In episode 162, Erik and Kerel talk with NoorJehan Tourte, Group SVP, Strategic Planner at Area 23, a healthcare advertising agency about growing up in the Mojave Desert with her Indian family and community, moving to LA proper at 15, and being exposed to so many more people and cultures which really influenced how she lives her life and works today. Following in her brother’s footsteps of being on track to go to med school, NoorJehan eventually figured out that going to business school to get her MBA was a much more exciting path.
From starting out in advertising in the Pharma space at Pfizer, to eventually getting into marketing at Area 23, NoorJehan has learned quite a bit. She shares a mission of her own about getting women really excited about failure, being a part of the Sports Illustrated Swim Search competition, a story about falling off a couch on her birthday and how she made that a win, the cycles of female friendships, great advice that she’s given and passed along to the listeners, and so much more.
“I've been saying this to myself a lot lately, I'm not saying it's a point of no return, but there is a point in a day or a point at a time in a project lifecycle where it's more important to be respected than to be liked and you just have to know when that matters more.”
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of MRP Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. We're coming to you right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. And each episode we talk with real operators and leaders in media, tech and business. And today joining us is NoorJehan Tourte, who is Group Senior Vice President, Brand Strategist at Area 23. Let's jump in and get to know NoorJehan. NoorJehan, welcome, how are you?
NoorJehan Tourte 00:34
I'm great. Thank you. Thanks for having me both.
We're excited to have you and excited to get to know you a little bit. NoorJehan, tell us a little bit about you. Where are you at currently? Where are you at currently in the world today?
NoorJehan Tourte 00:49
Currently in the world today, I am in Miami.
Okay. Alright, Miami, alright.
NoorJehan Tourte 00:54
So, you're in Miami now, but take us back a little bit. It wasn't always Miami.
NoorJehan Tourte 01:00
It wasn't always Miami.
(laughs) Tell us where you grew up. Where was home? Where's the OG home for you?
NoorJehan Tourte 01:05
(laughs) The OG home for NoorJehan is Southern California, but not exactly the beaches. I was actually born in the Mojave Desert. So 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, born and raised until I was 15. And then I moved to the beaches and I moved into Los Angeles, and went to school in LA, got my Master's in Public Health in LA. I was a complete Southern California girl. Well not blond hair, blue eyed, Southern California girl, but I was an LA Girl. And then I moved to New York City when I decided to get my MBA. And then I became an East Coast girl.
Big change, huh?
NoorJehan Tourte 01:45
Yeah, big change.
How did you like those winters in New York?
NoorJehan Tourte 01:49
You know, I grew to really enjoy them because New York just grew on me so much after business school, I just started falling in love with the city with every year. Then I hit my max of being able to handle the New York winters, thus, I'm in Miami. Now, my husband and I split our time. So in the summer and fall, you'll find us in New York, and in the winter and spring, you'll find us in Miami.
NoorJehan, that's a big change from LA to New York, but also, probably from the desert to LA. What was that like at 15? Transitioning to there?
NoorJehan Tourte 02:29
It was a big transition. And it's funny, I feel like such an impostor because I will go on, you know, talks or podcasts and say, I grew up in Southern California, but I'm thinking about Southern California from 15 onwards, when I was at the beach and was in LA proper. That's a great question because the transition was very significant. I went from a very, very small town. You know, my parents were some of the first immigrant family, one of the first immigrant Indian families that moved into that town and it was mostly Caucasian and Hispanic. And then there was a very tight knit Indian community in that town. So that's where I grew up and I've got to say we were pretty sheltered in that the Indian community just stuck together very closely. And then transitioning into Los Angeles, it was like an incredible melting pot, I really got exposed to so many different cultures and religions and different types of people that I really did not get exposure to growing up in the Mojave Desert.
I want to ask you a little bit about community and even identity within the community, because I love how you sort of explain it that I feel like so many can relate to it, but then also, so many may learn from your experiences as well. I love how you describe "I'm an American born daughter to Indian immigrants," but you're a SoCal girl at heart. And that's how you grew up. And it's interesting, sort of embracing a family culture, and then also embracing now a couple of cultures. There's almost a West Coast culture, there's an East Coast culture, as well, right. And so for you now, having all those experiences, what do you think you've really learned, you know, from that, being in so many different sort of communities that you kind of pass on to now?
