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Get To Know: Dana Todd, CMO For Professional Services Company Aftermath
Dana Todd serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for Aftermath, a national biohazard remediation company. Often referred to as a “crime scene cleanup” provider, Aftermath does large-scale dirty work, handling things like industrial accidents, homicides, hoarder cleaning and tear-gas removal.
“It’s been quite a departure for me to move away from a long career in tech and internet marketing to an in-house role in a low-tech industry,” said Todd, “But I’m enjoying the challenges and getting hands-on with print marketing again, my first love in advertising.”
Before joining Aftermath, Todd spent nearly two decades in various leadership positions, mostly agency-side and technology side. She started her marketing career at a traditional ad agency, then moved to digital. Todd most recently served as SVP Global Marketing for Performics.
“My passion for what I call ‘genesis’ projects typically puts me in the role of beginning new organizations or working in a turnaround situation,” said Todd.
In 1997, she co-founded SiteLab, a digital agency. Todd launched tech startup Newsforce in 2007, where she earned a patent for inventing a means of optimizing press releases for news search engines, and developed one of the first content marketing platforms for the news space.
She has served as a chairperson for global search marketing trade organization SEMPO, and held various board and advisory positions for Clickable, Aerify, Jenna Druck Center for Young Women’s Leadership, San Diego Software Council, and UGA Grady College Alumni.
Many marketers may recognize her from speaking at dozens of marketing and digital conferences such as ad:tech, SES, SMX, CMO Club, and Internet Marketing Summit.
Todd claims ringing the bell at NASDAQ in 2008 with SEMPO as her proudest career memory.
“A pinnacle moment for sure to celebrate CyberMonday, which was then still a relatively new phenomenon,” said Todd, “Although, recently I was named in iMedia’s Hottest Digital Marketers so I got that going for me too.”
Todd recently moved to Chicago after nearly 18 years in San Diego, and is enjoying the change in seasons and a new social scene.
“The food and culture here is world class,” said Todd of Chicago, “Something I hope never to take for granted. It still takes my breath away when I walk downtown and see the magnificent architecture, the public art and the amazing details all around. I have discovered cheese curds, Chicago dogs and will ultimately become a Cubs fan I suppose – unless the Sox win me over first.”
CMO @ Aftermath
- Age: 49
- HQ: Aurora, IL
- Apple or Android? Android
- Favorite Movie: Evil Dead
- Hobby: Chicago theater
- First Car: Toyota Corolla
What mobile device can you not live without?
My phone for sure – it’s a Samsung Blaze with a cracked screen that still functions somehow. I am going to replace it with another Samsung, I think. Probably the Note because I get phone envy every time I see one.
I do like my iPad though, I use it as a game console and tiny TV.
Can we take a peek at your phone’s home screen?
Which apps do you use most often for work?
Spotify and Pandora for music, especially when I really need to hunker down and get a large project done. Nothing like speed metal for reviewing inbound links.
I don’t really use many productivity apps, other than the Google suite. I keep downloading things and then never use them. If I need to do a bunch of social posts, I use HootSuite.
What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?
Facebook is my go-to because that’s where all my friends are. I also participate in a few Facebook Page communities. My family is on there too, and it helps me keep tabs on all the babies being born.
It’s so much easier to communicate with people through social because of all the built in functionality and share capabilities. I keep threatening to drop Facebook because it’s such a time waster, but I just don’t know if I can.
I was into Twitter for a while when it first started, but I kind of lost interest. I still tweet from time to time.
What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?
Weather, then calendar. I try to avoid email until after my first cup of coffee.
Take me through your typical workday.
I manage a small team of seven people, so there’s always a project in play that needs attention. We work at a relatively accelerated pace because the business model is lead-generation, and there’s a daily cadence of reporting calls so we are always in performance mode.
My main role other than managing people is to help guide the strategy and the creative brand elements through everything we do, and build out content for our various programs.
I’m pretty hands-on as a manager, especially when it comes to the digital marketing. We are a content-centered marketing department, so we build on our main messaging platforms through email, direct mail, field sales, web and social. I meet each week with our agencies to go over performance and ideas for improvement.
What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?
Rebranding Aftermath – I love brand development most of all, and we rolled out a whole new look, new website that is more sophisticated than anyone else in our industry.
I set out to make a content-centric marketing department and it has not been easy, but we’re finally starting to see some things gel.
How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?
This past year I haven’t traveled nearly as much as I normally do, all domestic so probably less than 20,000 miles.
Two years ago I went to Kenya to speak at a conference, which was a life changer. It had been a lifelong dream to go to Africa, and I was invited to speak at an inaugural internet marketing summit there. I was blown away by the innovation I saw there, born of necessity, and in such stark contrast to the poverty that still prevails.
More Kenyans have mobile payment technology than running water, which just doesn’t make sense until you go there. The country itself is beautiful, and the people were incredible. I still keep in contact with many of the people I met.
