NASCAR’s First Female CMO Jill Gregory on Following Your Own Compass

Landis Smithers, Chief Creative Officer at The Standard

Transforming a business starts with your own leaps of faith, says NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory. Taking risks, be it changing jobs, adding responsibilities or moving cities, are bound to attract positive change. Before taking on the role of NASCAR’s first female CMO in 2016, Jill’s impressive career included stops at Sprint Nextel and Bank of America, with sports being her passion and a key component of those marketing roles. Read on to learn what it means to sit in the driver’s seat and take hold of your career.

Tell us about what you are doing now.

My role was recently expanded, and I now oversee all marketing, media and communications functions for NASCAR. Supported by a first-class analytics and insights team, I lead strategic initiatives that are designed to generate and increase fan interest in our sport, its drivers and the live experience.  

For those in the NASCAR community like myself, we’re all still buzzing from what was a thrilling and action-packed start to our season with last month’s Daytona 500. There’s great change happening in NASCAR across many fronts, so it’s exciting to be an architect of sorts and get to build what the future will look like.

How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve been fortunate to work in places where I could positively affect change. Sports have always been a passion of mine, but even more important has been the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the business and drive it forward.

For me, the critical junctures were usually the decisions to take a leap, move to a different city and/or try something new. Early on, I moved from my home state of California to Houston for an agency role at Bates Southwest, which gave me some great experience in client management as well as traditional advertising and sales promotion. From there I moved to an in-house role, relocating to New York to oversee Texaco’s sports sponsorship portfolio from its company headquarters. 

Transitioning from the more creative, agency environment to the corporate structure of Texaco was an adjustment but also a really positive experience. Agency projects were highly collaborative and entrepreneurial, while the corporate side exposed me to the importance of consensus building and selling in programs and campaigns across larger and more complex organizations. Together these roles gave me a comprehensive look at both sides, created a strong foundation for my career and prepared me well for senior leadership opportunities at Nextel and Bank of America.

When I look back on my accomplishments I have to remember that each was made possible by some leap of faith during my career. 

I left the Bank to join NASCAR in 2007 and since have had the opportunity to spearhead some major initiatives – from transforming our marketing and content strategies to creating the sport’s first new brand identity in 40 years. It goes back to embracing change and new opportunities, and taking risks. When I look back on my accomplishments I have to remember that each was made possible by some leap of faith during my career. 

What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?

I think we’re seeing better recognition of the need for diversity of thought, as well as a better understanding of why businesses need diverse leadership. That awareness is creating momentum that will hopefully lead to more opportunities for women.

So long as women remain underrepresented, though, the challenges will continue. There are more female role models across businesses now than in the past, but when you consider how important it is that young women have high-ranking, senior leaders as examples to follow, we absolutely need more.

What solutions or advice can you share?

Not to oversimplify it, but I’m a firm believer that if you work hard, do your job the right way, be good to people and deliver results, success will come to you.

For women, especially – be curious and be confident. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or communicate your ideas. Sometimes in certain rooms, there may be feelings of hesitancy but push through that and step forward. Nothing is more important than having confidence in your abilities and acting as if you belong, because you do.

Who has helped you in your journey and what advice did they give you?

follow your own compass and do what you think is right, and be authentic to who you are.

My parents, early on, encouraged independent thinking and taught me not to let doubt or uncertainty get in the way of pursuing a goal or trying something new. They gave me the confidence and support needed to experiment and be unafraid to fail… In many ways those lessons have been reinforced over the years by influential people in my career. I’ve been lucky to have had strong but fair leaders throughout my career who encouraged me. Lesa France Kennedy, for example, has been a true pioneer in our sport and a tremendous supporter of mine over the years. She is a bold and visionary leader and also very empathetic, and someone from whom I draw inspiration every day.

Regardless of your mentors, you must learn follow your own compass and do what you think is right, and be authentic to who you are. After all, the most important advocate for you is you.

What one thing would you have done differently early in your career if you had the right bit of advice?

I’ve learned over the years that how you get there can be as important as the end game. Early in my career, there were times where I needed to slow down and focus on balancing the “what” (delivering results) with the “how.” Did we launch what we felt was a strong campaign that was on time, on budget and could generate numbers? Or, did we create and implement a powerful new idea that was rooted in insights, involved the right internal and external clients and delivered results in good style?

In short, you have to focus on the metrics and drive the business, but you also need to do it in a way that stakeholder audiences – colleagues, partners, fans, etc. – feel good about and feel some ownership in the process. You can’t do it alone and you can’t drive results at any cost.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?

Easy one. I’d be a winemaker in the Napa or Sonoma valleys.