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From Austrian Motorcycles to Artificial Intelligence: Diving Into Nicole McCaffrey’s Marketing Career

As Pandata’s Chief People and Marketing Officer, Nicole brings a unique perspective to the data science and emerging tech space. Growing up as the daughter of an entrepreneur inspired Nicole’s rich career in marketing and advocacy for more diverse representation in the tech industry.

Read on to learn more about Nicole’s thoughts on how the marketing and tech industries have evolved, and uncover her passions outside of Pandata.

What first sparked your interest in marketing?

My parents had a direct mail marketing agency that they started the year I was born. From a young age, I spent summers working in every facet of the business, from putting together point-of-sale kits to answering phones. Truth be told, I soaked it up. I loved learning about marketing and from my Dad and our diverse team. I was fortunate to learn how a successful business was run—and the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. From a young age, I knew it was not for the faint of heart.

After college, I moved away to Houston, Texas and got into advertising as a copywriter, something I thought I would do as my life-long career. What I didn’t see coming was that it would take me into the oil and gas industry, where I became a management consultant working with Marathon Oil and handling the marketing needs of the consulting firm. 

When my Dad decided that he was ready to retire, he asked if I would consider moving back to Cleveland to take over sales and marketing for our direct mail business. The timing was fortuitous, and I made the jump. Marketing was always around me from the time I was a kid, and it was a world I grew to love. It kind of chose me versus me choosing it.

What was your career like leading up to your role at Pandata? 

I was on the services side of things at the start of my career. After we decided to sell our family business to a large printer, I stayed on to help transition their sales team. It was at that point that I knew I wanted to move to the client side.

I had an opportunity to become the North American marketing manager for Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM. It was a completely different world being on the client side of a global brand and I relished every minute working for the luxury brand, including supporting their Red Bull sponsored racing teams here in the states. As the recession took hold in 2008, KTM transitioned everyone in sales and marketing out to California, a move I opted not to make, as much as I absolutely loved my job. It was the hardest decision of my career.

I decided at that point I should move into a growing industry and set my sights on technology. I landed a role with BlueBridge Networks, a cloud and data center services provider, where I became their director of marketing and client services. At that time, I was one of very few women working in tech in Cleveland. It was an eye-opening experience moving to the male-dominated technology space. I also had to start from scratch and completely rebuild my network. 

Ultimately, I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. Working in management consulting in the oil and gas industry was a good primer for my role at Pandata and understanding the challenges that consultants face. Having the ability to coach and mentor our current team with the lessons I’ve learned in both management consulting and business development has been invaluable. All of the positions I’ve had have led me to where I am and have made me a stronger business person and marketer.

How did you connect with Pandata? 

The managing director at  BlueBridge Networks introduced me to Cal Al-Dhubaib. Cal had just started his first company, Triple Analytics. We struck up a friendship and mutual respect. We also realized we both brought unique perspectives to data science. I often thought of my experience working in the early days of cloud as a great primer for working in data science and AI because it was another emerging technology. Having this perspective made my experience interesting to Cal. When he asked me to come on board in year one, it felt like the right fit. 

Can you elaborate on your recent title change at Pandata?

I initially joined Pandata as the COO, and have held this title for the last five+ years. However, given my 25-year career in marketing and the large majority of my time spent nurturing our brand, recruiting, and coaching the Pandata team, I’ve recently made the appropriate switch to Chief People and Marketing Officer. It just feels right.

How much do you feel the industry has changed since you first started? 

A lot of the work I’ve done in the tech industry has involved advocacy around diversity, equity, and inclusion. When I joined the tech space in 2011, I worked with very few women. I had the opportunity to join the RITE board when I was at BlueBridge, which sparked my desire to see better representation, in terms of diversity of thought and backgrounds, enter the tech space. Emerging technology especially relies on different viewpoints to move it forward. The more diversity of thought, the more inclusive and safer technology becomes.

From the marketing standpoint, everything was extremely manual when I first started my career. It’s been interesting to see, even in the last five years, how many mar-tech tools exist. It’s almost daunting to sort through the noise to figure out which tools will work best for your business. As the Chair of OhioX’s MarCom Roundtable, we talk a lot about right-sizing marketing tools, especially with all of the AI-powered tools that have emerged.

What is your best advice to fellow professionals in the field of marketing and/or AI?

Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in technology. That doesn’t mean you need to become a SME, but understanding the data science process is valuable for a marketer in this space. I took an MIT course called “Machine Learning for Executives” which allowed me to learn about the process and the principles behind it. Adding to my knowledge made me stronger as a marketer and allowed me to better translate AI concepts.

What organizations are you involved in outside of work?

When I returned to tech, I resumed my role on the RITE board and have been on their executive committee ever since. I brought the startup tech perspective to a board that was once more middle-market to enterprise level. 

This year is also my fourth year involved with STEM Goes Red. Last year, I was the event chair, and I’m still on the leadership committee this year. I want to be able to give mentorship to girls so that they feel empowered to pursue and excel in STEM careers.

What else are you passionate about?

I am an animal welfare advocate and volunteer with the Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue. I’ve pulled dogs from the shelter, done lots of transporting, helped with marketing, and now work on their vetting process for adoptions. I am a dog mom to three rescues – Clancy, Lulu, and Darby! I also love anything in or on the water, including kayaking and paddle boarding. In 2021 my husband and I became scuba certified, which had long been a bucket list item for me. It is an amazing world down there and I cannot get enough of it.

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