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
This year I’ve had to do a lot of crisis management from negative media attacks, which isn’t really fun.
We also got hit with not one but two Google penalties (manual penalty and a nasty case of Penguin) as a result of aggressive SEO done by former employees and agencies. We’re still digging out of it. It’s been quite an uphill battle that I hope to conquer soon.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
I helped launched a startup called Newsforce with a large group of partners and investors, which in retrospect I would have structured differently. We were unable to raise our institutional round of financing before the crash of 2008 wiped out all of our customer base.
I’m still really proud of the work that we did, and the vision that we had, but it should have been approached more like the traditional Silicon Valley lean startup to allow us to make decisions more quickly and invest directly into the technology development itself.
Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.
I have been fortunate to have a number of fantastic people in my career, starting with my favorite advertising professor who I still keep in touch with today.
My first “professional” mentor was also my first client when I hung up my shingle to go out on my own in advertising back in 1994. He believed in my wacky ideas and funded them. We had a blast, and we did some really great marketing together.
I worked with him again at another company where he was doing a turnaround as their CEO, and he was very open with me about how he saw things as a business leader trying to meet the demands of growth. It gave me great perspective on business from the top, and he shared wisdom that still impacts me today.
My partners Marlene Matheson and Mike ZeMans at SiteLab were fantastic, and they gave me such freedom and opportunity to grow while challenging me intellectually for 12 years.
Later, the people in the search industry, and in particular the SEMPO board, Rebecca Lieb and Marketing Land’s founding editor Danny Sullivan, really became “my people” in terms of a peer group. We shared our triumphs and our anxieties, and I learned that you can show vulnerability and still be respected.
Susan Bratton is another influencer and friend who inspires me; she took ad:tech from a bankrupt ruin after the dot-com crash and turned it into a powerful conference series with some of the brightest minds in the industry coming together. Then she reinvented herself again in a completely different genre.
The list of brave and brilliant influencers is practically endless, as is my gratitude to all the wonderful people who helped raise me in my personal village.
What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?
Courage and focus are the biggies. You have to build trust in your organization so you have to be consistent and focused, even while embracing change. You have to have the courage to say what’s real, and to look people in the eye and challenge them whether they are your employee or your CEO.
You also have to have a lot of creative energy, I think. There are a lot of CMOs who are more on the finance side, but I believe you have to find a balance between what’s on a spreadsheet and what’s going to really make a difference in the market. A talented marketer knows the value of her gut instinct, but also knows when to test it.
You also have to have a pretty thick hide, and not take things personally. After all, it’s just business.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
When I first started college, I wanted to be an actress and got the lead ingénue parts until I dyed my hair red. Then I got typecast as all the bad girl parts after that, including an audition for the role of “Redhead Prostitute” in the movie Glory with Matthew Broderick. Thankfully, I didn’t get the part.
What was your first job?
I worked at my uncle’s fast food joint, flipping burgers in Tucson, Arizona when I was 14. I made $50 a week, which I thought was amazing.
Why did you go into marketing?
It was divine providence, truly, after a twist of fate pulled me out of newspaper journalism and into the dark art of copywriting – and then account service once I finished college.
I have a split left-right brain, and marketing works perfectly for that. You have all the science of behavior and data, plus the creativity of influence and design. It’s magic.
What other career would you like to try and why?
I have a fantasy parallel career of being a traffic engineer or planner. It’s sort of weird, I know, but every time I’m sitting at a long red light, or I’m fighting my way through a badly designed freeway cluster, I think: “Wouldn’t it be cool to be the person who looks at these patterns all day and brings efficiency to the process?”
I nearly exploded when I got to meet the people who created the smart highways in San Diego, with an algorithm that adjusts on-ramp lights and HOV fees based on sensors for traffic congestion. Yes, I’m a nerd at heart.
What does your desk look like?
It’s always messy, with piles of paper around, snacks, vitamins, trade magazines, sticky notes. I’m afraid if I file something, I’ll forget it exists.
I have a zen rock garden and a Buddha Board, which lets people paint with water and then the picture evaporates. I have been trying to stay more relaxed these days instead of getting all amped up and stressed.
There’s also a little black cat statue that was a present from my best friend back in San Diego, so I can keep her smile with me each day.
What’s the last business book you read?
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. It’s like Cliff Notes for business lit, which is about my patience level for business books.
Books on business usually have a tendency to bore me or intimidate me. I like more narrative approaches to business lessons. My favorites are Who Moved My Cheese and Have a Nice Conflict which are pretty simplistic in their messages but powerful lessons nonetheless.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?
I completely fell for the Goldie Blox video ad, where the little girl demonstrates “This is your brain on Princess…” – I immediately bought the entire suite of girl-engineer toys for my nieces.
It appealed to me because I was always jealous of my brother’s Erector Set as a kid. I was given dolls to play with, but I really wanted to understand how to make electrical circuits.
I think that we really will be better off when there are more women engineers. Maybe then we’ll have cars that fly.