AT&T’s Val Vargas Explains How ‘The 10-foot Rule’ Can Help Bolster Your Career

As AT&T’s Val Vargas sees it, sometimes it’s the small gestures that can majorly impact your career. And with more than 12 years leading advertising for the mobile carrier giant – plus past roles with BellSouth Cellular, Cingular Wireless, and HomeBanc –Val sees her career progression as a series of “failing up.” Read on the learn about Val’s 10-foot rule, along with the importance of establishing your personal presence.

How did you get to where you are today? 

A very tangled web. Originally went to undergrad for musical theater, eventually transitioning into marketing. Ended up completing law school and passing the bar – but found early on that legal-life was not for me. I have a creative side that just wasn’t fulfilled. So, I went back to marketing – and after years of ‘failing up’ (I learn something new every day), here I am.

Today, I oversee AT&T’s consumer acquisition and base communications marketing and advertising – across AT&T wireless, AT&T Internet & DirecTV/DirecTVNOW. This includes mass advertising, performance marketing (digital, social, direct), creative services (our in house agency), retail marketing (of our 4500+ company owned & authorized retailer locations), HelloLab (our audience-focused engagement and experiential programs) and combined assets (finding ways to integrate Warner Media assets and experiences into AT&T marketing).

What pivotal moments did you face along the way? 

Having children. I did not embrace pregnancy and becoming a mother, somehow worried that it was a physical demonstration of “weakness” in the workplace. Looking back – I was nuts! Working mothers are amazing! There is nothing weak about it – heck, I grew a human being and rocked the office!

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

For most of my career, I’ve been the sole female at the table – where my peers and leadership are men. So, you’ve got to own it. Embrace it. Bring the assets you have to bear besides your work qualifications which got you to the position (innate tendency towards empathy anyone?)

Any other advice you can share?

“Whenever you are within 10 feet of someone, I don’t care if you know them or not, smile and say hi.”

Operate by the 10-foot rule – whenever you are within 10 feet of someone, I don’t care if you know them or not, smile and say hi. A) It establishes your personal brand of someone who is friendly and approachable, and B) you never know down the road when that person you always said hi to in the cafeteria becomes someone you are directly working with – gifting you a much easier start on that project.

Who helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking?

Two women, who I was lucky enough to work under for short periods of time. They taught me about ‘work-life integration’ and how to hold your own at a male-dominated table (sit up, speak up and don’t nod to every comment made in the room).

What does work-life integration look like for you?

I’m lucky enough to work in a business (connectivity) that enables you to take your work with you – and operate from a beach, a baseball field or even the doctor’s office. You weave personal needs and work needs as seamlessly as you can

Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?

“Learn to appropriately toot your own horn earlier.”

Learn to appropriately toot your own horn earlier. Somehow, I always thought if I just put my head down and worked really hard, that would be enough. For some reason, women (and I am generalizing here) tend to believe our hard work is enough. It’s the table stakes – but you have to establish your personal presence and personal brand to stand out from the peers around you. And be comfortable talking about your special sauce – what makes you the person they need to have on their team!

@lgranatstein Lisa Granatstein is the editor, svp, programming at Adweek.