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Q&A with Laura Lang, chief executive of Digitas

Laura Lang is chief executive of Digitas, a large Boston-based digital marketing agency, and a member of the Massachusetts Women's Forum, a group of 100 top female executives in the state. Before coming to Digitas, Lang worked in consulting and strategy for a variety of companies, most recently as president of Marketing Corporation of America. She recently spoke to Sasha Talcott about social media, career advice, and what she looks for in job candidates.

Q: You did an MBA in finance at Wharton. How did you wind up on the marketing side?

I took lots of marketing classes, too. I was interviewing on Wall Street as well as consumer marketing. I was fascinated by the kinds of thing you did as a marketer. You had to learn why people did things. You had to motivate people. Wall Street is much more structured and much more analytical – it's not as much about understanding people.

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Q: What has been your biggest challenge in your career?
I would have to say time management: Learning how to make fast decisions so I didn't spend lots of extra time worrying about that. Learning how to prioritize the things that really mattered. I'm very fortunate. I have a wonderful family, lots of hobbies and athletic pursuits. I always wanted to have a very well-rounded life.

You can have anything you want, but not everything. If it was really important to spend an afternoon at my daughter's school, I had to think, how was I going to organize my life to do that? How could I become more efficient? I always tied to put my priorities on the table, personal and professional, and work around them.

Q: Were your employers supportive of this?

Yes, they were. One of the things I learned was to become a part of organizations that cared about outcomes – not necessarily process. That helped me. As long as I could deliver the right outcomes, I had more flexibility in what I was able to do. That doesn't mean I didn't work incredibly hard and make lots of trade-offs.

Q: When you are hiring candidates at Digitas, what do you look for? Is there anything specific that makes or breaks a candidate?

For me, the most important thing in a candidate is intellectual curiosity. Digitas is a company that's very rapidly changing – the digital world changes every day. It's important we hire people who are curious about what's going on and who are willing to learn and want to learn. I look for core leadership traits.

Q: What's the best piece of career advice you ever got?

One of the things was to be fearless. To not be afraid of making decisions. My husband is a great baseball fan. He told me that a Hall of Fame hitter only gets a hit three or maybe four times out of 10. I often think about that.

Early in my career, I sometimes found it difficult to make the tough people decisions – I had to learn that. In business, you want to listen. You want to learn. You want to make sure you're not proceeding without information. But if you wait too long, you can actually hurt an organization even more.

Q: With digital marketing growing so rapidly, what are the key trends that those in business should pay attention to?

We are at our core very social beings. People want to connect with other people, and we finally have technology that enables that. That's going to be a very powerful part of how we live our lives.

It isn't a channel – it's the way we live. It's like the air we breathe. There's always going to be lots of stuff: Twitter -- or what's hot now is foursquare. It always has the same things underneath: People want to connect. They want to share they want to learn from each other. That's not going to change.

Q: Are you on Twitter? Facebook?

Linked In? foursquare? Yes, yes, yes, yes. My only challenge is that I don't have enough time to spend on all of them. I'd be overwhelmed if I was on it all of the time.

Sasha Talcott is one of five co-founders of a mentoring and networking group for emerging female leaders, Tomorrow's Women Today – The Boston Women's Leadership Council.

Read previous Q&As with Karen Kaplan of Hill Holliday and Gloria Larson of Bentley University.

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