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‘The best ideas don’t always come from the most experienced people’ – A special chat with Digital Realty’s Sue Jones

A results-oriented strategic B2B Marketing and Communications expert, Sue Jones today serves as Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Digital Realty, one of the world’s largest data centre providers. 

The London-based executive thrives in a challenging and transformational environment and is highly experienced in developing and executing global Marketing and Communications strategies that exceed financial and growth targets. 

In this conversation with JSA’s Media Consultant João Marques Lima, Sue shares her career journey over the years, the lessons, the achievements as well as how data centre marketing is changing.

 

JML: Tell us about you and your journey. How did you get involved with the data centre world?

SJ: I have always had a strong affinity for technology, because it can fundamentally change and improve the world we live in. When I was at school, I was never encouraged to consider a career in any of the STEM subjects, and I know we still have some way to go in fully addressing this issue.  

It was my father that pointed me in the direction of IBM. Instead of going to university, I signed up to IBM’s apprenticeship programme, something I found to be extremely useful in terms of establishing a practical business skill set while also gaining industry qualifications. That was my first taste of marketing. I loved and still love taking incredibly complex concepts, boiling them down to their purest form, and pushing them out into the world. I’m not sure that love will ever go away.  

After IBM, I spent several years climbing the corporate ladder in a number of different roles until I landed at Orange Business Services, where I was for ten years. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and I gained fantastic experience managing international teams, learning about the different cultures, and that every country is at a different phase of its technological development, something that is really important to be aware of when marketing across countries and diverse regions. In 2017, I joined Digital Realty, my first taste of data centres. I’ve not looked back since.  

 

JML: Do you feel you’ve had to work harder than male colleagues to advance your career?

SJ: I’ve never really been one to compare myself to others. I had a strong work ethic instilled into me from a young age. Partly due to my parents, but also because I had to work really hard to keep up at school. That work ethic has stayed with me and translated across to my professional career. 

 

JML: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

SJ: I’ve received some brilliant advice over the years, but the one that has honestly resonated with me the most is: believe in yourself. I tell my team this as much as I can. They need to understand that they’re where they are for a reason and that they’re not an imposter. Retaining confidence in yourself is one of the most difficult things to do nowadays. It’s hard enough trying to progress and climb without being pulled down by yourself of all people. 

Pointing out the obvious here but believing in yourself and having confidence in your own abilities is much easier said than done. One of the things that helped me with this was getting a mentor. I’ve had a mentor at every business I’ve worked at. Asking someone to be your mentor can be intimidating in and of itself, but I promise, nine times out of 10, the person you ask will be flattered. 

It doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement. Look at a mentor as a trusted advisor; someone that’s there to talk things through, and when needed remind you of how brilliant you really are.  

 

JML: What do you do in your current role?

SJ: I’m the Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Digital Realty. Officially that means I lead all global marketing (EMEA, North America, and APAC) including brand strategy, demand generation, external communications, and events, to name a few. Unofficially, I’m the bridge between the marketing function and the rest of the business. Sometimes marketing isn’t always appreciated as a strategic partner as much as I’d like it to be, which is why I take it upon myself to try and elevate its profile as best I can, whenever I can. 

Outside of my role, I’m involved in several initiatives – both internally and externally – geared towards promoting women in technology and business in general. I’m involved with Digital Realty’s own Women’s Leadership Forum as well as with an external group of colleagues to support the Women’s Tech Forum, something I’m extremely proud of. I have a strong belief that women should support each other. And while I think it’s great that we have forums in which we can get together to discuss important issues, I’m not one for making them exclusive. Inclusivity is equally as important to me. I want every step we take to be moving forward, not backwards. 

 

JML: How do you keep up to date with marketing trends and what is your trend to watch?

SJ: Keeping up with trends is challenging at the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to run a global team. 

On a serious note, a lot of the trend forecasting work that I hear about comes from my team. In my opinion, to be a strong leader, you should always hire and surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Stagnation is a real fear of mine. I’m a firm believer that the best ideas don’t always come from the most experienced people. 

Young talent often brings new and fresh perspectives, something that can really give you an edge over competitors. I would encourage anyone in a senior leadership role to listen to their young talent. Give them a voice. You won’t be disappointed. 

 

JML: How has data centre marketing changed in recent years?

SJ: The data centre industry has flown under the radar for so long. Until now, no one ever really thought about the underlying infrastructure that was powering our digital economy. Prevalent issues like the climate crisis have thrust the industry into the spotlight, something that we believe is positive for the industry’s future. Sustainability has always been at the heart of everything we do, and I’m really proud of the positive commitments we have made and achieved in the space so far. 

Digital Realty has also undergone a fundamental change. At the start of my tenure, there was more of a focus on marketing space, power and cooling. While they’re still a core part of our business, we’ve transitioned to marketing our global platform PlatformDIGITAL®. The way technology is evolving today, space, power and cooling isn’t going to be enough. Our customers also need connectivity, scalability, and flexibility. The conversation is shifting, and quickly. 

 

JML: What makes up a good marketing campaign in this post-Covid period?

SJ: Know your customer. Too often I see marketers trying to sell a solution without outlining the challenge that it solves. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Where are the pain points? That’s the question we need to be asking ourselves. It sounds basic but sometimes we lose sight of the fundamentals. 

Good targeting is also sometimes forgotten. Punting something out as far and wide as possible in general does not reap the best results. A well-targeted campaign will save on costs and more often than not produce much better results. 

Finally, I’d say sustainability. I’m not talking about slapping a few solar panels on the top of a data centre to tick a box. I’m talking about sustainability that is ingrained in everything you do; whether it’s innovative technological solutions that harness natural resources to cool facilities, like our River Cooling project in Marseille, or giving back to the communities in which we operate, through things like district heating networks. 

 

JML: What three skills would you say are crucial to your role?

SJ: Firstly, diplomacy. It’s important to remember that not everyone will share your view. Seeing every side of the argument and finding a compromise is a very underrated skill. Secondly, confident leadership. 

Confidence is infectious. Even when you’re second-guessing yourself, if you display confidence, others will rally. Lastly, resilience. I’ve had more than my fair share of challenging conversations, and it only gets harder as you climb the ladder. 

 

JML: What advice would you give to younger women entering data centres today?

SJ: If you asked students what industry they’d like to work in, I think very few – unfortunately – would say the data centre industry. And that’s on us; we need to do a better job of highlighting the unbelievable opportunities that have yet to be taken advantage of. 

The data centre industry is relatively young. Some might see that as immaturity. I, on the other hand, see it as an opportunity to make a difference. To shape the future. In recent years, data centres have emerged as the central nervous system of the digital economy, the backbone of the internet. We’re enabling real change – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? 

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