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How Marie Philemon’s non-linear career path led her to become a creative operations powerhouse

by | Mar 14, 2023

Headshot of Marie Philemon.
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“I feel like every career move or every place that I’ve worked has really built off of each other. But you don’t see that in a moment, right? You never have full visibility into whether you’re making the right choice.”

Meet Marie Philemon, Rosie community member and Director of Creative Operations for Rebel Fish Creative Group, Norwegian Cruise Line’s in-house agency. While directing creative operations for a cruise line sounds idyllic, Marie’s path hasn’t always been smooth or straight. In her career, she’s seen it all: staying too long in a job she hated, layoffs, and underemployment.

Marie’s journey in creative operations started at the Smithsonian Institute as a traffic and production coordinator. She gradually expanded her responsibilities and was able to land a leadership role in creative operations for Hilton Worldwide.

When COVID-19 ended her time at Hilton, Marie moved back home to South Florida with her fiancé and became an independent marketer at an agency through We Are Rosie. In 2022, she joined Rebel Fish Creative Group to build up their internal agency.

Through each step of her career, she questioned if the next move was the best one. Even when she was bartending in between jobs, she learned lessons and made a connection that led to her next role. Looking back, she can see exactly where she picked up each of the skills that serve her as a creative operations leader today.

 

Creative operations: Tetris for marketing

Creative operations—or “creative ops” as it’s known in the industry—is a growing subspecialty within marketing. Creative operations allow marketing and advertising departments to scale and mature through frameworks for project management, production, and analytics.

For Marie, that translates to managing operations for a team of about 50 people around the world. Each day, she works to make sure the agency is appropriately staffed and resourced to meet deadlines and produce their best work.

“We have all these parts of the creative agency: we have design, we have copy, we have video, we have the accounts team, and we have print production. My job is basically to see how these teams work together: What processes are we building to make sure that we’re all aligned and that the work gets done?”

While her team dives into the minutia of production, Marie keeps her eye on the big picture—something her ScrumMaster® certification prepared her well for. She even keeps a giant Scrum sprint board in her office to visualize their projects.

“I always say it’s like a game of Tetris,” she says. “It’s really weird, but I just love organizing things and making sure everyone has what they need to do what they need to do.”

 

Freedom in project-based work

Marie stayed in her first job for seven years. “From as early as six months in, I didn’t love it,” she recalls. “But how do you leave a job without another job?”

Fortunately, times have changed.

The next time she wanted a career change, Marie was determined to avoid a long job search while stuck in a toxic work environment. That’s how she ended up freelancing through We Are Rosie.

“It gave me that freedom to be able to say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Contracting is a much shorter interview process and application process,” Marie explains. Since We Are Rosie’s team handpicks and vets every Rosie that interviews for a specific project or role, “[the clients] trust you more and you’re not meeting with 10 different people for a job.”

“Contracting is a great safety net when life happens,” she adds. “You can also build a career out of it, if that’s what you want. When you contract, you’re in control of your career.”

 

How to land your next role in marketing

In her position, Marie has seen a lot of resumes and managed a lot of people. When she looks to fill a role, however, technical skills aren’t her top consideration.

“When I interview someone like a designer, all I need to know is that you can take direction, you’re a collaborative person, and that you’re open to learning new technologies like our project management system.”

She looks for soft skills like building relationships and managing up and across in an organization—particularly important for an internal agency with priorities coming from multiple directions.

“If you’ve made it to the interview, assume I’ve seen your resume and that you can do the work. I’m trying to see how you manage conflict, how you de-escalate situations, and how you manage your time.”

For marketers aspiring to be promoted or move into leadership, she recommends sharing career and growth aspirations with your boss and asking for feedback and support to get there. “No one is going to do it for you while you sit there quietly working like a dog in the background. Know how to market yourself.”

 

Leadership lessons along the way

Over time, Marie has developed a leadership style that’s uniquely hers. “I’m honest, I’m direct, and I feel like people who report into me appreciate that,” she explains. Her team knows that she’ll let them know immediately if they’ve messed up, because she wants everyone to succeed.

That’s a lesson Marie learned the hard way. Some years ago, she managed a contractor. She wasn’t happy with the contractor’s performance but wanted to be nice and gave subtle feedback. When Marie decided not to renew her contract, the woman was blindsided.

“I thought I was being clear, and it was not clear to her,” she recalls. “I was disappointed in myself and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to make sure that never happens again.’ I made a misstep, but it’s made me a better leader.”

 

Finding your niche

Despite the detours, Marie couldn’t imagine herself in any other career.

“I love what I do, I really do. I love being in creative operations because I found my niche. Leading isn’t easy, like having teams isn’t easy, but at the same time, I love helping people and just seeing people succeed.”

Even if you aren’t where you want to be in your career or don’t know what’s next, trust the journey. Like Marie, you may need different stops along the way to pick up the skills and lessons you need to land in your career niche.

Written by Mandy Bray
Mandy Bray is a freelance writer who covers marketing, tech, and careers. She picks up too many hobbies and lives in Indianapolis with her husband, kids, and black lab. Follow her work at mandybray.com and on LinkedIn.

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