In episode 155, Erik and Kerel talk with Karen Vega, Vice President, Audience Impact & Intelligence at Paramount Advertising, a branch of Paramount, a company that develops strategic and collaborative solutions that connect their partners to their diverse, passionate fan base. Karen was born in Colombia, migrated to the states at 13 years old and always had the dream of working in entertainment. Her mother, who was a writer, was in love with the industry and was really formative to Karen eventually working in it. She eventually went to LaSalle University and Seton Hall University to major in communications and minor in Hispanic studies. She has worked at major companies including iHeart, Billboard, FTI Consulting, Viacom, and Viacom CBS.
Karen shares about her experience as an immigrant, how she got started in communications and advertising, why she loves working with Paramount and has just passed her eight year work anniversary. She also talks about what is important to her as a working professional - networking, continuing education, mentoring, sharing the narrative of LatinX, work-life balance, and more.
“With a big company, you see so much change happen. It can be daunting for people. But I would say it has really fit me and benefited me and my personality because I like change. I see opportunity in change. And so when change happens I actually lean in. I observe, but I lean in. And I think that's been really helpful to my career and my development as a professional within Paramount.”
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast, or MRP, with Erik and Kerel. Each episode, we talk with real operators and leaders in digital media. And we also want to give a quick thanks to our sponsor Ground Truth, a media company that turns real world behavior into marketing that delivers real business results. Today joining us is Karen Vega, who is the Vice President of Audience Impact & Intelligence at Paramount Advertising. Let's jump in and get to know Karen. Karen, welcome. How are you?
Karen Vega 00:41
Hey, guys, how you doing? Thanks for having me.
We're excited to have you. Tell us a little bit about you. And where are you joining us from today? I see a really nice Skyline behind you. So maybe tell our listeners and viewers where you're at.
Karen Vega 00:57
Yes, so I'm coming from the heart of Times Square, 1515 Broadway, where lots of interesting and great things happen. But I'm coming from you- but this is the New York City Paramount location is where we are coming into work and making it happen.
That's awesome. Karen, I want to ask you a little bit more about Paramount in a little bit. You have a tremendous background work for some of the biggest companies in the country and in the world. And we'd love to sort of talk to you about that. But first, tell us a little bit about Karen Vega. Where are you from? And tell us where you grew up?
Karen Vega 01:36
Yeah, Well, I will start by saying where I grew up is been what has really shaped me into who I am today and where I find myself today. So I was born in Bogota, Colombia. And I came to the States, I migrated to the States when I was 13 years old. Actually, nine years old. Thirteen is actually what my brother was, which there's funny stories there in terms of the immigration and what age are actually immigrating. There's so many, so much story and history there. But came to the States when I was nine years old, and have only really went back to Colombia twice in my life, and only really went back to my country about six years ago for the first time since I was a little girl. So, a very formative trip it certainly was. But you know, I've been part of this growth, going back to my city, to my country has really allowed me to just be grateful and just feel very accomplished about what I've been able to do. And that's actually given me even more incentive to just continue to keep growing to keep learning to keep giving back, especially to people of color, people who are immigrants and have that immigrant experience. So that is where I am from. Who I am, we're going to need to have a couple more, you know, coffee, [inaudible] and drinks, but you know, maybe we can scratch the surface here today.
Yeah, no, I think that's awesome. I would love to unpack some of that. And I think, what's pretty cool as both Kerel and I have daughters, we think about their experiences, I have twin girls that are 11 and you mentioned being nine, and I can still remember nine. And it's amazing those formative years, you know, when you're younger, the memories and all those things that even now I'm sure you can recall and sort of think about. So, what are some of those things at nine that you can remember, coming here from Bogota, like, what, what are some of those things that are still vivid for you today?
