Sure, it may look glamorous, but marketing is a tough business, requiring both creativity and strategic planning. It is the special individual who can utilize both sides of the brain to conceive of fresh and exciting ideas and then execute and position them in a way that effectively penetrates the public’s consciousness. The following five women all have that special ability to merge the innovative with the practical and, ultimately, increase a company’s bottom line. And, while each woman has her own unique style and formula for success, there is one thing that all five have in common: they are never bored!
HARRISON & TATE
When Maria Barrett took the position of marketing director with Oppenheimer Blend four years ago, she was the first of her kind. “Marketing within the legal industry was illegal until 1989,” she explains. “I was the first ever marketing director for Oppenheimer Blend, so for me, the past four years have been about creating everything from scratch.” Barrett, who has been in the marketing profession for a total of 16 years, is no stranger to building something from the ground up. As a matter of fact, that is exactly how this native San Antonian built her impressive career. “I sort of took the road less traveled to get to where I am,” laughs the single mother of two boys. “Every bit of marketing experience I have I learned on the job.”
The youngest of six children, Barrett enrolled in UTSA after graduating from Roosevelt High School. Her goal: to earn a degree in finance. “Everyone in my family is very analytical, and math just came easily to me,” she explains of her choice. “But then I realized that I couldn’t see myself working in finance at age 50. I saw myself living in a more creative world than the one finance would offer me.” As a result of her inner conflict, Barrett dropped out of UTSA to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. A marketing director from the promotional products company where Barrett was employed took her under his wing, and the rest is history. “Not having a college degree forced me to work harder,” Barrett admits. “I studied and emulated the people whose skills I admired, and I wasn’t afraid to go to those people and ask for knowledge.” Her diligence and determination paid off as Barrett worked her way to the top at some of the city’s largest corporations before landing her current position at Oppenheimer Blend, where she is responsible for everything from developing brochures to creating client events. Most impressively, she implemented a three-year advertising campaign that has made the firm one of the most widely recognized names in the legal industry. “The comment I hear most often is that Oppenheimer Blend is everywhere,” laughs Barrett. “That tells me our plan is effective and that we are where we need to be.”
Eager to encourage and celebrate other women making a difference, this talented woman, along with the female attorneys of Oppenheimer Blend, brought a national program to a local level. Beyond the Glass Ceiling is a local celebration held in honor of National Women’s History Month, and it is designed to celebrate the many visionary women within our community who demonstrate the passion and perseverance to succeed. Now in its third year, Beyond the Glass Ceiling is a remarkable success and another feather in Barrett’s cap. When she isn’t dreaming up new ways to build client relationships or bring community recognition to Oppenheimer Blend, Barrett can be found chairing the North Chamber’s Leadership Lab program, serving on the Alzheimer’s Association board or going on long hikes to clear her head and allow the creative juices to flow. “Creativity is my favorite part of my job,” she comments enthusiastically. “There is a great energy in being able to see a vision in your head, articulate it so that others can see the vision, and then breathe life into it.”
The one thing you will never find Barrett doing is standing still. “Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow,” she says with determination. “I will always be growing and changing. I am nowhere near the end.”
NATIONAL MARKETING DIRECTOR,
In the male-dominated trucking industry, Karen Konecny is more than just a breath of fresh air — she is a gale force! From her vivacious personality to her sassy shoes, this is a woman who can and does hold her own, all without losing touch with her femininity. “I believe that there is no reason that a woman can’t be both feminine and professional,” she says with conviction. Konecny puts her money where her mouth is by balancing a demanding job with a fulfilling personal life as effortlessly as she coordinates her impeccable clothing and accessories. As the national marketing director for Rush Enterprises, Konecny is not only responsible for promoting the company, but also for making sure that the branding of Rush Enterprises is consistent in the more than 70 offices across the country. “Trying to get my arms around what everyone is doing on their own and then getting everyone to do the same thing is a challenge,” admits Konecny. It is a challenge compounded by the fact that there was no marketing department in place when she moved into her position two years ago. “My job was to define it and create it,” she laughs. Two years later, the department is still small with only Konecny and two other women making up the entire marketing division. So how do these women market to truck drivers, who are primarily male? The secret is to pay attention.
“We listen, ask questions and do our homework,” Konecny says. “We also take advice from the sales people who deal with the customers all the time.”
