Interviews, Marketing & Comms

Balancing the Grind With Stephanie Kays, Communications Director at Hotwire

September 12, 2019

Stephanie Kays is a San Francisco-based Communications Director at Hotwire, a global PR & communications agency.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I’m focused on storytelling. I live and breathe it every day for my clients; understanding where they are now, where they want to be and finding the right place to showcase that story is what drives me.

I’ve worked in communications my whole career and even before that studying the topic in college – and I’ve worked with a lot of different types of clients depending on where I’ve lived. I began my career in Sacramento, California’s state capitol, where I worked with global brands wanting to make an impact on regional decision makers.

Then I moved back to the Bay Area where I grew up and have since been focused on working mostly with tech companies of all sizes from startups in their Series A to publicly traded companies fighting for every piece of the pie among their competitor set.

A passion of mine is working on integrated, global accounts. More often I’m finding that companies want to outsource expertise rather than hire within and if they can work with an agency that offers options as they grow, whether that’s multi-region support, design work or analyst consulting, it’s a win-win.

I enjoy consulting people and companies with aspirations to be the best and do more and collaborate along the way in just how to do it.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I’m currently based in San Francisco and am a senior director, client services at Hotwire, a global integrated communications agency. Long story short, I’m a consultant to my clients: I help them navigate their next steps; make informed decisions; and strategize and pivot when things aren’t working out as planned.

Day to day I try to own my schedule and make it work for whatever the priority is and be accommodating when I feel it’s needed. That goes for my clients and my personal life. I’m there when my clients need me – on email, in-person, via Zoom or text – but I’m also able to carve out time when I want or need to for my family, my colleagues and career development as well.

Working at a company that values thoughtful working is essential. Sometimes my schedule day to day is filled with calls, but usually I wrap up work early enough for quality time with my family and then hop on later that night to work. I’m most productive at night and find I write best when everyone else is asleep…or at least not on Slack.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Typical day in the life for me is working from home as I’m currently in the last trimester of my pregnancy and my job allows me to work where I feel most productive (thankfully!)

However, it usually begins checking Slack, Wrike and email first thing. Working with global teams, we’re good about handing items over to the person who’s waking up next and sometimes I’m needed to respond to something before their end of day or I’m just giving a thumbs up emoji to confirm receipt.

I also enjoy scanning Google news for headlines and news items that may affect my clients and flag those to them and my teams.

After that is morning family time to get my son out the door. Then it’s back to work, which usually includes calls in the morning and more communications with my teams in the afternoon. I enjoy utilizing my video for team calls or meeting clients in person as it’s a short drive to many of my clients in the South Bay and Peninsula regions in Silicon Valley.

I usually sign off for more family time in the late afternoon/evening and then focus on content or other emails after everyone else is tucked in. I’m most productive writing at night when I can clear my mind.

4) Do you have any tips on preparing and coming back from maternity leave?

When I heard the term “working mom” before having my own baby I would typically envision a cartoon image of a woman in a whirlwind with arms reached out for everything from her cell phone, her blow dryer, a teething toy for the baby and a frying pan in an attempt to make dinner.

It’s not an enviable vision and I dreaded the thought of being everything to everyone. I was tired of hearing the continued back-and-forth on whether women can have it all or not; all I wanted was to figure out how, after having my baby, I could still have what mattered most to me.

It may not be “all”, but I needed to make sure I could really feel good about going from 100 percent work mode to 100 percent baby mode and then come back to work while balancing this new “mom mode” and feel productive very quickly.

Here’s a few tips for those navigating this fun time:

  • Figure out your time off plan and benefits way before your due date
  • Focus on you, your baby and your family while on parental leave
  • Meet with your boss before officially coming back to work. Meet outside the office and speak openly about any concerns you may have about coming back to work and get clarity on their expectations for you.
  • Come for an office visit with the baby: seeing you with your child makes it more real for your colleagues.
  • Treat your first day back as a dry-run: Don’t try to land new business on day one!
  • Lean on other working parents for advice and guidance
  • Leave on time: there’s always one more thing you can do, but you can most likely do it later that night or tomorrow.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

Prioritize and set clear expectations with those around you, whether that’s your boss, colleagues, significant others or clients. It may seem impossible to be everything to everyone but I find that that’s because people put themselves on a pedestal and think others will judge them if they prioritize one thing over the other.

In reality, if I’m confident and clear about where my time and attention needs to be, it’s respected and not questioned if I’m able to make the right decisions with how I prioritize my time.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

It means achieving goals and accomplishing things on a flexible timeline. It’s always a good thing to have a plan, but knowing when to pivot, shift and reset expectations is usually the reality.

In the end, when I’ve accomplished something big or small I try to celebrate, promote and make note of it so I don’t forget how hard I worked for it to become a reality.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

  • Managing my schedule before the work week begins. This usually means going through my Mon-Fri schedule on Sunday evening and accepting/declining meeting invites as I have more insight into whether I’m truly needed.
  • Asking for a call instead of a meeting. I find many people set up 30 or 60 minute meetings that can be accomplished in a 10 minute phone call.
  • Focus on what I’m doing at that time: If I’m in a client meeting, I’m focused on that client, but the same goes when I’m with my family or a colleague talking career development. It’s easier to do this when you have shorter time commitments and don’t sit in multi-hour meetings.
  • Have a true passion for what you do: I don’t mind talking to clients late into the evening sometimes because I’m excites about their business and where it’s headed.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Honestly, I don’t read many books for my professional development. I do enjoy reading blogs, articles, listening to talks/keynotes and speaking to people one-on-one.

If I come across someone who is vocal and passionate about their career, I follow them on social, listen to their content and sometimes even reach out to speak with them for career advice.

In my opinion, life is too short to read things that aren’t tailored to where I’m at during a specific time in life so the more I can follow the influencers that are resonating with me and access their opinions in real time, I do.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Prioritize what needs to be done and do it, and be honest with myself and my colleagues if something needs to be shifted or pushed to accommodate.

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