Karen Vega 03:48
Yeah, I love that you asked that because there certainly is, when you have that immigrant experience, there's certain memories that are etched in your mind. For me when I think back, and I see myself and when I think of my immigrant experience, I always picture myself holding this, I had this little duck stuffed animal that I had with me, in El Dorado airport in Bogota when I was nine years old. I can't even believe that I remember that, right? I was saying goodbye, actually, to my dad, because my dad, you know, basically authorized for me to be able to come to America with my mother because again, we were searching for a better future, more stability. At the time Colombia, actually think about early 90s, we had gone through a lot of turmoil, especially with the drug wars. And though you know, we weren't really directly affected by that, opportunity is really what we came to the states for and what we were searching for. But that memory of me being in the airport, holding that stuffed animal and sort of waving goodbye, it's always stuck in my memory. And anytime I need a little bit of grounding, I just, I go back to that memory and I think my, like, what I've been able to accomplish, take advantage of, but also give back to this country is it's a really like humbling experience. So that's the first one that really comes to mind. But I think also, I don't know, if you maybe in your conversations with others that have had immigrant experiences, you really recall more vividly those moments in your youth. And for me, it was just like the celebrations of family, what I was into, like, I was always into entertainment. I am very much an extrovert. And when I think back to my experience as a little girl in Colombia, I choreographed dances for my cousin's. That's what we did. You know how people do TikTok dances now?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Karen Vega 05:56
Obviously, not with a phone, but we were doing it just as like, you know-
Real time, real audience.
Karen Vega 06:03
Real time, real audience, choreographing dancing to the 90s. Then I think back of, like, entertainment was always sort of running through my veins and, like, that extraversion and here I am working at, you know, one of the biggest entertainment companies, and it kind of just kind of comes full circle in a very weird way.
That's fantastic. And, you know, I want to sort of point out, I mean, you've had, you know, a lot of great sort of moments in your career, you know, from billboard, to iHeart, to FTI Consulting, to Viacom, Viacom CBS, and Paramount now, like, how did you kind of get started? I feel the connection that you were saying just in terms of just kind of like, the early origins of like entertainment and all that, but then putting your career foot forward, how did that happen? Did you learn that from someone or what kind of pushed you in that direction, Karen?
Karen Vega 06:57
So, my mother, I would say is formative to me coming down this path. My mother was a great writer, she is a great writer. And she worked actually for Colombian newspaper. So that was one of her first jobs when she came to America. She worked as a writer, but also she worked in the ad sales department. So she was doing it all, top to bottom. And she always spoke about how the industry of entertainment and of media was just so beautiful and so- the exposure that you can get to so many different people, to so many different personalities, you know, and the interesting things that you're able to accomplish. And so she obviously piqued my interest. And when we were choosing a major for college, which college by the way, it wasn't an option. It's like "You're going to college," I'm like, "Mom, how are we paying for it?" "We'll figure it out. We'll figure it out, just go to college." And I'm very glad she pushed me to do that. But basically choosing my major in communications, I ended up choosing that major. And then I also minored in Hispanic studies, I wanted to keep my language. If maybe later down my career path, I could use my language in some ways, I wanted to make sure that I could do something with it. So those were my major and my minor. And lo and behold, I ended up going to La Salle University in Philly. I love my time in Philly, but I love New York City even more. So then I ended up transferring there, went to Seton Hall University, which you know, made it to the finals last year. Well, not finals, but you know, close to. And then you know, Seton Hall had a great program in communications and with the proximity of being close to New York City, and that being such a, you know, capital of entertainment, communications, advertising, lo and behold, here is where I am and where obviously you can see I'm right in the middle of it.
Yes, you are. And Karen, tell us about your job at Paramount today. And what do you love about what you're doing today?
Karen Vega 09:01
Oh, Paramount. First of all, I truly feel very lucky to be a part of this company. And I'm going on eight years now. Actually, I believe this week is my eighth year anniversary at the company.
