Little Black Book Bossing It – An Appetite for Learning

TBD Post managing director on questioning the status quo, problem solving and building trust Karen is a native Texan, who left to study fine art and filmmaking at California College of Arts in the Bay Area. Throughout her career, she crossed the globe of advertising production, working at J.Walter Thompson SF; GSD&M Austin; DMB&B London,…

Little Black Book Bossing It – An Appetite for Learning

TBD Post managing director on questioning the status quo, problem solving and building trust

Karen is a native Texan, who left to study fine art and filmmaking at California College of Arts in the Bay Area. Throughout her career, she crossed the globe of advertising production, working at J.Walter Thompson SF; GSD&M Austin; DMB&B London, finally settling back in Austin, TX leading the Integrated Production department at GSD&M. She currently splits her time between New York City and Austin, TX. 

Along the way, Karen partnered at music house Tequila Mockingbird, as well as with branding, edit and production company Action Figure, executive producing the TV series Rollergirls (A&E) and won a Lonestar Emmy for the docu series Downtown with PBS/KLRU. After 8.5 years co-owning her own agency/production company hybrid working with national brands, Greatest Common Factory, Karen decided to get back to her roots of production. 

Karen joined TBD Post as managing director in the spring of 2020, delighted to be working alongside the highest level of talent and technology, in the best studio in ATX. She enjoys painting, Broadway shows and is currently co-hosting and producing a podcast that will launch in the spring of 2024.

Member Austin and NY WIFT 

AICP Mentor Program 2023

E4 Youth Board member 2019 – 2022, current Advisory member 

Austin Ad Federation Silver Medal Award “Big Wigs” 2017

Ad Age one of 6 Women to Watch 2019

Austin Ad Federation Board Member 2014

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Karen> Before I was actually employed, I was in high school theatre and was the stage manager a few times. This definitely taught me how to work with people that have different opinions and agendas! The theatre system really teaches you how to be alert, in the moment and the importance of clear communication.

As an executive producer, I was always working with various assistant producers. This not only helped me out, but gave them a chance to be in on the big projects and get perspective without being thrown 100% into the fire, which sadly all that happens these days. This practice has died out now, which is a shame. It’s vital for them to be exposed to the day to day work and process, without the pressure of failure when they don’t have the experience.

As a producer, every situation is different and there can be some nuances on how a situation is handled, different personalities of creatives and your relationship with the account team etc, all factor in.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Karen> By always remembering what it felt like to be in a situation— either you’re unsure, or you made a mistake. The greatest thing I learned was that everyone has their own agenda and goals, that doesn’t mean they are bad or selfish, it’s how humans operate. A good leader knows how to harness all those things and get them to work together.

I also keenly watched how people responded to leaders. Who did people revere, and who did they go to with problems, as well as who did they roll their eyes at. And then learn how they did that.


LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Karen> Running a group of 50 at a big agency and learning that not all want to grow and move up; they are happy in their job, they aren’t eager to stand out— and that’s ok. Individuals have different tracks, different motivations (five love languages), that may not align with my own personal thoughts. Just because I want to do something, doesn’t mean all do. Nor does it mean it’s good for the company.


LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Karen> I knew I thought I could do it better! I have always had ideas and thoughts on how to improve, or possibly another way to solve something. I have never thought the status quo was just fine. That’s why I love the role of a producer— it’s perfect for a problem solver and someone who can see the big picture, think about the optimal outcome, the potential downfalls and the best way forward. To answer your question, I knew I wanted to move up from the beginning! I was very hungry to learn and do more.

LBB> When it comes to ‘leadership’ as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Karen> I think a natural leader has the built in instinct and the drive to lead and make things better, and they also want to learn from others and get better all the time. A good leader will take pride in others doing well, not themselves. It’s about supporting, training, and encouraging.


LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Karen> It’s challenging when people are shy to talk to you earnestly. You have to build trust over time and also ask questions. Most times they just want to be asked. People are very into hierarchy, their place, their role and careful not to say anything that might be offensive. Of course, then you have to take the feedback and NOT be defensive!

LBB> Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Karen> When someone doesn’t live up to expectations or what we all thought a role was and it’s on your shoulders to a) get them there or b) call it when it’s clear it won’t happen.

