PubForum Keynote Rachael Savage Leans Into Curiosity and Curating Connections

Rachael Savage has worked for large media companies, including The New York Times, Condé Nast, and Hearst Magazines, where she recently started as Senior VP of Ad Revenue Operations. Throughout her career, she made a conscious effort to connect with peers in the industry who helped her think outside the box.

At PubForum, in Coronado Island, California, August 6-9, she will participate in a keynote chat — Growing Your Career Through the RevOps Ranks — alongside her former colleague and now friend, Brooke Edwards-Plant, VP, Global Ad Operations & Revenue Platforms, Condé Nast, highlighting the importance of networking and relationships and learning by doing. 

Curiosity & Connections Are Key to Success 

Savage attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in communications with a focus on advertising. Landing in ad ops resulted from her interest in digital. “What I got out of that first position was that I like working in technology, and I have a curiosity for how things work,” she shares. 

This curiosity served her well as she began her tenure with The New York Times. Savage began connecting with people in other departments to find out how their teams worked and how they could help one another. 

“Things just happened better and faster working together. My counterparts wanted me involved in their projects because we learned things together. I’ve grown through partnership and curiosity,” Savage says. 

The Importance of Networking & Building Relationships in Ad Tech

Connecting with people in your organization is important, as is networking outside of work. Savage, a self-proclaimed introvert, understands that “networking” at events or conferences can be uncomfortable to some but says at its core, it’s about forging relationships with people with whom you can exchange ideas. If you reframe the idea of networking as making a few friends and helping each other out, it seems much less daunting. 

“When I started, I would go to AdMonsters events, and networking felt awkward. But as I made a few friends, I had people to call with industry questions. That’s one of the things that AdMonsters has been for all of us for a long time – a place where we come together and realize we all have many of the same problems,” explains Savage. 

Many of these connections have also led to long-lasting friendships with people who do similar work. She encourages people on her team to build those contacts because she has gotten so much out of her own industry relationships. 

Encouraging others to put themselves out into the world is a way that she helps younger colleagues gain confidence. “I do think as leaders it’s important for us to look back on what’s worked well for us and give people those tools,” she explains.

Similarly, Savage values her relationships with mentors and notes that some of the best mentorships occur organically. 

“Much like networking, the word ‘mentor’ or ‘mentorship’ feels official. These relationships can just pop up when you’re doing good work, and people notice.” She notes that mentors don’t have to be senior leaders. They can also be peers who bring different skills to the table.

There is something to be said for meeting people as you go and then stepping into roles where you must build new teams. She shares, “Once we got to a point where we had to scale globally at Condé, the management team all agreed we needed to bring in some experienced people to help me focus on other aspects of the road ahead – that’s where I leaned into my network, and thought, ‘wow, it’d be cool to work with people like Brooke [Edwards-Plant]’… and so it is!” 

Learning by Doing: Ad Ops is a Hands-On Industry 

During their keynote chat at PubForum Coronado, Savage, and Edwards-Plant will touch on the value of gaining experience in the ad ops industry by doing. Some things can’t be taught in a classroom. 

First and foremost, Savage advocates for communication. “I find myself even in my role now, figuring out how I can get ahead of the game to anticipate what’s happening eighteen months from now, and how are we communicating that now so that as we get closer, we’re on the same page. That same concept transcends from the tactical work up to more executive functions,” she notes.  

For anyone just starting in the industry who is looking for advice, Savage offers three main skills she looks for in people joining her team:

  1. Curiosity. The industry changes often, and you must be willing to learn new things to keep up with change. You also cannot rely solely on your boss to teach you new things, so you must ensure you are hungry for industry knowledge. 
  2. Communication. Communicate clearly, often, and proactively. Network and find time for mentor relationships, but also stay organized to communicate regularly with others in your organization. 
  3. Honesty and Integrity. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. If you make a mistake, own it – it’ll make everyone better by sharing. Be honest about what is working and what isn’t because that can turn into an opportunity to make things better, faster, smarter, and even more lucrative. 

How Great Managers Build Teams That Work Well

Having hands-on experience working “in the trenches” is also something Savage says can make someone a better manager. This experience gives people insight into how to build teams, make organic connections between people, and have tough conversations when warranted. 

Managing a large team takes a certain type of management experience, particularly in an industry where high-level executives may not fully understand the minutiae of what workers are doing. “In some cases, leaders are not thinking, ‘I need somebody who is a really great boss.’ They are wondering if you can actually do the work. Doing the work and keeping a happy team in place need to go together. It’s like magic to find that sweet spot.”

A happy team will be productive, with individuals who will want to stick around and grow in their careers, notes Savage. These will be people who bring institutional knowledge to the table and use their skills to build new businesses or new practices. “Keeping a focus on how you’re building teams and bringing in the right talent is really important,” she says.

Savage adds a final piece of advice, “Invest in your rev ops team and also, if you’re on a rev ops team, show up. Get to know your colleagues. Realize that the people you’re working with could show up ten years later in interesting ways. That’s part of the fun of the space, building a network of friends and colleagues that help us get it done.”