Karen Vega 09:19
Thank you. And you know, with a big company, you see so much change happen. It can be daunting for people, but I would say it has really fit me and benefited me and my personality because I like change. I see opportunity in change. And so when change happens I actually lean in. I observe, but I lean in and I think that's been really helpful to my career and my development as a professional within Paramount. I joined when it was Viacom then obviously we've been through, as all media companies, right now many iterations became Viacom CBS and now Paramount. But as I look around, you know, at the landscape and at the progress that we've made as a company, and also even beyond from a business perspective, I love working here because we really are known for our culture. And I will say, as someone who works here, the culture is unmatched. It is why I have longevity here, I've met great people here that have come, that have gone, some that have gone and returned. So a lot of boomerangs. And I will say that it has been a place where I could really show up to work, be my authentic self, make friendships, and also be able to make my career into what I want, what I want it to be. So having the opportunity to even be sitting here speaking to you all is one of them as well because of the exposure. And the opportunities as well that I've been given and the trust, I would say, that has been placed in me. So it's been, so far, a great eight years.
Gotcha, gotcha. Erik and I, we often talk about this in terms of career growth and development. And we're both big believers in two things when it comes to career growth and development. One, the ability to network and to build your connections and have a large network. And then, two, always put yourself in a position where you can continue to learn. And as we were preparing for this, I saw that you have your college career, but you also have additional certifications from Cornell, you're a part of She Runs It, you're a part of CHIEF. And so I'm curious to get your take on sort of career growth and development and how important networking and continuing to educate yourself is,
Karen Vega 11:50
Yeah, right on. When I mentioned the opportunities that I get with this company, those have been precisely it, right? That investment, being part of some of these organizations do come with a cost that my company has been able to sponsor, but I myself have raised my hand and have said, for myself, I want to be a part of this, here's how I think it would be beneficial. But yes, absolutely. Networking and continuing education, I feel are two things that should always be top of mind, right, for a working professional. When I think of networking is there are so many things that I've been able to accomplish internally, because of the external networking I've been able to do because of the internal portion of it right? How I do business, how I get things done internally has to do all with networking. So it's uberly important. And understanding, you know, what is our currency? What can I give you, you know, how can I help you so that in return, if I have something, we can do that exchange, but do it in a way that's fair, and that's authentic. And so networking is core to that, and it can be daunting for people to do that. But again, I think I use my personality and my extrovert-ness, hopefully to that advantage to really help me put myself out there a bit more.
So I feel like that was some great advice for anyone that's listening to the podcast. So while we're on advice, I'm always curious to know from guests that we have on like, if you were thinking back to who you were when you first started your career versus now, what advice would Karen of today give that Karen that first started out her career? What advice would you give to that person?
Karen Vega 13:41
I would say, network more intentionally back then. I felt I definitely had positive relationships no matter where I went, but I wish that I really took it upon myself to really meet other folks outside of the company that I was in. I see folks now reaching out to me that are just coming out of college, I'll get a LinkedIn note and it'll be like, I just graduated. They'll do the research on who I am and I am like, that is so bold, and I will absolutely give you the time of the day to talk to you about my experience because I wish I would have done that. I think the more conversations we have, the more people we meet, the more that we can learn from other people's experiences, it's only going to benefit us. So I wish I did a bit of that earlier in my, I think, entry level career. I also wish and I think it just it comes with age too, but I wish I maybe took a little bit more risks. I will say though, that being an entry level, and you know, being an immigrant I also, I didn't come from money, I just needed to figure out how am I going to get a job and how am I going to pay my school loans back? And so for me, it was all about, "Well, who's going to pay people more?" and, you know, having that stability. Whereas, you know, other people that may not be in that situation, can have more of, you know, a choice, I think. So, I want to give myself some grace by saying that while also not making it an excuse, but those are the things that I wish I kind of maybe leaned into a little bit more.
That makes a lot of sense. And I want to ask you a little bit about now with some tenure and experience at a couple of different environments, I want to ask you a few questions kind of related to the sort of Hispanic, Latino, LatinX sort of narrative that's kind of framed today, because you've had an opportunity to be on some big stages to kind of talk about that, right? And for those that don't know, I mean, I think I want to ask you a couple questions about what it's like to be at the United Nations addressing a whole lot of individuals around some of that. But I think what's interesting to kind of about sort of, maybe even industry and experience, can you talk a little bit about your discussion around under representation and even misrepresentation of Latinos in the US? What I'm driving at is I, you have some discussions around what brands can do to address sort of misrepresentation or even under representation of Latinos, and maybe talk about why it's important from a business priority, right?