It’s tough because I do believe all go into a role with the best of intentions and want to succeed. So in that sense it feels like a failure to that person and to the leader because we weren’t able to evolve or come to terms on how the role should be done. I think we owe it to the bigger group, though, to know when someone isn’t holding up their part of the bigger picture. In the end, it helps the person too— all need to be set up to succeed and if the role isn’t a fit, then it’s better for them to move on. I’ve had a few people come back to me, years later, after a layoff or rough review, and tell me it was hard but they learned a lot and are now much happier on a different path. In the end, you hope that’s what happens.


LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Karen> I’ve found that although I want all the details, most don’t! That’s the thing I’m most surprised by. I have always wanted to be know the inner workings. I do think being careful and considered on what’s important, what’s the message we want to convey, how will it affect them personally (that’s all they want truly) is the most effective. Most don’t want the backstory, or defence of why it is the way it is, but they want to know the situation and how we’re moving forward and most importantly, how it affects them.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Karen> Jeanne Crockett has been a tremendous mentor in this business. She taught me to believe in myself. She had experience in bigger, harder, more cut throat environments. She taught me that personal understanding is key— you have to know how and why people click and how to be strategic in what I was working on and how to impact change. We have both navigated often being the only female in the room, how to manage egos and different personalities and how to strategically make an impact and create change. She is a true good friend today, no matter where we are in business.

Currently, one of the favourite parts of my work is mentoring. It’s so amazing that young women want to hear from me and get my perspective. It’s such a pleasure to advise and sometimes, just listen, and assure them they are not crazy. Sometimes that’s all we need.

I mentor through the AICP programme, E4Youth and by simple connections— people like to talk and learn. It’s a pleasure to share my experience and assure them they’re on the right track and to not give up.

I joined NY women in Film and TV and have met so many incredibly talented and excited creators, it’s a joy to see what they’re making happen and offer support, as well as be motivated for my own projects. I also have two grown daughters that are making their own impact in their fields.

The view is now global, young creators are embracing their heritage, who they are and making an incredible impact. I believe they think about the future a lot more than we did. The days are gone of trying to fit into a mould, I couldn’t be more excited for the future and what they’ll do.

LBB> It’s been a really challenging few years – and that’s an understatement. How do you lead a team out the other side of a difficult period?

Karen> You take it one day at a time, with view of next week, next month. And try to keep up the positive outlooks. It’s addressing their immediate concerns, and showing we’re trying to improve.

We started two set meetings each week. One on Monday AM’s to discuss what’s coming up in the week— projects, clients in house, people on PTO and how we’re covering it, business updates etc.  It’s an open 30 minutes that all attend, they can ask any question. We cover a lot of ground in 30 minutes, to level set the week.

On Fridays, it’s a bit more vague and set aside for post mortals. What jobs had some speed bumps, how can we improve them, how did it affect each role, did remote set up work?

This also allows a check in for everyone in one place. As we continue with some of the team still remote, it’s important to have face time, even if on zoom.

LBB> What are some ambitions and plans you have for the company and yourself in the coming year?

Karen> We are aggressively trying to reach beyond the Austin market. We’ve done a trade show in Chicago and have a sales rep there now. I’m reaching out to NY partners. We’re hoping to add more national talent to the roster this year.

We’re also focusing on Community outreach and supporting young creators. We partnered with Austin Film society Creative Career track— having students in to see what happens in a studio and what different roles there are.

We are also partnering with the Austin Cinematographer’s Group to increase awareness of Austin’s talent pool. We have fantastic film schools here and talent that work globally on films, series and ads.


LBB> What have you noticed as the biggest changes in the industry during your career thus far? And do you have any predictions for future trends or themes?

Karen> The biggest change since I started is what we all read about, daily. There’s less time, less money and more to create than ever. There is little time to focus and craft what we’re making.

Obviously, the biggest trend right now is AI and how it will affect all we create, especially in post production. I predict that the artists will embrace these tools and make super cool things, even faster.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business?

Karen> Culture is an interesting word that gets used in so many ways. The definition is “ways of life, beliefs and institutions of a population”. Does that mean we are all like each other, or believe the same thing? In the workplace, I don’t think so. I think what’s important is that we respect everyone and listen to all and have common goals. Clear communication and defined expectations go a long way. Then we can enjoy each other, and all the differences, when relaxing and celebrating. It’s important.

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Karen> I read a lot and gain insight from many different perspectives. I actually love conferences because you’ll meet people you would never see if you weren’t there, you hear panels and stories you’d otherwise never hear. It’s like-minded people discussing what’s going on. I find all the therapy I’ve personally done is super helpful when dealing with wonderful humans of all kinds!