NoorJehan Tourte 04:18
I love that question. I think what it has taught me is to be unapologetic about my identity. You learn so much from all these different communities, that you're a part of or you're exposed to, when you are in a position of being exposed to so many different communities and you're trying to find yourself. I think all of us are when you're in your youth, and realizing that you may not be exactly embracing 100% one of these communities is okay. I think that's what I've learned, because along the way, I grew to just love my Indian culture, but then even within our Indian community, there were so many different faiths that were being practiced, right, and learning from these different faiths and then attending all these different religious celebrations that were part of our Indian culture, but not really fully 100% being in one of those states, and then moving to Los Angeles and being exposed to all these different ethnic backgrounds and communities, then you kind of find different groups of people through hobbies and things that you're pursuing. So I feel like my identity just kept evolving and instead of settling on one or figuring out which one was my identity, I think what I've learned is, it's okay to identify in a lot of different places and do it unapologetically.
That's great. I feel like so many can maybe relate to that too, right? Where you kind of have one foot in one feeling and then one foot in the other, but it's okay to have both of them planted firmly in those kind of areas, right, interesting, yeah.
NoorJehan Tourte 05:59
And it's okay to lift your foot out of one.
Yeah, that's right.
NoorJehan Tourte 06:02
If it's coarse, or, you know, I don't know, I think we, or maybe I always thought of identity as something that was so permanent and so I needed to find one. But I now am embracing and trying to express that when I talk to folks that it's okay if it's fluid, it's okay if you're identifying with different, it's just like you identify with different interests and hobbies, or you do career changes, right? Like, work becomes such a big part of our identity. If you choose a career change, then your identity is changing with that career change. And I think that's absolutely fine.
I want to ask you about work, I want to ask you about career. And you know, you've been with Area 23 for a little bit. Tell us what's going on? What is Area 23 for those that don't know, and tell us about your sort of marketing and sort of advertising background?
NoorJehan Tourte 06:50
Yeah, absolutely. So Area 23 is a healthcare advertising agency. And we're based in New York City, it's an agency that mostly services to clients in the pharmaceutical field. So our clients are the Pfizer's, Mercks, Lilies of the world. And they are the companies that are behind a lot of the prescription drugs for which you see commercials, all of those commercials with the listing of the side effects at the end of those commercials. Those are commercials that are created by advertising agencies such as ours, but we also specialize in helping our clients create all of the promotional communications that go out to their doctors, to their health care professionals. So it's to the patients and those consumers and also to the health care professionals. So we work very hand in hand and closely with the pharmaceutical marketers, those are our clients, in making sure all of these promotions are getting out to the right customers, but also that they are compliant. So in healthcare advertising, you are restricted within the guidelines and regulations of the FDA. Thus, you have that long reading of side effects at the end of these commercials. And so it's our responsibility to stay on top of what those FDA regulations are and make sure that our promotions and our communications are adhering to that, but then it's also our responsibility to be great advertisers and to help our clients, our marketers be great marketers, and that means doing great strategy. And that's where I come in as a brand strategist.
NoorJehan, you've built a career in marketing, and I see a good portion of that career has been in the pharma space as well too because looking at your background, you've also worked at Pfizer. Has that been an intentional push for you? What about marketing do you love so much? And then the sort of healthcare pharma space as well?
