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Backstage Pass: A Q&A with Ann Piper, Spotify's U.S. Head of Client Partners

In the first installment of Backstage Pass, a Q&A series with Spotify Advertising leaders, we chat with Ann Piper, U.S. Head of Client Partners. Read on to learn more about her approach to leading vertical teams, establishing team culture, and work-life balance.

Let’s start with the fun stuff: Who were your top artists in Wrapped 2021?

Last year, I listened to a lot of Leon Bridges, Khruangbin, and Chris Stapleton. They’re my go-to soundtrack for my morning commute to start the day on a bright note.

Tell us a bit about your career history, and your role at Spotify.

My first role out of college was a sales assistant at Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire magazines. That’s where I learned the importance of developing client relationships with brand and agency partners, how to position an audience, and how to understand revenue goals and market share. Digital media was starting to be on the rise, so I joined SoftBank Interactive and moved to San Francisco. From there, I had a handful of client partner roles, most notably at AOL. This taught me about managing through change, and where I first learned what it meant to be a part of a vertical organization. That’s been my role on the US vertical sales team for the last two years, overseeing categories like Auto, CPG, Entertainment/Gaming, Financial Services, Health, QSR, Retail, and Tech/Telco.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I spend about 70% of my time on day-to-day business, 20% on innovation and future proofing, and 10% on development.

What’s your philosophy on developing your people? What have you learned about being an effective leader?

My philosophy is that providing growth and development opportunities is essential to our culture and well-being as a team. The investment in each member is the top priority to ensure we have a motivated, thriving team. What I’ve learned to be an effective leader is to work every day to earn and build trust. This means being open-minded and making space for everyone to voice their points of view constructively.

What kind of culture exists in your team, and how did you establish it?

This is such an important question, and one I think about constantly. Our human connection as a team is my No. 1 priority, and I believe in the personal and professional need to co-exist for us to truly be successful. Our core focus areas are on empathy, empowerment, and transparency through every interaction, whether it be internal and external meetings, one-on-ones, and even over email. At the start of the year, each vertical team established their values for what they stand for as well, which helps reinforce the message. At the end of the day, we all want to be proud of helping a brand drive results while having fun together, learning and growing along the way.

It’s International Women’s Month, and this year’s theme is Break the Bias. Can you think of a time in your career when you had to challenge bias?

One time, I was asked if I was as competitive as a male co-worker when we were both trying to get promoted into a new role. I learned that being an advocate for myself was a muscle I needed to build and develop, and that true success meant surrounding myself with peers, leaders, and coaches who challenged me to keep pushing my potential.

What’s the best thing leaders can do to challenge their own unconscious biases?

Slow down, and recognize moments where it may creep into your decisionmaking — from making new hires, to your brand’s approach to demographic targeting, to the imagery used in an ad campaign. Spend time questioning why, and lead by example.

What’s the best career advice you ever received?

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Focus on what you can control and influence, and let the other sh*t go.

When you’re not at work, what’s your favorite way to relax?

Being with my family, cooking and eating a meal with friends and watching movies. When I think about my leadership growth, it’s been rooted in the importance of work life balance. I try to plan the days and weeks and even months ahead to prioritize responsibilities both at work and on the homefront. Communication is core to this success, whether it be flexibility in a schedule and asking for help when I need to. One behavior I practice daily is mindfulness—to truly be present in the moment, whether it’s focusing on a meeting I’m attending or answering a question from one of my sons. Too much multitasking can be the enemy, not a solution.

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