Episode 18: Sara Malo

Episode 18: Sara Malo Featured Image

What’s the secret to juggling multiple executive roles in the competitive digital marketing landscape? In this episode of ’73 and Sunny,’ we welcome Sara Malo, a marketing veteran with 23 years of experience, currently serving as the President and COO of LinkUnite and VP of Partnerships at LeadGenWorld. Sara shares her journey from starting in affiliate marketing to leading major industry initiatives that support executive women in digital marketing. She discusses the challenges of managing dual leadership roles, her personal strategies for maintaining work-life balance as a single mother, and the evolution of LinkUnite in creating a supportive network for women. Tune in for an inspiring discussion on leadership, community building, and navigating the demands of a high-powered career in marketing.

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Damien: Hello and welcome to ’73 and Sunny,’ the podcast about the journey of getting things just right. We talked to tech sales and marketing leaders about how they’re growing, dialing in best practices and getting closer to that sweet spot today. We’re very excited to have Sarah Malo join us. Sarah is a veteran marketer with 23 years experience in digital marketing and in the marketing events industry.

Sarah is currently the president and COO of LinkUnite, a community of executive women in digital marketing and the VP of partnerships at LeadGenWorld. She is an expert in sales, client success, and business development. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Sara: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to chat with you today.

Damien: We’re excited as well. So maybe you can give our listeners a little bit of your background, how you got into this space and what how you got to where you are today. 

Sara: Sure. So I was one of those kids that when I graduated high school that wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.

I started taking business courses and so on. And around that time was when affiliate marketing was born. Actually, there, it wasn’t such a thing until then. So I’m aging myself a bit, but so I started to learn about affiliate marketing and search engine up and optimization and all of these things that go along with it.

And I had Sean Collins, who was the co founder of Affiliate Summit. Actually he came out to Massachusetts where I live and trained me on affiliate marketing. I then became an affiliate manager which was so crazy because it was nothing like it is today. It was so new. People were still learning what affiliate marketing even was, google wasn’t even a thing, it was just so early on. And I just loved it. I was literally obsessed. I’m like, I know that I, this is my career path. And then what happened for me is I was doing affiliate marketing and then Sean and Missy Ward, the other co founder of Affiliate Summit was hiring somebody for their event, for the Affiliate Summit event.

And I had applied, which feels like a million years ago, and I went to work for them. So I was on the original team that grew Affiliate Summit, what it is today. So super proud of that event and everything that’s happened. Over the years and they were acquired. Clarion events acquired them a few years ago and everybody went their separate ways, but it’s we’re just still so super proud of that event.

Damien: Awesome. And today you are the president and COO of LinkUnite. As well as being the VP of partnerships at lead generation world. I’m overwhelmed with just one job. I’m just there’s no way that I could, I don’t think that I could handle just time wise like how do you do that? How would you, and I know that you’re very focused on the positive, but just time wise, how would you ever, how would you do that?

Sara: Yeah it’s pretty crazy when you say it like that. I’m like, how do I do? How do I do that? I, I love what I do. First of all, I want to put that out there because I have conversations with people all the time that are complaining about their jobs. I truly, 100 percent love my jobs. I do work seven days a week.

It’s definitely a juggling act, but I’m also a single mom with two active teenagers. If I have the ability to go to my son’s baseball game and then, work a few hours when I get back, then I do that. I’m lucky to work with some amazing parents and we have that flexibility. It is definitely a juggling act.

I, I every morning I do every morning, I take my dogs for a hike and we go early, we’re like five in the mornings, we’re watching the sun come up and that is when I mentally prepare for my day and I try to make sure that I give an equal amount to everything that I do, both jobs with LinkUnite and Lead Generation World and everything that I have my hands in.

I want everybody to be on a fair playing field. So I try to juggle my day. Okay. Today I’m going to work on these tasks or these are the calls that I need to get done. And so it, it just works. It’s, they feed into each other, which is nice. We, we founded link unite a few years back to support women in the industry because we, it was, it didn’t exist.