NoorJehan Tourte 08:48
Yeah, I will make the clarification that you know, now I say I'm in advertising, I was in marketing. When I was at Pfizer, I was a pharmaceutical marketer. And that wasn't the start of my healthcare career. I started in health care consulting. So after I got my Master's in Public Health, I went into client service, but I went into the consulting side. So I was in Healthcare Advisory at PricewaterhouseCoopers and my clients then were a lot of health insurance companies and hospital systems. And why I got into health care, to be very frank, I was following in my brother's footsteps. He had gone to medical school, and I had taken my MCAT and I was really trying to beef up my resume and make sure that I could get into medical school. And he had recommended and suggested a great stepping stone would be to get my Master's in Public Health. So I went into a Master's in Public Health program and in the summer between my first and second year, I did an internship in healthcare consulting, and suddenly I realized, okay, I can be in health care and I knew I wanted to be in health care but the allure and the appeal, I mean, that was like we were bluetooth, getting on planes, flying to our clients and going out for dinners and staying out and then getting up early and being at the client site, and it was all just so, I felt like that was me. I was like, this is the business side of healthcare. And this is what I like. So that's where my draw for healthcare and business started. And after several years of consulting, I decided I wanted to be on the client side. And that's actually what prompted me to go to business school. And when I was in business school, I decided to major in finance and marketing. That's where I really discovered marketing. And I will be very honest, Kerel, when I walked into my first marketing class in business school, I thought it was advertising. I thought they were going to tell me all about the commercials and posters and all of the ads that go out to customers. And then it felt like this very economic numbers driven course, I quickly learned once I started interning at Pfizer, and taking a job there that a marketer in pharmaceuticals, you are essentially a business manager, right. So it's all structured the same way, like within Pfizer, every brand is its own P&L. And so you're kind of working your way up to become a brand lead, and basically the business owner of that brand and managing that P&L. And when I did that for seven years I did enjoy it and I really kind of felt like I was good at it. And then my father fell sick. And when my father fell sick, I came back to California to help take care of him. And he was diagnosed with lung cancer. And I think that's when I really started figuring out, do I really want to stay in pharmaceutical marketing, because even if you're good at something, and even if I invested so much time, and I was ambitious and determined, I saw the future. The future was a lot more Excel grids, a lot more P&L management, and a lot less being close to my agency of record, my advertising agency that was talking all the strategy and how we were going to take share from the competition. And what were we going to do to move the needle and all of the things that I really enjoy talking about, I was doing less and less of that the further I went up to catching and chasing a bigger P&L.
When you think about that time, what goes into your decision making process as to the direction you want to take your career? I feel like all of us throughout points in our career, probably multiple times throughout our career, we come to sort of this sort of fork in the road of like, do I want to try something different? Do I want to continue to do the same thing? And I think our listeners will really benefit from hearing about, you know, your decision making process, what goes into that when you're thinking about the direction of where you want to take your career?
NoorJehan Tourte 12:44
For me, it was just being really honest with myself. I had a lot of time to think right when I was at the hospital, through my dad's procedures and treatments and just being very honest. And I have nothing bad to say about Pfizer and their marketers and that team. They shaped me, like, I have the utmost respect for all my mentors and everyone, my colleagues. I remember sitting there in California and not being excited about going back. It wasn't the like Sunday blues, or the kind of excitement, or that feeling of "Aw shucks, the weekends done or the vacations done and I have to go back to work." It was this other feeling that I just thought I can keep doing this and I know I'm good at this, but I don't feel excited about this. And the other thing I think you have to be honest with yourself about is that my peers, the folks that, you know, I was part of the second marketing rotational program ever at Pfizer. And so we were, you know, this group of marketers that were put through an extensive two year training program, and I was seeing them absolutely flourish in their excitement for the meetings with the key account managers and figuring out supply chain issues and going into those like budget estimate meetings. So that's when it really occurred to me like, there are things that make me that excited and this isn't it.
Yeah, it is. It is so important to wake up every day and do something you're excited about. I just think like you can't understate that point. It makes a world of difference not only for your own mental health and sanity, but your performance as a professional to I just think you know, people perform better when they're doing something they're excited about.
NoorJehan Tourte 14:11
I love this word 'excited.' 'Not excited.' 'Very excited.' NoorJehan, I want to ask you about a mission that you have to get women excited. You have a mission to get women excited about the prospect of falling on their faces not once, not twice, but like over and over and over again. Can you explain to us like what that means? And like what that means for others too?
Can I just jump in and say, I'm very excited. I'm excited for the full conversation, but this point, because when I was reading your bio, like I had to go back and make sure I read that multiple times, like that's, that's correct. So I'm excited to hear your response.
