By Marlena Palmer
Just over two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Erin at our networking event at The Patten Group. A young, smart, talented writer relatively new to Chattanooga, Erin found herself searching for something more. Little did I know that Erin would quickly become a close, dear friend and a big part of CWLI.
The beautiful, inspirational stories that you find yourself reading each month, and the thought-provoking leadership articles that regularly find themselves on your Facebook feed, have all been products of the time and talents of Erin Wooddell, copywriter and content marketer at Experts Exchange.
You see, shortly after Erin and I met, I asked her to serve on our newly formed marketing committee because I was in desperate need for support and expertise to strengthen and solidify our marketing presence. Erin, along with a number of other talented women, sat down with me to discuss the vision of what our marketing efforts could be: member highlights, leadership articles, regular blog posts, press releases, posting of events — the ideas and energy came pouring out! Erin, in particular, wanted to focus on sharing the stories of our members. She thought this would help highlight the incredible women among our ranks, make new members feel more connected to each other, and show prospective members just who they can meet by joining. Additionally, she suggested regular thought leadership pieces to help guide our members in topics of negotiation, wellness, finance, and more.
Her first interview was with Cindy Dawson, coordinator for development and volunteer partnerships at The Next Door. Over the past two years, Erin interviewed around 20 women and shared their stories with us. While she’s been inspired time and time again by all of the women that she’s had the pleasure of interviewing, she shared with me that Daisy Maurya-Ballard left a lasting impression.
“She had an incredible story of resilience and an absolutely infectious personality,” Erin said.
A Look Back
Erin graduated from West Virginia University in 2009 with a Bachelors in News-Editorial and Journalism. Fresh out of college, eager to begin a fruitful career in writing, Erin found herself knee-deep in the height of the recession where newspapers were closing down and consolidating. She was applying everywhere and while there were offers on the table, she wanted to find a job that would pay, not another free-labor internship.
In September 2009, Erin took a job at an editing center in Hickory, NC that handled the daily production of more than 17 regional newspapers throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. She worked on page design and copy edits for nine of those newspapers — all with different style guides — and was eventually promoted to manage a team. At 23, she found herself in love with her work: the writing, the design, the headlines, but because of the high stress of back-to-back deadlines (and the late nights) the overall work environment was not maintainable long term. So in 2011, Erin decided to take a job in Fredericksburg, VA at an advertising sales and marketing firm for national trade magazines.
Different from her previous job in North Carolina, Erin found herself focused on ad sales and had to do a lot of cold calling — something that didn’t come naturally to her, but she said it was good for character building. She was thankful for the incredible mentor and small-business environment she found herself in because it forced her to learn as much as possible during this time, ultimately growing her skill set and testing her limits. After almost three years in this role, she was ready to move back into the creative world. She spent time searching different jobs, different towns, and couldn’t seem to find the right fit. So she once again packed her bags and, this time, headed home to plan her next move.
That winter, Erin went to visit her good friend and former coworker, Emily Maxie, who lived in Chattanooga. Erin instantly fell in love with the city. While visiting, she was introduced to a job opportunity with an independent investment advisory firm. The interview was a success and within two weeks Erin had moved to Chattanooga and began working as their marketing director, focusing on collateral and website design, content creation, and establishing a social media presence. Prior to Erin’s arrival, there had been no one in-house that managed and directed marketing content.
“In the world of finance, you can find yourself amongst a large number of analytical personalities. I was the only one working on creative in the company, and while I really liked the people I worked with, I missed collaboration,” she said.
Marketing in the financial industry also came with many regulations. Careful consideration had to be applied to every word choice, every exclamation that may make a guarantee or assumption. It was interesting and challenging for her, while also limiting her ability to be creative and innovative with messaging.
After a year and half spent learning the ins and outs of corporate marketing, she still craved a more creative team atmosphere. She learned of a local creative agency in town that focused on magazine publications for healthcare institutions. Side-by-side with a team of fellow creatives, Erin became a storyteller and marketing specialist and worked on content creation for healthcare and finance magazines. It was the work she had dreamed of doing.
“When I was young and would picture my career, I always dreamed of working in magazines — sitting in on brainstorming meetings where you think of article direction, themes, and design with your peers. I got to do that at this company, and it was incredible to see that dream realized,” she said.