It was, this is a male dominated industry and We saw a need for it. And my partner in crime, Amanda Farris, she was actually a client of mine through Affiliate Summit. We met in the industry and we just kept having phone calls deciding, how we’re gonna, to launch this, to launch LinkUnite and how we’re gonna be able to support the women in the industry.

It’s It’s been quite a ride to say the least. 

Damien: And it sounds as though, and it sounds like these are early mornings. These are probably late nights, having kids and juggling these jobs. So I guess it, just maybe sleep suffers a little bit, but it is, it’s inspiring to be able to see someone who is able to do so many different things and do them well.

Great job. That is that’s very impressive. So maybe you had mentioned link unite, tell us a little bit more. About link unite and its mission and the journey that, that you and Amanda saw from the very beginning to where you are today. 

Sara: Yeah. Like I said, we’ve been in the industry, the two of us combined.

Gosh, it’s probably 35 years or something like that with our combined experience. And like I said, this is pre COVID. We always talk pre and post COVID now. There wasn’t any support for women in the industry. There was really nothing. We were going to events and there was maybe a handful of women there and most of them were booth babes as they were going.

We’re called back then. And we’re like, what is going on here? We just really wanted, we really needed the support ourselves. That’s where it started. And so When Amanda and I met, she was supporting me and I was supporting her. And then we thought, wow, this is like such an incredible relationship.

How do we grow this? And so Link Unite was born to be an in person event, which is, we still do that. It’s actually Link Unite 4 is happening next week in Nashville. So we do an event for women director level and up and they all come together and we do it at, fun locations, not Vegas.

We’ll never have one of our events in Las Vegas. But we bring women together and then it’s store it. Like I said, it started with the event and we were like, wow, it just became so successful. Then we launched a membership program. We launched a mentorship program. We do a lot of job placing. People are always, texting us, Hey, I’m trying to place somebody at this company.

How can you guys help with your network? And the best thing that we’ve done is we’ve gotten women to start their own businesses. We’ve gotten more women up on stage at these events. Recently leads con in Las Vegas and April. I want to say, they had a handful of women speaking at their event the last two years.

And this year, I think there was over 20 women, at least over 20 women. We can’t take full credit for that. But we have been working with all of the event organizers and supporting them. And they come to us and they’re like, Oh, we want somebody to speak on a I or we want somebody to speak on the tech side.

And we’re like, we’ve got the women for you. We’re building those panels and just helping women grow both. personally and professionally. It’s funny because Amanda and I spend a lot of times just having phone calls with women that are, Sarah, I’m looking to leave my job. I want to see myself going in a different direction.

What is your opinion about that? How can we support each other? And it’s It’s honestly, we built a tribe. We really did. We built a tribe of women that support each other. And, we’ve got all ages. We’ve got kids just getting out of college, and we’ve got women in their seventies.

And it’s just, there’s somebody for everybody here. If you are going through something at home, or you’re going through something at work, we can solve it. We’ve got somebody that’s, gone through that. And it’s just, the support alone has been, It’s like I said, we started because we were supporting each other and we wanted everybody to have that same support in the industry. 

Damien: And that’s amazing. And congratulations on the success. Tell us a little bit about a little bit deeper on that. And in terms of, I know that you’re a marketing expert, you’re a branding expert, you’re a marketing consultant. But a lot of that is that has to be self branding when you’re just creating this on your own.

A lot of this has to be self branding and being real, not only with yourselves, but how you present yourself to other people. Tell us a little about your perspective on branding and self branding in particular. 

Sara: I love that. I love that you asked me that. So I often have conversations with people that just know me outside of the business world.

And they’re always saying, you’re so brave. You’re like an open book on social media and on LinkedIn. And you talk about all the things that you go through as a mom and being a single mom, that’s been divorced and somebody that, that carries, many hats and I said that’s how I’ve grown myself in this industry.