NoorJehan Tourte 15:18
I love the excitement about this. You know, and it's actually advice I got when I joined Pfizer, where everyone was picking which brand that they would start their first rotation on. And I was like, "Okay, like, what do I pick?" And I'm trying to figure out, trying to understand, and all the new rotationals are asking each other questions. And my mentor said to me, "Why don't you just pick the brand that no one else wants to work on?" And I'm like, "Why would I do that?" And he said, "It's okay, because if you make mistakes on a brand no one else is looking at, it doesn't matter how many times you fall, you're just going to keep getting better. So the pressure is going to be on all of you, you're all new marketers, but the pressure for someone who's going to take a role on Viagra, the spotlights on that entire team, if they mess up, they're going to share the burden of that fall, but if you mess up on this smaller brand that has smaller revenue targets, and no one's really talking about, so be it, you're going to learn from that mistake." And I think that for my career, that just stuck with me, but then I also think about in my own personal life, that I always kind of went back to that. And also retroactively, I was thinking about all the mistakes I made. And I'm like, oh, yeah, I just kept falling and falling. And I think we put so much pressure and I'm speaking for women, you can agree or disagree Kerel and Erik, but we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect around other women. So I've also seen that when now I mentor and manage other women and younger women that the fear they have of like saying the wrong thing, or saying something that is going to be incongruent with what I think or what our other female manager thinks. And, you know, if you limit that, I mean, I won't get to know you, I don't know what you're thinking. And we might not agree, but my gosh, don't limit yourself. And I think that's where this idea of like, get excited about falling on your face, get excited about making mistakes, instead of already beating yourself up for it. Because if you're already scared of it, you're just going to try so hard to be perfect and then you're just going to be stiff, and you're just going to be unnatural. And I think that's where we lose the humanity in corporate America, it's because we're all just too scared to fall.
I'm gonna go with agree on that one. So yeah, well, I think we agree with-
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Yeah, I agree. And just a follow up question there. How do you yourself and then I guess, also coach other women to come back from setbacks, to come back from falling, right, because I think it's, it's one thing new, go forward and fall, but you got to then pick yourself back up and go at it again, right?
NoorJehan Tourte 18:05
Yeah, for myself, I'll take a personal example. Just on my birthday last year, it was the funnest celebration. And it was at a restaurant in New York, and everyone was dancing and having fun. And it was those couches where you got on top of the couches and you danced and it was just amazing. And everyone said, Noor get up on one of the couches, it's your birthday, dance! I didn't take my heels off and I fell so hard.
I was just gonna ask you with or without shoes on the couches. Because I just see imbalance there. (laughs)
NoorJehan Tourte 18:35
Which, I just got so caught up in the excitement and I fell. And of course, everyone, especially my husband caught it on camera. And it was such a bad fall, but I didn't get hurt. And if you think about it, I got so lucky not to get hurt. Oh man, I mean, but I just got back up and enjoyed my dinner. And the next day I saw how injured my leg was. And I started wallowing in self pity. And then I thought, oh my gosh, this could have been so much worse, then I was angry at myself for making that mistake. And I started wallowing in self pity. Then it struck me that huh, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit submissions are coming up again and I need a great submission hook and a great story and a great video and what am I going to use and I turned to my husband, I said give me that video. Give me that video. And I'm going to turn that into my submission video. So I fell and I made something of it. And I think that is then the story that I try to tell the women that I mentor or anyone, like if you make, if we don't win a pitch or if you make a mistake, like own it and make something of it. And you know instead of like, I don't know making excuses for it or whatnot, just own it and I respect that so much more when I have people just come to me and say "Hey, I messed up." And I mean something as little as like "I messed up, I slept through my alarm." "I completely messed up on this and you know, the clients are probably going to tell you that that happened, I have no excuses." You know, just make something of it. And then by the end of the day, if they've got something amazing in my inbox, then then you've done something with it, and you're not dwelling on it anymore. So that's where that came from. That's how I try to handle it in my life and how I tried to talk to other women about handling it in their lives.
