As regional president of DigitasLBi, former “Working Mother of the Year” Joanne Zaiac doesn’t balance work and life; she blends them.
By Fred Jerant
Successful marketing campaigns are no accident. They result from the coordinated efforts of designers, writers, data analysts and many other professionals. And as Regional President (New York/Atlanta) for DigitasLBi, a multi-award-winning global marketing and technology agency, Joanne Zaiac has certainly seen her share of successes, including her own.
Prior to joining DigitasLBi in 1999, Zaiac had been Executive Vice President (EVP) at Wunderman Worldwide. “It was the beginning of the dot-com revolution, and Wunderman was not doing that kind of work,” she said. “I realized that understanding digital advertising would make me a stronger client-relationship leader.” So, she made the leap.
Within a year, she had revitalized her career for its next phase. “The digital landscape is always moving,” Zaiac said, “so there’s always something new to learn. It’s not a stagnant industry, and I love that.”
Zaiac has been equally successful at leading others toward success. As the head of the 36-person senior leadership team in New York, she drives the strategy and execution of DigitasLBi services across the office’s client base, as well as her region’s development and growth.
Keeping it Real
And while theories of managing people abound, Zaiac’s is based on authenticity. “People want to feel inspired by their leaders and know they can trust them,” she said. “That’s why I strive to be very transparent. I avoid spinning things or making unrealistic promises.”
Despite the fact that she oversees a staff of 600, Zaiac maintains a literal open-door policy with her employees. “It’s known throughout the agency that anyone can get some time with me, usually within a week of asking,” she said.
Her policy when she encounters a question she can’t answer on the spot? Rather than dodging it, “I have no trouble telling people what I know, and what I don’t know. My staff knows I’ll be honest with them, and that results in happier employees. They always know where they stand.”
Baseball legend Yogi Berra once claimed, “You can observe a lot just by watching,” and that has been a key factor in the leadership approach she has cultivated throughout her career.
“Even when I was a junior employee, I studied my bosses and supervisors, noting what approaches were effective and which weren’t,” Zaiac said. Over time, she adopted management styles that worked well, drove good results and meshed with her personality.
Leading by Getting Out of the Way
In particular, she learned the art of leading by getting out of the way. At various points in her career, Zaiac says, she has worked for bosses who were too insecure to let other people grow. And she became determined to do the opposite.
“A hugely important aspect of leadership is to build amazing teams, and then let those people rocket, instead of standing in their way,” Zaiac said. “People want to work where they’re not constrained. So when I’m building a team, I gather people who have the necessary skills, and then set them up for success.”
That can be as simple as making sure they have the right kind of support and structure, offering input when needed—and stepping back when it is not.
“I’ve had a DigitasLBi SVP [Senior VP] on the American Express account who wanted to present an idea to AmEx’s CMO [Chief Marketing Officer]. Not only did I encourage him to go, I stayed in the background during the meeting and let him take charge. Other managers might insist on making the presentation themselves and afterwards take credit for all the ideas,” Zaiac said. “That’s not my style. I like to let my team shine, and I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. That kind of support and encouragement builds employee loyalty. The client appreciates hearing directly from the person who had the idea, too.”
Nurturing at Home & Work
Zaiac extends her strengths inside and outside of the office. She inspires and empowers those around her, including her three children, and proves that it is possible to build a wonderful family and a satisfying career at the same time.
Zaiac is proud to have been named a Working Mother of the Year 2011 by Working Mother magazine and the Advertising Women of New York (AWNY). She was recognized for her impressive credentials and achievements both in the office and at home and for adeptly balancing her career and motherhood.
Her passion for helping others develop their potential also includes serving on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement New York and advisory boards for Women @NBCUniversal and the Executive Board of AWNY. In addition, under Zaiac’s stewardship, DigitasLBi employees have the opportunity to help others:
About 30 agency volunteers work with the Junior Achievement program, helping to teach in city classrooms twice each week and also working with high school students on a citywide business plan competition for seven weeks.
DigitasLBi has formal and informal mentorship programs with area high schools and universities, such as the Newhouse School of Public Communications.
DigitasLBi hosts a paid, 10-week internship program aimed at talented college seniors and recent graduates entering the job market. “It’s very successful,” Zaiac said. “We average upward of 80 interns nationally each summer, and we offer many of them full-time employment.”
The agency recently launched a women’s leadership network that provides support for female executives (already at the VP level) who aspire to become Senior or Executive VPs.
This supportive environment is ingrained in the DigitasLBi corporate culture. “Humanity and integrity—in terms of approaching the business and each other—are super important to us,” Zaiac said. “Regardless of how much business you bring in or how much a client loves you, you’ll hit a wall if you don’t treat people with respect.”
Another initiative dear to Zaiac’s heart is Community Service Day, an annual event in which DigitasLBi offices close their doors for a day so that the employees can come together to help a local organization. This year the New York office worked to restore areas in Red Hook, Brooklyn, destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
The agency’s unique culture and supportive atmosphere are some of the reasons why, under Zaiac’s leadership, DigitasLBi New York has received three “Best Companies to Work for in New York” awards, including being honored as No. 11 in the state in 2013 by the New York State Society for Human Resource Management.
Frederick Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
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