It doesn’t hurt that Konecny has a long history with the trucking industry and has developed quite an affinity for it. After graduating from a two-year community college in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, she started her career as an administrative assistant with a company that manufactured truck parts. Not one to rest on her laurels, she attended night school and earned her business management degree while managing her full-time position. Konecny advanced quickly, moving from Ohio to Detroit and most recently to Denton, Texas, where she accepted the position of marketing and communications director for Peterbilt. It was that position that led her to her current marketing role with Rush Enterprises. “I love trucks,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s a close-knit business, and it gets in your blood.” Trucks aren’t the only thing in Konecny’s blood. She also has a passion for the creative aspect of her job and the thrill of implementing strategies that move the company forward. The versatility of her position is another plus for this woman, who likes to keep busy. “We are so deadline- and taskoriented that there is no monotony,” she explains. Konecny also enjoys diversity in her personal life. The former wedding singer now sings alto in her church choir and enjoys spending time decorating and helping her friends “glam up” their wardrobes. In fact, she says that if she weren’t in marketing, she could envision herself as an image consultant. “I love to work with other women to build their confidence,” says this woman, whose own confidence is evident. “I like mentoring.”
That’s hardly a stretch, considering that marketing and brand positioning are similar to image consulting — except the image being revamped is that of a company rather than an individual. And, as Konecny points out, there is always room for growth and improvement. “We have only scratched the surface here,” she says of the impressive marketing strategies she has put in place for Rush Enterprises. “We will only get better over time.”
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
OF MARKETING, FROST BANK
Pam Thomas went into the banking industry because, as she says with a laugh, “I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
After spending the last nine years at the helm of Frost Bank’s successful marketing campaigns and initiatives, it is safe to say that this born and bred Texas lady has found her niche. Raised in Fort Worth, Thomas graduated magna cum laude from Texas Christian University before going on to earn magna cum laude honors and an MBA in finance from Southern Methodist University. This self-described overachiever received national recognition from U.S. Banker magazine when she was named one of five bank marketing all-stars, and she has been instrumental in the development and execution of several award-winning marketing campaigns for Frost, including the recent Character of Texas Expedition. Not bad for a woman whose only real career plan was not to go into accounting! Thomas began her impressive career as a commercial lender at the Texas American Bank in Fort Worth. When several of the banks took a dive in the 1980s, she went to Overton Bank and Trust, and it was there that she got her first taste of marketing. “The bank chairman asked me to handle the marketing, and we grew the bank from four to 14 branches,” she recounts with pride. Cullen/Frost Bankers, Inc. bought Overton Bank and Trust in 1998, and Thomas moved to San Antonio to take the position of marketing director — even though she had once made her husband promise that he would never take her away from Fort Worth. “It is such an incredible company,” she says of the reason for her change of heart. “It was an honor to be asked to move here to become the marketing director.”
Now, nine years later, Thomas and her staff of 21 are responsible for the statewide marketing, advertising and public relations efforts for Cullen/Frost. “This is such a fun job because you work all across the company and the different regions,” she says. “You really are in the know about all aspects of the company.” Fun as it may be, delivering the Frost brand in a consistent manner across the 103 statewide branches does present its fair share of challenges, the largest of which is how to differentiate the Frost brand from the onslaught of other bank marketing initiatives. “I am constantly trying to make people understand that Frost Bank is different,” she says. Her ace in the hole in that effort is a strong executive management support system, which, Thomas says, is open and willing to doing things differently. “The art of marketing is taking the heart and soul of the company and putting it out there so that the community gets it,” she explains. “Having the right partnerships is key.” That theory also applies to her personal life, where her partnership with her husband, David, is key to keeping her life balanced. The two share a love of traveling, cooking, relaxing with friends and family and taking care of their “baby,” a red standard poodle named Chanel. “She’s the queen of the house,” laughs Thomas.
Thomas, who serves on the San Antonio Symphony board and is a member of the Junior League, has a strong passion for her alma mater of TCU and says if she weren’t in the bank marketing business, she would be teaching at the college level. “I love seeing the potential of the next generation with the energy and the constant learning,” she says. That hunger for knowledge is part of what has kept Thomas at the top of the bank marketing game for the past nine years. “This is such a fascinating job,” she says. “It is something different every day, and there is always an opportunity to learn.”