Karen Vega 16:30
Absolutely. Absolutely, Erik, and I want to be able to obviously use this platform to be able to educate people who are not of Latino descent, because again, we don't want to be just talking Latinos to Latinos, we want to be talking to everybody, right? We're in this together. So, the experience you spoke about was, by far so far, the career highlight, which is an opportunity I got to speak at the UN during a Hispanic Leadership Summit that is sponsored by this company called We Are All Human. And I am a true advocate of that organization, it's a nonprofit, and they really advocate for Latino mobility, especially in corporate America. And so there is such a huge opportunity, as I looked around, even internally, in my own company, it dawned on me, and it wasn't really until the last three to four years that I was the only Latina, you know, maybe getting up there. And even now, when I look around, I'm like, I am one of the only few vice presidents in my function in my ad sales organization, that are of Latino descent. And that awareness was like, wow, like, it's true for what's happening now here inside my company, but, you know, imagine that exponentially through other organizations, but also in the media. Are our stories being told, are we being depicted? Are we still the spicy Latina? Are we still the drug lords, you know, in Narcos? We need more of these narratives about and the depth and breadth and the intersectionality of who we are. And our immigrant stories, my immigrant story is not the same as everybody's immigrant stories, you know? And so I think there is a great opportunity as someone like me in a media company to be able to raise the awareness for that. And so I've really been able to do that by way of the contributions in the partnerships I've made to the nonprofit. And also, internally, I am part of my company's ERG, our employee resource group. And I really want to be a voice for those who don't have a voice, or for those who feel like they don't have a voice, right? I think precisely, I think some people just feel like, "Oh, well, no one's gonna listen to me." I think everyone has a voice and everyone should use it and figure out ways how they can really amplify. When it comes from a business perspective, I think, you know, media has such power in shaping narratives, and perceptions. And so we really need to take, as a media company, that responsibility very seriously, right? And so I think for me, as much as I can try to push new ideas, new narratives, how can we increase representation? How can we move people up from that middle manager role to that more senior role for Latinos, Latinas, Black, Asian American, for anyone who, you know, is disabled, we want to be able to make sure that we, you know, I can use my voice wherever I can, in any aspect as insignificant as it may seem to be able to do that. Because what happens with media is, it starts from the inside, it starts from the roles and the decisions are being made in these executive positions. And if we're not there, Latinos aren't in there, if Black people aren't there, if Asian Americans aren't there, and people who come from a multitude of intersectionality backgrounds aren't there, then how are the stories going to be told? Who's saying yes? Who's saying yes to the content that ultimately goes onto the big screen, and then helps shapes everybody's narrative. So my hope is that hopefully, you know, I can keep doing what I do in here internally, while also being able to, you know, move that along for industry.
You mentioned stories being told and I think it's always helpful to sort of pass on experiences that one may have experienced, and there's some just realities that happen in corporate America. Can you talk about a personal experience that maybe you had a reality as a woman in corporate America that you experienced? And more importantly, how you overcame, maybe that moment, where something wasn't exactly fair, something wasn't exactly right. Can you share a little bit about that?
Karen Vega 20:59
Yeah, I mean, it has been easy for me to, quote unquote, blend in, you know? I don't really have much of an accent unless you give me a couple of wine spritzers, yes. (laughs) But it's easy for me because, right like, of the color of my skin, I don't really have an accent. In some cases, I kind of just could assimilate. And so I really can't say that I've come across those directly, scenarios where it's maybe offended me or where I've been marginalized in any way. But I have, you know, seen scenarios where others have. And, you know, maybe not even, I wouldn't say even directly within our walls and working with corporate America, but even in like networking events, experiences that have happened, where I'll tell you one more recently. I was at a conference, I was at our sales conference, and it actually took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We were at a reception on the beach and it just so happened that there was a lot of commotion in the air, the Coast Guard was out and all of a sudden, like, what is going on? So I asked one of the workers if they were aware of what was happening, I was kind of curious. And they said, "Oh, yes, those are the immigrants coming in from Cuba. And you know, they're coming here to take my money." And so directly, I had to just like, bite my tongue, and say, "Okay, like, I am in a work setting, I'm coming across someone saying something, you know, that's kind of unwarranted, because in my mind, I'm like, wait, you're saying that the guy that's on a raft right now trying to look for a better opportunity took your job." Again, not to get overly political, but having to deal with these comments and sometimes this insensitivities, as an immigrant, it just awakens you even more to the reality that, you know, not everybody is welcoming of every race, not everyone is welcoming of, you know, of different experiences. And it just goes to show how much education we still need to be able to instill in our sons or daughters, how much I think just overall empathy we need to have for one another. And while I didn't want to get into like sort of an engagement, in my mind, I just thought like, wow, this is real. I'm also in Florida, by the way. So, I took that for what it was. But I would say that for me, because it was easier for me to blend in. I have never had to deal with something like that, but I have seen it happen to other people.
