How I'm Skirting the Rules

I’m Helping A Big Financial Company Better Speak To Women

Headshot of Jennifer Putney, VP in marketing at Prudential

Jennifer Putney's clear vision at Prudential is what keeps her marketing team focused.

It’s no secret that women earn less than men and tend to outlive them. Jennifer Putney not only believes women should take control of their finances in order to be more successful, but she’s made it her job to help them do just that. As the Vice President Total Retirement Solutions Marketing & Strategy at Prudential Retirement, she’s responsible for marketing the company’s corporate retirement plans, such as the 401(k) and 403(b) plans, for a number of large employers. Jennifer is helping the business connect more with female clients by communicating to women in ways they can better relate to, since women tend to have an investing confidence gap but actually perform better than men. Below, Jennifer shares why it’s so important for women to take positive financial action, and the moves that have allowed her to climb the corporate ladder.

My company is Skirting the Rules by…catering to women. Financial companies, financial products, and financial marketing and selling techniques have all largely been shaped by men. Prudential, in particular, is starting to really listen to women much more carefully, and is starting to understand that women want to be treated differently and communicated with differently by financial companies.

For instance, on the individual life insurance side of our business, Prudential is actively recruiting women to take on the role of financial advisor, because there is evidence that women like talking to women, especially about topics as personal as money. Also, the company has done events and marketing initiatives with the Oprah Network and was a sponsor at the S.H.E. Summit, a two-day conference devoted to supporting women’s-movement champions around the world. I gave a speech at that summit about the imperative for women to own their financial security, and some of the other guests included Grammy-winning recording artist Kelly Clarkson and the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. Prudential also does a campaign around Mother’s Day, encouraging women to think about their finances and the future.

A time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) waswhen years ago at a past employer, I decided to make a strategic decision to pursue a certain creative approach to a marketing campaign. Instead of using traditional photography, we wanted to try a more outside-the-box, illustrative technique—something that would set us apart. We had tested it with customers in focus groups and it got a very positive response. But it was so foreign to what the sales team was used to that they just couldn’t connect with it. It pushed them out of their comfort zone and they hated it so much that they threatened to get me fired.

So I took a step back, built in a little more time into the timeline, and decided that I was going to work on these naysayers and convince them. I kept coming back with good evidence, good stories, and good details. It worked. It ended up being an award-winning campaign and we stuck with it for many years. If I had allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the negativity, I don’t think we would have had such a good outcome.

An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me iswhen earlier in my career, I made a really good decision about leaving a company that, at the time, was gut-wrenching. I loved the job and the people, I was having tremendous professional success there, and I was very happy. People were very surprised that I wanted to leave. But there were changes happening at the senior level of the company that made me feel uncomfortable about the future. Though I had no real evidence to go on, I got a bad feeling about where the direction of the company would be headed. It was kind of like selling a stock right before it was going to take a dive.

I think that you constantly have to have your antenna up, because knowing when to leave a company is almost as much an intuitive decision as it is a strategic career decision. About a year after I left, there were major layoffs and changes in the business’s direction. I had people calling me saying, “How did you know?” And I had to say, “I didn’t.” It was a really hard decision, but it was an intuitive decision. And it turned out to be a really smart one.

My secret talent is…building teams and creating a vision that can be shared. When you get others to buy into where you’re going, it can be galvanizing and help eliminate conflict.

So much of your time is spent on internal requirements in corporate America today. I think if you can keep your focus on the external where you’re able to answer those questions about why are we here, how do we move the business ahead, what’s important to the business, and what really makes a difference in the customer’s life; it hampers down a lot of the internal distractions, noise, and politics.

One thing that helps is sharing anecdotes from happy customers, and even stories from unhappy customers. I do that all the time. We have put together an internal database where every week, everybody has a responsibility to add a couple of stories. I find that doing that really helps remind us why we’re in this business.

A woman is most powerful when she…is confident and has courage. I hate to say this, but I think men can sniff out the lack of confidence in a woman so quickly that you really need to be sure of yourself at all times.

I make very clear eye contact and try to always keep a pleasant expression on my face—not necessarily constantly grinning, but looking curious and attentive.

What I wish I had told my myself when I was starting out is…expect more for yourself. It’s not always about what you perceive that you can do for the company and why they should want you. Think about what a company or a specific job can do for you—for your career and for your personal happiness. Ask yourself:

  • What am I going to get from this?
  • Is this job going to enhance my career?
  • Is it going to be something that I enjoy?
  • Do I see the kind of upward mobility that I should be expecting? Or are they just going to hire me and give me a paycheck?

My favorite skirt (a.k.a a life hack or life rule) is…nothing has to be a certain way—you don’t have to always follow the rules. This was something that I had to figure out over the years while working full-time and being a mom of four. I had to make a lot of compromises that I sometimes hated. For example, I used to hate the fact that I was picking up take-out for dinner three nights a week rather than cooking. I used to think: That’s not the way it should be and that’s not the way I was raised. But I couldn’t figure out any other way. And over time, I’ve learned that you’ve got to be flexible. Flexibility is probably as important as your attitude. Being flexible with the right attitude can get you through almost anything. You don’t have to meet these absolute standards of perfection that you may have set for yourself.