Yeah, I want to ask you, you mentioned the Sports Illustrated swim search competition, which had to be really exciting, the process, you just mentioned, a really sort of unique submission and, you know, thinking about it strategically, almost, but it's almost also natural and organic, right? Like who, who wouldn't sort of pay attention and notice something like that in the submission, right, and that had to be a lot of fun. But I'm curious, what did you learn about the process? What did you learn about going through such a competitive, and also well known sort of competition?
NoorJehan Tourte 21:05
What I learned from it is going to sound quite cliche, but my gosh, is everyone human. You're amongst these women who you see and, you know, we think, "Oh, my gosh, they're so beautiful, and they're so successful, and they're so amazing," and then you start talking to them, and everyone has personalities, everyone's got a funny witty sense of humor, or a laugh that just makes everyone else laugh, or some people kind of suck. I mean, let's be honest, you know, and it just like, I think I learned a lot about like, everyone is just human. And you start appreciating that in a way that it kind of takes everyone off a pedestal and you all kind of realize you're on the same level playing field, whether you are a, you know, a professional swim model, or a marketer, or a stay at home mom. I don't know, we're all just trying to make this one life count. I think that's what was really eye opening about it. And the process, I thought was really interesting, because I was very, I'll be the first to admit, and I think a lot of women are when you first go out for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit competition, or maybe others aren't, because they're a little more strategic than I was the first time, but I didn't go there trying to make friends. I have friends, I had a purpose. I said, "I want to see women of color, I want to see people of my background out there, I want to do this for myself, because I'm so happy with the identity I have. And I really do think you can balance it all, if you want at all." That was my mission. And then I suddenly went into this process and they really, really look to see how human you are, how authentic you are. And I think that naturally attracts other women who are authentic. And so I came out of that process at this stage in my life not expecting to make new female friendships and I made some very serious, deep rooted female friendships out of it.
Interesting. Yeah, I want to ask you about female friendships. And you know, it's interesting. You know, as we age, things change. And I think you have some interesting perspectives on female friendships. How do they evolve? Tell us about, you know, your perspective on the evolution of female friendships as we age.
NoorJehan Tourte 23:19
You know, I mean, it just given what we talked about with career and a lot of your listeners are in the trajectory of their careers, I will make the parallel but I do think female friendships change as we go through different life phases. Obviously, if you know, you go from where you're childhood friends to college, and then you might get married or have children. But I also think female friendships change a lot as we advance in our careers. And you might have friends who chose to put their careers on hold, because they're raising their children. And so in those years that they put their careers on hold, and you're continuing to advance in your career, I think it changes what you're talking about with your friends. And then if you have friends that maybe you're in different industries, but suddenly you're starting to advance further than they are in theirs. Does that change the dynamic? Yes, I think it does. And so I feel like that what it does, the word I always come back to is that I didn't think this of myself, and I didn't think this of a lot of my closest friends until we all started aging. We're all sensitive.
NoorJehan Tourte 24:22
And I don't think that that's a weak word at all. I think in the workforce, in corporate America, if you describe a female as sensitive, it has a negative connotation. I don't think it's that at all, but I do think it's something that we don't talk about enough because it feels like a taboo to admit sensitivity as a female. But I think there is a sensitivity that we all maybe at least I didn't realize I was as sensitive as I am or that I'm growing into being and you have to acknowledge that to try to navigate these adult female friendships.
I do think that we are all sensitive, male and female. I think we all have levels of sensitivity. And when I think about that, I also think about receiving feedback from people, whether it's in the workplace or personally and, you know, being able to take in some of that feedback without taking it personally. How do you approach that in terms of not taking things personally?
NoorJehan Tourte 25:23
In terms of like direct reports and getting feedback from them, or knowing that I might be saying something to them that would make them kind of over dinner just complain about me to the boss or a manager to their partner. I've been saying this to myself a lot lately, I'm not saying it's a point of no return, but there is a point in a day or a point at a time in a project lifecycle where it's more important to be respected than to be liked and you just have to know when that matters more. And if your intentions are not to make that person's life miserable, or your intentions are not to hurt that person's feelings, then I always remember I'm like, "I shouldn't take this personally," especially when it comes to like the feedback and with direct reports. When it comes to decisions that are made that I feel I may have been overlooked for or that I don't understand why someone else got chosen over me, that's a different coping mechanism about not taking things personally. That is then when I have to and I think everyone should do this, you know, you have to take stock of your career trajectory. And if you remind yourself of everything that you've done to get where you are, then being overlooked for something, I think it just stings less, because it's not necessarily me comparing myself to that person anymore, but it's me reminding myself, "Okay, I've got all the stuff, that's not going to be taken away from me, because of you know, this." And that's hard to do. That one's harder. But I think I always do that when I'm met with like a career disappointment, to try not to take it personally, I have to kind of just build myself up and be really proud of my own brand.