Gotcha. Thank you for that. Your insights there on that particular topic, Karen, I'm curious to know going back to sort of what we were talking about earlier about inclusivity in the industry and I think mentorship and leadership is obviously a big, big part of that, right? And so, curious to know a little bit more about how do you go about mentoring others?
Karen Vega 24:17
Yes. Any opportunity I can, that comes my way, I certainly try to make the time for it. And I do it at least, I try to set up at least two slots in my week to be able to say how can I give back to others? And so within my calendar if it's a meeting, informal meeting or coffee chat and meeting with younger folks within my industry or outside my industry, I carve out that time, so it's actually part of my calendar. One of the things that actually just opened up within our company is our mentoring program, Mentoring Plus and it's a matching system. And it's amazing because we actually get to, you can submit yourself as a mentor or mentee, and then the system will match you up with folks where your interests may, you know, overlap, it would be globally. And so I was able to choose my mentees for this timeframe, because it happens almost in like a quarter. And I chose somebody from Argentina, which again, I also want to hear a global perspective and so I think that, that's super interesting to me and so I chose someone from Argentina to be able to mentor. And then somebody who is internal and local, and who I can actually meet face to face, to be able to have that interaction. So I carve out the space for it. I also am part of an organization through the AMA where college professors can request if they need a specific speaker with specific expertise, have it be marketing research and I can actually attend those universities and either make a presentation, do a Q&A, a panel. And so it allows me to have a voice and a platform to be able to give to people who are obviously younger. But I would say also doesn't have to be mentoring people that are in a formal mentorship relationship, and any interaction where I feel like someone may be looking for advice, you know, I really take that opportunity as like, it seems like you need a little bit more time to maybe talk this through and just being open and making yourself available. So I'm intentional about that. Again, I would have loved to have done that, when I was starting out my career and have taken advantage of that. So now I'm really intentional about bringing the opportunity up to people and if they would like it, and they want to take advantage of it then great.
Awesome. That's great. Karen, you are at the office right now and what's it like for you kind of striking the sort of work-life balance? So many folks are returning back to the office or trying to figure out how to almost create a new balance, if you will, right, where so many were used to kind of being at home, and then some just continued going into the office or going into work? What's it been like for you?
Karen Vega 27:17
Yeah, I will be honest, and say I'm still adjusting to it. I mean, even today, being a first day that I am officially in my designated day at the office, we'll have to obviously now pivot and adjust and optimize and see, you know, how does this being in the office thing work nowadays, right? So, work life balance, super important for me. I have a husband, a four year old son, who I want to make sure that I'm not missing out on big events and formative moments of his life. And so setting those boundaries is super duper important, really taking ownership of my time and my calendar, and making the most of the in person moments. One of the things I'm telling my team is, let's be mindful, right? When we are in the office, those two days, make sure that the calendar invite doesn't just have a zoom. Like, if we're all here, we need to be talking to one another in a conference room, seeing one another. So that's an imperative for me, it's making the most out of that in person time. And then I think it could be easy, especially in this like hybrid model to just say, like, "Paul, you can work at all hours of the day," right? Like, "I'll pick that email back up later on tonight." I think one of the things that I also do is that I have a rule that after like 8pm, I just don't look at emails. And 8pm may sound a little late, but by the time you know, I kind of wind down from emails, 8pm is what I give myself. And then you know, just stop work right there. If I could, right, when I can and most of the time I can, I would say. Slack is a thing that it's like a double edged sword. Accessible, you can easily like get caught up in conversations, which is great in some ways and bad in other. Being intentional about putting that pause on Slack for that dedicated time. So I find moments in my day where I'm gonna say, I'm not going to answer my Slack for this time to this time. That may not always pan out that way. but again, trying to be intentional about saying I need this time to really focus on what I need to get done and this is my priority for my day so that I can go home and even before eight o'clock, I can shut down and I can be with my son and I can allow time for that, you know, that personal sort of mental break that everybody needs.