Unfortunately, the company made some restructuring changes and in the interest of finding a company she could stay with long term, Erin had to make another career shift.
A Look Forward
During this time, she interviewed for a position as a content marketer and copywriter for Experts Exchange, an online technology community based out of California.
At the heart, Erin loves writing and storytelling, and had found that lacking in some of her previous experiences. She was afraid moving to another company would forfeit that rediscovered passion, but was pleasantly surprised when the new job offered her the best of both worlds — the ability to be creative in an environment built for growth.
Technology turned out to be a whole new world for Erin. With most of her marketing experience focused on healthcare and finance, she was used to tight reigns on copy and creative direction. The tech world was delightfully more subjective, lacking the regulations that she had faced in prior jobs. Technology provided fast-paced work in an industry that’s always changing.
Now, Erin can be strategic and creative while writing.
“Everyday, I find myself writing for differing personas and outlets within the company. I’ve had to learn how to properly convey multiple voices in my writing and learn the language of the tech community. It’s been helpful to be in Chattanooga as I moved into this role because it’s such an entrepreneurial and technology-rich hub.”
While working across the country from her coworkers has been a slight transition for her, she said she has never felt more part of a team, and has had great support from her superior who always provides helpful feedback and encourages the team to perform at their best. Recently, Erin flew out to the California office and was able to get to know a number of her fellow coworkers while meeting new additions to the team.
“It was so much fun getting to meet everyone face to face, and to develop a more tangible connection with them,” she said.
Finally feeling as though she has found a place she can grow in her career, Erin is looking forward to the future opportunities that may lay ahead with Experts Exchange.
A Changing View of Leadership
Before CWLI, Erin had a different view of leadership, assuming the term only applied to those in executive positions. She now sees that leadership is a state of mind rather than a title.
“You can be a leader no matter what position you hold or what your title may be,” she said. She has seen leadership take shape in people who encourage team members at their job, in community involvement, in those who rally together folks with the same passion for making a difference, and in people who work hard to take care of loved ones. “You can lead anywhere.”
She explained that she’s seen good leadership come from people who’ve been through the trenches; people who have made career missteps, gone down unexpected paths, and eventually found their way into a job and in a career they love. “You can’t be an effective leader without passion, and sometimes that passion comes from trying and failing and from exploring what really makes you tick as a professional.”
For the last two years, Erin has blessed us with her words; sharing the stories of numerous women that are members of CWLI, leading us to connect and know them more intimately. After two years, she finds herself wanting to lead in another way and is now serving as the co-chair for the recently developed CWLI Gives Back committee. She is looking to become more involved in this community she has come to call home, and believes this committee will provide the perfect opportunity to get started.
“Being a part of the membership spotlights helped satisfy the creative itch that I was missing in my day-to-day. Now, I’m creative all the time at work! I’m looking forward to being more hands-on and involved with programs to hopefully find ways in which CWLI can better serve the women in our community,” she said.
As our time drew to an end, I decided to ask Erin some more personal questions, outside of work and career aspirations. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Erin over the past two years and she has become one of my closest friends. Upon meeting her, she will greet you with a big smile and a caring, gentle laugh. She loves pop culture and spending time with people whom she deeply cares for. She has a hidden talent of creating dynamite playlists and probably owns the largest media library of anyone I know. Her favorite food “will always be pizza” and she dislikes kale, in any form. Some all-time favorite movies include Holiday Inn, Pride and Prejudice (the 2006 version, she clarified), and “basically all of the Harry Potter movies.” Her longtime dream career has her living in a New York penthouse suite, writing novels and freelancing for magazines on the side, with access to a never-ending supply of gelato.
Daydreams aside, she’s currently looking forward to her upcoming marriage to civil engineer and Chattanooga native, John West, and this new exciting chapter of life.
At the end of the day, Erin told me that she doesn’t necessarily aspire to be a president or CEO, but rather wants to be with a company she can invest in that will, in turn, invest in her. She’s looking forward to taking on more leadership roles and being a larger part of a collaborative work environment.
“I’ve grown so much these past few years, I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!”
Thank you Erin for sharing your words and talents with us as you’ve brought so many of us to life. We cannot wait to see how you lead at work and where your new role on our CWLI Gives Back committee takes you!
Wait there’s more! Don’t forget to check out Erin’s Q&A here.