I’ve, I have been an open book. And I was like, It’s not easy. Life is not easy. And so we branded ourselves around just being completely honest. It’s not like we’re going to get on social media or on LinkedIn and be like, everything is perfect because it’s not. We know it’s not. And so we talk about our struggles.

We’ve talked about our struggles, both Personally and professionally. When we, when we first got into this industry, we were a super entry level, account executives and we knew we didn’t want to stay there and we talked about our journey with people and then we started to realize, Oh, wow, so many people are in this, the same boat that we are.

And, I always, and I tell my kids this too, with social media, that follows you for life, right? It follows you for life. You need to portray and not everything’s perfect, sometimes, somebody passes away and you could be posting something about, that’s sad or upsetting.

But really what you want to do is you want people to understand the real true person that you are right. And we do that. Amanda, her and I are completely different. She’s actually going to have a baby in the next month. So she’s starting out her life. I’m about ready to get my two kids into college.

And you said that earlier with your four. So it’s so different, but yet we still need each other. It’s so crazy. And so the self branding thing, I always tell people just stay true to yourself, be honest. I’ve never. We always joke about this because we’ll go to these events and people are ordering like these fancy drinks and champagne and they’re wearing heels where they’re uncomfortable.

And I’m like, I’m not doing those days. No, no chance. I’m going to order a beer at the bar and I’m going to be in comfortable shoes and clothing. We talk about that and this is the true, we’re the true people in the industry. We’re not fake. We’re just. We’re going with who we truly are, 

Damien: and it’s so difficult.

And you brought up kids as well, because we are trying to teach our kids not only the concept of what you brought up, but also About digital permanency because it’s like, Hey, listen, be careful what you put online because it’s always good. You never know. Someone’s going to screenshot. Someone’s going to record.

It’s huge. Just the concept of that, because I don’t think their minds are thinking of that, not only kids, but also professional adults are not thinking of digital permanency, but the what you said being completely honest, it’s tough, especially not only with kids. If we’re talking about, everyone say, Hey, look over here.

And then everyone is smiling and, looking at the selfie and then they go back to not talking to each other, just being on their phones, like scowls on their face. It’s not real. It’s not real. So how do you cultivate that? Either in, in posts or in interactions cause I do, I think it’s it’s human nature to want to share good news since I, Hey, things are going well, this.

But like, how do how real do you get, how, what is your, what’s your strategy on being honest? Because it’s not always great. And it’s sometimes harder to share the not so great news. 

Sara: I think, I actually, it’s not like I like to share my struggles, but I do like to put out the struggles of raising teenagers and what it’s like to be a woman in business because so many other people can relate. Right now my son just got his permit to drive and I’m teaching him how to drive and I’m like, Oh my God, this is why I only had two children. Cause I have to teach only two how to drive. It’s so stressful. And we talk about that. I’ll say, gosh, is anybody else having any struggles with teaching your kids how to drive?

Yeah. And it’s I had, my daughter’s older than my son. I already did that with her. She’s, she’s the older one. And it’s two different, two different, completely two different experiences. So I’m like, how am I, cause I want my son to learn just as I taught my daughter. I felt like I did a decent job, but it’s just things like that being completely honest Hey, is anybody else teaching their 16 year old son how to drive?

I would love some tips because it’s not easy. Like parenting is, as with four, Mike bless your heart. It’s a struggle. And I. I’m working. So a lot of times I can’t be like, when they’re coming home from school and they’ve got some questions, I’m like, I can’t be present because I’m completely swamped with work.

And so we have this rule in my house that like later on, we take an hour and okay, let’s see. It’s just shoot the shit. What happened at school today? Fill me in on any gossip with, with your teams or what’s, and, but you have to be like, it all goes back to being honest, right?