Absolutely. Everyone needs that mental break. And I've realized too as I've gotten older that sleep becomes more and more important. You gotta get that rest.
Karen Vega 30:02
I mean sleep, that is my, I do that really really good bro. I do that very well. And I will say one more thing that really feeds my soul is travel. So even this weekend I was like how can I make the best out of this weekend, go down for a trip to Washington DC, get inspired by you know going into a museum, seeing different things, visiting different people just breaking out of the monotony that could be your day to day work. And so that I think also helps to keep me balanced. And so you'll always see me like looking for okay, what's next? What's next on the trip? That's a good one for me too.
Gotcha. Alright fun question I like asking every guest we have on, what's in your music rotation right now? What are you jamming out to?
Karen Vega 30:51
Oh, gosh. Oh, man. Okay, so in my music rotation is actually my son's playlist on Spotify. It would not be the typical four year old playlist because we have anything from Tiesto to, what else do we listen to, oh, we listen to Selena Gomez, we listen to Elvis Crespo. So we're going all, like, Spanish. We do a little bit of hip hop on the safe route. What else do we listen to? I love tribal house music almost like African beats, so you know whenever I can, that's like, that's my jam. But I also love like just mellow house music as well. I was a huge club head, so that probably explains why. But I also just, I love my Chiquita, my J. Balvin, my Bad Bunny. So I feel a little bit of everything, you'll see a very randomized playlist. Oh, and I love like Bollywood music and Arabic music. I love it. So it's it's all over the place. But I love that, I love music. Music is another mental break for me, well, while we're talking about balancing.
We didn't even get Kidz Bop in there at all. (laughs)
Karen Vega 32:14
We do not do Kidz Bop.
Have you heard any of the Kidz Bop reggaeton versions, they like clean them up and it's not bad.
Karen Vega 32:20
I guess I have to. You know what, I find it that like when I play Kidz Bop, my son is like no, you gotta play the real thing.
I want the original, yeah, I love it.
Karen Vega 32:32
The real thing, we're going for the real thing. (laughs)
That's awesome. So much fun talking with you. And thanks for sharing your experiences. A lot of times our listeners and viewers love to stay in touch or reach out. What are some ways that they can find you?
Karen Vega 32:44
Yeah, absolutely. LinkedIn is where, you know, all my professional connections are. I also just love LinkedIn, it's just a great platform to really get a view at people's trajectories and you know who they are and what they post about and keep up with. So LinkedIn, I'm they're under Karen Vega-Porcelli. So I married an Italian, an Italian American. God bless his soul he married a Colombian. (laughs) So you can find-
I'm sure there's ways you figure out like, "Wait, we're kind of the same?"
Karen Vega 33:20
All the time, right? (laughs)
Karen Vega 33:22
Oh, Italians, Colombian culture is very similar, so yeah, you know, we definitely jive. (laughs)
That's awesome. That's awesome. Well, Karen, thanks so much for hanging out with us. It's been a lot, a lot of fun. And a big thanks again to our sponsor, Ground Truth, a media company that turns real world behavior into marketing that delivers real business results. Thanks for the support. Karen, thanks for joining us. And thanks, everyone, for listening to another episode. You can find more episodes of MRP wherever you find all of your audio and video. Thanks, everyone for listening to another episode.
Karen Vega 33:57