Executive Suite: CEO Amanda Vega Says I Never Believed In A Glass Ceiling For Myself

Remember AOL Instant Messenger? Well, meet Amanda Vega. She began her career at AOL as a chat moderator over 20 years ago and during her tenure there she directly helped to develop and rollout Instant Messenger and Love@AOL (now Match.com’s technology.) So basically Amanda helped you connect with a lot of your friends before Facebook and Gchat.

Besides helping us communicate better, Amanda earned an MBA from Columbia University. After selling her second interactive agency to Ogilvy in 1999, she moved to New York City and opened Amanda Vega Consulting which works with agencies and clients directly helping them optimize and integrate the ongoing stream of new technology and marketing options growing in the online space while also more effectively integrating those into their traditional programs.

She is now the CEO of Amanda Vega Consulting, a firm of over 120 people in 15 countries in four languages that handle interactive strategy and implementation for companies such as Publicis Modem’s Betty Crocker and General Mills, Banana Republic, First Juice and more. Her firm is technically one of the oldest social media management company with engagements in the industry dating back 10 years.

Amanda is also a published author of PR in a Jar and contributor to the best selling book The Social Media Bible. She’s a frequent industry expert speaker at such conferences as Search Engine Strategies and Ad:Tech. She has additionally been featured on Oprah and spoke for the White House Press Core about social media.  She is a board member for many local and national non-profits and professional organizations. Amanda was one of the first bloggers on the Internet and helped shape many of the “social media” tools we have today – well before they had a name. We were lucky enough to sit down with Amanda and talk about starting a company at the ripe old age of 20, failure and why you need to be nice to the receptionist.

Did you picture always picture yourself in a career like this growing up?
No. Actually, from the time I was in the third grade, I absolutely knew two things: I was going to own a convertible Porsche 911 one day, and I was going to be a lawyer. I drive a pink Porsche. And the closest I get to lawyering is my one year of law school during my MBA and our compliance team. My grandmother would have told you that I was going to be an actress. That’s a dream that I would have been okay with as well.

How, when and why did you decide to start your own company? 

I started my first company when I was 20 and sold it when I was 23.

What do you find to be the most challenging in your work? What do you find hardest about managing people?

The most challenging part of my work is the fact that we are always ahead of the curve in technology offerings, so we spend a lot of time pleading for business leaders to understand the value of something that we know they won’t truly “get” for another two years or so when it finally becomes mainstream; at which time, everyone else is selling it as well. As for managing people, I do not manage people. Instead, I hire adults that know how to manage themselves. And that is an artform that most CEO’s will never grasp.

How do you deal with the work life balance struggle?

This is an ongoing challenge that is certainly more present now as I just had my first baby a little over a year ago. I’m in a unique position where I can actually empower my team and also afford other help to help balance my life and allow for me to serve my first passion: the business, and the love of my life: my son. It’s a constant struggle, and I don’t think anyone gets it right 100% of the time, but I’ve been proud that I can give every responsibility at least 75% of the time it deserves.

What advice do you have for young women who want to get into this field?

I would say that you have to make sure that you stay on top of your writing skills and your network. PR and social media is about relationships, and a lot of thoughtful word positioning. If you don’t love writing and you don’t love people, then you won’t excel in this space.

Has being a woman worked for or against you in your career?

Being a woman has worked against me more than for me. And this wasn’t always because of the situation as much as it was a lack of understanding how to utilize it to my advantage (or not being comfortable doing so.)  I began my career at 15, so ageism has always been more of an issue for me than sexism. In the interactive space, there really wasn’t a disparity among men and women. We were all given the same opportunities from the beginning. I never saw or believed in a glass ceiling for myself. Age and experience has shown me that it does certainly exist at the corporate level of older firms, but I’ve simply never let it get in my way or concern me. I can contend with the best of them: man or woman.

Can you tell us about things you have done you considered to be a failure in your career and how you learned from them?

I think we all fail in some way every single day. One specific instance that comes to mind was a time when I was around 15 and presenting a new concept to a client. I relied too much on the creative team and didn’t do enough hands on research myself as to who the brand really wanted to be, and who I was meeting. I flubbed the meeting and didn’t land the account because of a lack of true understanding of where the company wanted to position themselves; which was clearly laid out in some interviews they had had at AdAge Magazine. I also failed in that I didn’t further nurture the connection with one of the stakeholders that I could have. He was also a Columbia grad, and I could have used that to deepen my understanding and actually had an advantage – but I was lazy. Now, I always get dociers and do more research.

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