a limited understanding of the critical role mops plays in the larger revenue cycle. She brought forward an instance where a prospect, after meeting with EMMIE Collective’s Sidney, questioned the direct impact on qualified pipeline through an assessment of system setup.

Through this lens, Lauren illustrated the difficulty of conveying the indirect yet substantial influence mops has on a company’s bottom line. A prime example she mentioned was an audit revealing that record synchronization time was reduced from 30 hours to mere minutes, a clear indicator of efficiency gains that, while not reflected in immediate revenue spikes, certainly contribute to revenue recovery and streamlining the sales process.

The challenge of educating others, including CEOs, on the value of mops is not lost on Lauren. Her narrative suggests that there is a gap in knowledge at the executive level, which can be bridged with the right communication and tangible examples of operational improvements. The fact that operations teams are not always seen as revenue drivers does not diminish their value; rather, it highlights a need for better understanding and recognition of their contributions.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s experience sheds light on the essential, albeit indirect, role that marketing operations teams play in revenue generation. Their work in improving systems and processes might not yield instant financial results, but it’s crucial for long-term efficiency and effectiveness. Educating company leaders on the strategic importance of mops is critical, reinforcing that without these teams, understanding and optimizing for revenue would be a challenge.

Strategies for Work-Life Harmony in Marketing Operations

Lauren, in discussing her career break and subsequent return with EMMIE Collective, imparted that the fundamental step toward achieving work-life balance is aligning one’s time with their core values and priorities, regardless of parenthood status. When asked about the impact of her career pause, Lauren emphasized the universal need for this alignment, urging professionals to consistently evaluate their time investment against what truly matters to them.

Her return to the workforce, particularly to marketing operations—a field notorious for its demanding nature—was marked with a heightened sense of balance and a new venture that seemingly offered more flexibility than her previous roles. Lauren candidly shared that being a working parent inevitably involves juggling responsibilities and occasionally dropping the ball. The key, however, is ensuring that what falls are the ‘plastic balls,’ the less critical aspects of life, rather than the ‘glass balls,’ which represent the vital parts of one’s life and work.

Lauren’s personal experience with burnout serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mental health, especially in a field as intensive as marketing operations. She experienced a moment of clarity where she recognized the need for change and took control of her schedule to prevent further mental exhaustion. Asserting control over her work schedule and learning to decline meetings or tasks that didn’t align with her priorities became a crucial strategy for her well-being.

Key Takeaway: Lauren advocates for a mindful approach to work-life balance, one that involves a clear understanding of personal values and the courage to set boundaries. Her story is a permission slip for others feeling trapped in the high stakes of marketing operations to seek change, prioritize mental health, and embrace the autonomy they have over their careers and lives.

Choosing Career Contentment Over Growth in Marketing Operations

Lauren shared a perspective on career balance that diverges from the common trajectory of constant upward mobility. When asked about harmonizing happiness and career growth, she revealed a pivotal decision—to cap her career growth in favor of contentment and better work-life alignment. This decision was influenced by her managerial experiences at GE and her familial responsibilities, leading her to consulting where she could leverage her skills without the demands of people management.

Her journey to establishing EMMIE Collective was characterized by strategic choices, emphasizing capability over hierarchy, as evidenced by her recruitment of experienced professionals who require minimal oversight. Lauren has redefined career growth not as a ladder to climb but as a path to forge based on personal aspirations and a desire for a fulfilling life outside of work.

This philosophy extends to her approach to happiness—where professional satisfaction is deeply intertwined with personal joy. Lauren’s story is a testament to the power of defining success on one’s own terms, recognizing that for some, growth might mean expansion, but for others, like her, it’s about depth and richness of experience both at work and at home.

Key Takeaway: Lauren’s narrative offers a refreshing take on the concept of work-life balance, underscoring the importance of recognizing one’s limits and redefining career success. Her experience suggests that sometimes, the most significant growth occurs when we have the courage to choose happiness over traditional notions of career advancement, a valuable lesson for professionals navigating the complexities of modern career paths.

Episode Recap

The essence of Lauren’s message transcends the specifics of MOPs; it’s about the symbiosis between finding work that resonates on a personal level and the professional ecosystem that supports it. This, Lauren posits, is where fulfillment is found, and where problems are not just tasks but puzzles that invigorate the marketer. Her advice was not mere commentary but a call to action for marketing professionals to document their victories, engage with communities, and redefine the value of mops within their organizations, ensuring that the role is not just sustained but celebrated for its strategic importance.

Lauren peeled back the curtain on the true essence of side hustles for marketers, presenting them not just as gigs but as gateways to personal and professional growth. She made a compelling case for their value beyond income diversification, positioning side projects as a platform for marketers to enhance skills, find joy, and escape the fungibility that often shadows technical roles. Lauren’s narrative suggested that these ventures are more than a backup plan; they’re an avenue to pursue passions that may very well blossom into full-fledged careers, blending work with intrinsic satisfaction.

Transitioning into the operational realm, Lauren shared the blueprint of her EMMIE Collective’s model, a response to a glaring market need for steady marketing expertise. By providing top-tier talent on-demand, her approach is more than a service; it’s a hedge against the constant churn of in-house roles. This model, as Lauren demonstrated, isn’t just an alternative; it’s a potential archetype for sustaining engagement and keeping expertise accessible, come what may in the job market.

Underpinning this discussion was the underappreciated complexity of marketing operations. Lauren made a case for its reevaluation within organizations, emphasizing the necessity of marrying technical acumen with strategic insight. She championed a transparent dialogue about the capabilities and requirements of mops teams, advocating for the recognition of their indirect yet critical contribution to revenue generation—a reminder that these roles are pivotal in streamlining systems for long-term business health.

Lauren didn’t shy away from the endemic issue of burnout in the profession. She called for structured implementation, continuous learning, and an internal shift that celebrates the technical prowess involved in mops. She envisioned experienced practitioners taking up the mantle of mentors, guiding novices through the complexities of the field, and fostering an environment where knowledge transfer is as pivotal as innovation.

Don’t miss out—listen to the episode and arm yourself with the insights to stay ahead 🎧👇

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Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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