Gotcha. Where do you draw inspiration from?
NoorJehan Tourte 27:12
For me, it's reading, and it's music. I remember the first time I was making the career switch from marketing to advertising into strategy, specifically, right, as the brand strategist, the person that really inspired me to get into strategy, he said to me, "I tell all my strategists every day during the workday, read for 30 minutes, I don't care what you're reading, but just read for 30 minutes, because you will find insights, the unspoken truth that could actually be the seed of a creative campaign." And I kept that with me, and I will guard those 30 minutes of my day with my life to read, right? Like, it's like, my Kindle's like right here, like I will read and that's where I draw my inspiration from. And it's just wild, it doesn't matter if you're reading fiction or nonfiction, somehow, something always clicks and it relates back to something I'm doing at work or in life, and it just helps me think through an issue or a problem. And music. Sometimes when I'm walking in New York, I don't even listen to podcasts. I'll listen to music because a particular song, and the crescendo or something will get an image in my head and I will think, "Oh my gosh, okay, how do I play that out in a PowerPoint deck? Or oh, this is what it's going to be like when we actually do the presentation."
Gotcha. I'm going to come back to music in one second, but before I get there, what advice would NoorJehan today give NoorJehan when you were first starting your career?
NoorJehan Tourte 28:42
Don't apologize. It's the first piece of advice I got from my first female manager on my very first day as a consultant, and I didn't know it just by autopilot, I kept saying, "Oh, sorry, can I ask you one more question? Sorry, did you mean this? Sorry" and she just looked at me and she said, "Hey, stop apologizing. It's day one. You don't know the content. Don't apologize and do me a favor don't ever apologize at work." I realized later what she was really saying too was you gotta make a clear differentiation between knowing when to apologize because it's merited and warranted and apologizing by autopilot. So it's just don't apologize. And people will know. They will know when you are making an intentional point not to apologize and you can still be classy, you can still be kind. And I think it really does earn your place at the table and earn other people's respect.
I love that. I love that advice. Okay, fun question now before I pass it back to Erik, what is in your music rotation space?
NoorJehan Tourte 29:47
So right now, I knew you were going to ask this question. I have a must play playlist that I had started creating when I was planning my wedding several years ago. The DJ said just create your must play playlist, like if you had your dream night out with your friends, and I keep adding songs to it, but it's really made up of everything hip hop and R&B from like the early 2000s. Like my LA days and college with my friends going out. And it's so much Usher, Lil Wayne, Lil Jon. Like, it's so much Usher right now. He's having a renaissance, like Vegas, Super Bowl, World Tour and I, and it's just all I listen to. I think it just takes me back to a time where I was reminded that I can be carefree I'm not thinking in to do lists, and not that I don't want to be reminded of a time past, but it's a nice reminder of "Oh no, Noor, like you can be present. You can be present even today." And so it's a nice reminder of that.
Very nice, very nice. Well, NoorJehan, a lot of our listeners love to stay in touch and reach out or follow you. What are some ways that they can do that?
NoorJehan Tourte 30:54
You can follow me on Instagram @NoorJehanTourte. Very short and sweet (laughs)
Excellent. Well, thanks for hanging out with us. It was a lot of fun, and thanks for sharing a lot about you and a lot of insights with our audience. Thanks everyone for listening to another episode and you can find a lot more episodes. Wherever you find all of your audio and video, just search for the logo. And thanks, everyone for listening to another episode.
NoorJehan Tourte 31:29
Thank you for having me. Thank you.
Great conversation. Thank you.