REGIONAL MARKETING DIRECTOR,
SPECTRUM HEALTH CLUBS
When you grow up in Texas, sports are often a way of life. That was the case for Nicole Jones, who grew up in a very athletic family in Kingsville. The youngest of four children, she participated in basketball, track and gymnastics, so it seemed only natural that she should pursue a career in the sports industry. “I originally thought I would go into sports broadcasting,” says Jones, who holds a master’s in public relations from Baylor University. That dream changed when she took a job working in the athletic recruiting department at Baylor and discovered that they had a media relations and marketing department. She knew then that she had found her career. “It’s a very addictive world,” observes Jones, who once worked as a marketing coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs. “I love the energy of sports and what it does for you.” Jones came to the Spectrum (then Racquetball and Fitness) almost five years ago as the regional marketing director, and like the other Women in Business, she had to start from scratch. “I was hired in March, and the company decided to rebrand itself as the Spectrum in September,” she laughs. With her work cut out for her, this enthusiastic and energetic woman jumped right in and began the process of positioning the Spectrum Clubs as a leader in the health and fitness industry. With 12 clubs in Southern California, eight in San Antonio and four more on the horizon, Jones works hard to maintain consistency across the board through public relations, community relations, brand awareness and sponsorships.
“There is a lot we have tried to accomplish in the last four years,” she stresses. “We have to make sure that we execute at perfection. We juggle so much, and we are always on a deadline for our goals,” she adds. “It is both challenging and rewarding.” Part of the appeal for Jones is that she is promoting more than just a brand — she is also promoting a way of life. It is an aspect of her job about which she is passionate. “We make a difference in people’s lives every day, and all of our marketing is toward that goal,” she says. Programs such as the Spectrum’s corporate wellness and their impressive children’s classes address issues that affect the way people live and instill an incentive to get moving in both young and old alike. The company has spent more than $25 million in marketing, upgrading existing clubs and building new clubs, all in an effort to make fitness a way of life in our community.
“It’s our commitment to San Antonio,” says Jones. “And we don’t plan on going anywhere.”
VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING,
Massachusetts native Julie Ring came to Texas for one simple reason: She was sick of the snow! “When I was a senior at Syracuse University, we had a record-breaking 151 inches of snow,” she laughs. “I knew it was time to go.” With public relations degree in hand, Ring came to stay with family in San Antonio while she looked for a job. Now, 16 years later, Ring has settled into a Texas way of life with a loving husband, three beautiful children and a successful career with a company that allows her to manage her roles of wife, mother and vice president of marketing with ease. “This is a company that has created an environment that encourages a work/life balance,” Ring boasts about SWBC. “They expect their people to work and play equally hard.” Ring delivers on both counts, spending her spare time with her children and her working hours devoted to keeping SWBC an industry leader. Since joining SWBC in 2005, she has seen the company grow by leaps and bounds, and she has worked hard to stay abreast of the trends and track everything that is happening within the more than 13 divisions of the company.
“Everyone thinks they can do it (marketing), but there is actually a science behind it,” says Ring, who has an impressive 16 years of marketing at some of the city’s largest corporations under her belt. “It is so much more than just producing a pretty ad.” Not one to just sit back and delegate, Ring has her hands in every aspect of the marketing efforts. In addition to overseeing all of the advertising, promotional and public relations initiatives of SWBC, Ring can also be found writing and editing copy, proofreading and performing any other tasks that need attention. “I am a working manager who likes to roll up my sleeves and jump in,” is how she describes her managerial style. Ring’s corporate work ethic was ingrained at a young age. Both of her grandparents and her father worked at the GE Corporation in Massachusetts, and Ring interned in the marketing department there as well. “It was just sort of understood that corporations were the way to go,” she says. Fortunately for Ring, she found a corporation that functions more as a family and has what she describes as “an amazing support system” in place. She was able to put that system to the test when, shortly after she started her position, her husband had to undergo life-threatening surgery. Not long after, her infant son suffered a stroke. “The company was so supportive, and the management team was amazing,” she recalls. “They would always check on me to make sure that I was OK or see if I needed anything.”
That kind of employer support brings enormous company loyalty, and Ring says she hopes to be with the company for many years to come. “I have been so blessed in all aspects of my life,” she says with humility. “I can’t think of anything else I need.”
Author: Bonny Osterhage
Photographer: Robert French