This is My Best Advice, a series that asks advertising experts to share key learnings from their career journeys, the best advice they’ve ever received, and insights to help grow brands and businesses.
After nearly a decade of working at agencies and in marketing and communications in the entertainment industry, Claire Paull made the most important career decision of her life. In 2011, she left a role that she loved to join two female entrepreneurs who had an idea for a startup called Birchbox.
“It was an idea that really resonated with me, and I felt the customer pain point they were trying to address,” Paull says of the beauty subscription startup. “I took a huge leap to abandon this career that I had been building to do something that felt risky. And it ended up being the most important career decision I made because it showed me that I could be a broader leader, beyond what I had thought.”
There, Paull says, she learned operations, business development, new management skills, and more. “I built a bunch of muscles, and it really inspired me to keep going,” she says.
Paull’s career has been one of bold moves – taking on roles that challenged and grew her skill set. After four years as Chief Communications Officer at Birchbox, she moved to Amazon, where she started at Amazon Live and eventually became Director of Global Marketing at Amazon Ads. Along the way, she’s been an advocate for women in the tech and advertising industries – mentoring and learning from leaders at influential brands.
Below, Paull shares the advice she has for leaders, and discusses the opportunities for women to advance their careers in tech and advertising.
Claire Paull, the Director of Global Marketing at Amazon Ads, sits down at unBoxed 2022 to share the advice she has for leaders, and to discuss the opportunities for women to advance their careers in tech and advertising.
To kick things off, can you tell me a little bit about your career and your background and how you got to where you’re at today?
I originally studied political science and journalism in college and wanted to be a print journalist. But after an internship in the Senate, I had this aha moment that led me to PR and communications. I spent a good amount of years at some of the bigger agencies in communications, and it laid a really solid foundation for two reasons: One, being a good communicator is critical to being a good leader. And two, working in agencies, you learn a lot about being scrappy, tenacious, flexible and working really hard right out of the gate. From there, I went to Sony Pictures where I had more of a marketing and strategic partnerships role. I also had a role living in London where I led international marketing for 20th Century Fox, and that really taught me about how to build out an international marketing team and the importance of diversity.
Then, one of the most important decisions I made was to leave that dream job to join two women who had just graduated from Harvard Business School who had an idea for a company called Birchbox. It was an idea that really resonated with me, and I felt the customer pain point they were trying to address. I took a huge leap to abandon this career that I had been building to do something that felt risky. And it ended up being the most important career decision I made because it showed me that I could be a broader leader, beyond what I had thought.
That must have been an exciting learning experience at Birchbox. Tell me about transitioning from a startup to Amazon. What did you learn during those years?
At Birchbox, I built a bunch of muscles, and it really inspired me to keep going. That set me up to transition to a company like Amazon – which values agility, frugality and having a bias for action. These are all things that when you’re a leader at a startup you inherently must do. When I joined Amazon, my team hadn’t been hired yet. So, it wasn’t unnatural for me to roll up my sleeves and do all the jobs until I was able to round out the team. When we launched what is known today as Amazon Live, my role expanded from marketing to include content development, studio operations and monetization. Those were skills I didn’t have deep experience in yet, but I was able to draw on knowledge I’d learned along the way and apply logic and Amazon mechanisms. I think not having experience in those disciplines actually helped me because I wasn’t beholden to any industry norms or rules.
Let’s talk a little bit about your current role at Amazon Ads. Can you tell readers about what you do now and how you got to this place?
I think I have the most exciting marketing role in the advertising industry. It’s such an awesome opportunity to help shape the Amazon Ads brand and also be a partner to our established Sales and Product teams. I think of this as a three-legged stool with sales, product and marketing. And it really does need to be balanced to work for both our internal and external customers. For me, the reason I was thrilled to be given this opportunity is because it’s an awesome brand, and there is still a lot of building involved. No one was going to give me the playbook because no playbook existed.
I think that is a good place to get into some advice. So, Claire, what is the best advice you’ve gotten in your career?
My gosh, it’s hard to say. It’s like a collection of good wisdom that’s been given to me over the years that I draw on, on a regular basis. I’ve been really lucky to have some strong female leaders as managers in my career who were also moms. And observing them be strong female leaders was the best quiet advice anybody could have given me. But there’s one piece of advice that sticks out from a woman who was my first manager at Amazon. She said, “You should really work hard to work yourself out of a job.” When you first hear that, your natural reaction is, “What do you mean ‘work yourself out of a job’?” But if you take a minute to understand what it means, it’s really important. I wake up every morning, and I actively work myself out of a job by ensuring that I hire strong leaders, that I support strong leaders, and I make them feel empowered to make decisions and control their destinies. Ultimately, you’ll build a really strong team so that one day when I wake up, I won’t be needed. That’s the goal. When that day comes and I’m not needed, it means I can go do something harder. It means making room for others.
I really love that. I feel like this is something I haven’t heard talked about in this way. Can you think of a particular time or a situation in which you used this advice?
One example was during my time at Amazon Live. I had the privilege of hiring a number of strong female leaders who grew really quickly. One day I woke up and thought, They don’t need me anymore. Success! Suddenly this strong team I had helped build was doing great work on its own, and that offered me the opportunity to find my next challenge.
As you’ve talked about already, you’ve been a champion for women in tech and advertising throughout your career. I’m curious how you would encourage women to follow this advice.
I do think that for a lot of women, they worry about advancing because they’re worried about other pulls in their lives – such as, women who have chosen to become moms or want to become moms. And I want to change that. Women shouldn’t have to choose between having a family and having a life and having a career and being a solid manager who can continually take on more. I’m fortunate to be at a company that understands this and encourages me to be all I want to be. It’s awful to me that so many women feel that’s a decision they have to make versus believing they can go to their employer and find a path to “have it all”. I think we need to make it easier for women to know that they can stay in the game and still feel like they have the right balance so that they can be there for their friends, their family, their partners and everything else. I’ve confidently made the decision to have a career and be a mom.
That’s such a great sentiment. How have you seen this perception and the opportunities for women in the industry change throughout your career? What kind of work is there that still needs to be done?
Well, first we need more female leaders. You need to be able to look around and see yourself to believe that you can be there. It’s important that companies are looking at their hiring practices and setting goals around these things. That’s a positive sign. So, I’m encouraged. I have had the privilege of mentoring women, and the No. 1 thing they ask me about is, How can I balance work and motherhood, if and when I go down that route? I think one thing we can do as women is talk about it. There are still too few avenues for women to get that real advice. I try to share some of my personal story and the times I didn’t get it right as a mom making the day-to-day decisions between work and life. It’s OK to say, “Wow, OK, this is hard.” It’s also important to see women in front that are leading, and we need to publicly encourage them more. The more women that are leading and staying in the game will lift everyone up.