byFairygodbosson Sep 09, 2016

Fairygodboss of the Week: Vanessa Soto

Vanessa Soto

Photo credit:Vanessa Soto

Vanessa Soto knows how to do her job well, and still find time to do something on the side. When she’s not running digital advertising for the Charles Schwab retail business, she’s a life coach and mom to a teenage daughter. And, she’s inspiring people everywhere to hone in on their passion project with her new podcast, “Doing It On The Side.” Her career advice: “Play to your strengths!”

Fairygodboss of the Week: Vanessa Soto
Managing Director, Digital Advertising
San Francisco, CA

FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
VS: Almost exactly 20 years ago, I came home from my honeymoon, responded to an ad in the classifieds (yes, the actual printed newspaper) and landed a job with a tiny direct marketing agency called Times Direct Marketing. At that time the agency was just starting to get into creating small websites, marketing emails and banner ads for our clients. During the 3 years I was there, I built the foundation for what became an early career in digital advertising.

After that I went on to other agencies where I was often part of smaller digital-focused teams where I spent a lot of time educating both my peers and clients on the ways of the internet.

Agency life is not for everyone. The hours are long, the clients are sometimes great and sometimes not so great, and the creative personalities and egos can be trying -- to say the least.  As an account manager, my job was two-fold: manage the client relationship and manage the creative team to get the work done – and in doing this, you are constantly walking a line between the two worlds. I was good at it, but I’d really just fallen into it when I responded to that classified ad, and pretty early on I knew I wanted to make the shift from agency to “client side”.

It’s not often easy to make that shift – but with time, I finally did! And now I use all those skills from my agency years at Charles Schwab, where I’ve been heading up digital advertising for our retail business for the last 4 years.

FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
VS: I love leading teams and mentoring others, so all my favorite accomplishments tend to fall into one of those buckets.  But, the #1 accomplishment I’m really proud of right now is separate from my work at Schwab, and it’s that I’m developing a podcast!  A few years ago I got certified as a life coach and started doing that work on the side.  The experience of having “something on the side” that is different from my work life has been so good for me, that I wanted to explore and share stories of other people with side projects and side businesses, and that’s what the Doing It On the Side podcast will be all about. It’s launching in September and you can learn more at www.thesidepassionproject.com.

FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
VS: In 2005, my now ex-husband had a major accident that led to a traumatic brain injury and the loss of his hearing. It was an extremely complicated and trying time that led to my divorce in 2008. In looking back on everything that happened, while I wouldn’t ask for any of it, it ultimately made me stronger and led me to look at my life and what I do every day with more intention. We only get one life, and I try now to appreciate it no matter how confusing and uncertain it so often can be.

Lightning Round:

FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
VS: Right now all my spare time goes into two things: spending time with my teenage daughter and working on the podcast I’m launching in September!

FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
VS: CJ Cregg from The West Wing.  Yes, I know she’s not real but she’s my favorite!

FGB: What is your karaoke song?
VS: Definitely something New Wave from the 80s.

FGB: What is your favorite movie
VS: The Graduate

FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
VS: I love to read, so I would really probably need one book per day!  But if I really had to pick one it would probably be something by Ann Patchett or Jane Smiley.  

FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
VS: A Beach shack and a pile of books until I got tired of that life and then I’d do something entrepreneurial with a creative bent.

FGB: Who is your Fairygodboss?
VS: While I love to mentor others, I’ve never had an “official” mentor myself. Rather, there have been a range of people along the way who recognized potential in me, encouraged me, and told me what I was good at. These people each helped me get out of my own head and see myself from the outside in.

Laura Schuler was one of my first bosses back at the tiny direct marketing agency, and we went on to work together at Saatchi & Saatchi and AKQA.  We’re now friends of 20 years.  Laura made sure I knew I was an asset when she brought me to Saatchi, and also taught me how to ask for the salary I was worth.    

FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
VS: Play to your strengths!  Notice what you like doing and do well and make sure your job gives you lots of opportunity to do lots of it. If your job includes a lot of responsibilities that you’re just not naturally good at, recognize that and instead of trying to change yourself, maybe it’s time to change jobs. You will be happier and a million times more successful when you are spending as much time as possible using your strengths.


Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.


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