Because this is not perfect. And, we have struggles. I had my. My septic completely, my septic in my house. I live basically in the woods, as you can see behind me. Literally three days before Christmas, just completely died. My pump died. It was just an absolute train wreck. But I like to put that out there and be like, Hey, any, I’m here.

I’m suffering a little bit. Cause my septic blew up, it’s, 

it really is about being honest because the more honest I have found over the past few years of doing what I do in this industry, so many people can relate, and we’ve got some young moms that are recently getting divorced that are literally, texting me, they just need some advice on how to manage finances by yourself.

Just, just things like that. And it’s if I hadn’t put myself out there. During a tough time, then they wouldn’t be able to reach out to me, so 

Damien: And what you’re saying, I think, is universally true, regardless of whether you’re talking about professionally or personally. I know that you’ve written in the past.

It’s so important to not focus on the challenges or the negatives, but rather on the positives. And I really try to do that. I Cause my job is stressful. We have four kids going through a lot of the same things, Sarah, that you’re going through. And I have to take time. And it was actually funny.

You mentioned about going to college. Our son just graduated college this last weekend and the speaker was talking about how you can be successful and it’s equal parts of gratitude. and resilience. It’s gratitude to be able to say, Hey, I have enough. I am grateful for what you have so that it’s not always inward focus.

But now, if you know that you have enough, then you can go out and help other people. And I know that you do a lot of philanthropic work, but I’d love to get your your perspective on how a positive attitude and even in the midst of having a septic system blow up three days before Christmas, or, being white knuckled while you’re 15 year old is learning how to drive or whatever, but what do you have tips and tricks?

Cause I use 15 minutes. I use the trick of five minutes every morning, like just trying to just be grateful and just in mentally think of five, five minutes of. The things that I love and it’s whether it’s like the birds chirping or it’s, just that I’m in a safe space or that, for my family or for my work, or whatever, but health, so what are some tips and tricks that you could share in terms of taking that mindset and really focusing it on being positive.

Sara: I love your, because I pretty much do almost exactly the same thing. And that happens on my hikes. Like I said, I, I. I drive a couple of miles. We have some hiking trails and I take my dogs every morning and we go super early. So typically nobody’s up, we’re going in the dark because I like to watch the sun come up and I do just that.

It’s life is not easy, but here I’m grateful to a, that I’ve got, my kids are alive and healthy. And, I still got my, both of my mom and dad who are close by that are a huge help. When I’m traveling and stuff. And I do the same thing. I find, let’s, I’m going to be grateful today.

I know my day is going to be super hectic and busy. And then we’ve got games and, I’ll probably get home at midnight and everybody’s going to want supper and I got nothing planned. But just being grateful because, there’s always some, something that could be terrible happening which, you know, and this is a terrible thing to bring up on 70.

Being such an uplifting podcast. But last week, my kids had their end of year awards for academics. And so we had voting in town. So I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna run down and vote. I’ll go to the school early. So I got there early. Long story short, this younger woman, she was probably 10 years younger than me.

I had spoken to her in the bleachers, never spoken to her before. I knew her daughter was an athlete but younger than my kids. She ended up collapsing in the gym and she died. She had a brain bleed. Yeah totally threw me for the loop. I was just devastated for her family. And then turn, come to find out, which was crazy.

Cause we do live in a small area. So everybody knows everybody. Her mom was my third grade teacher who I just adored. So I was, but again, so this happens total freak thing. There’s only a couple of parents in the room. Cause I was early this poor woman, she leaves behind a freshman in high school, totally.

Nobody expected any of that to happen. Total freak thing that happened, and it’s you have got to be grateful for every single day that you’re here with your kids and your families and your coworkers. And, I find to, I like to do the things I like to do also. And so with my walks in the morning, if there’s part of my day, and I tell this to everybody, if there’s part of your day where you’re feeling a little bit stressed.

You need to get up, get away from your computer, go for a walk, do some yoga, go for a run. I used to do a lunch break run right now I’m falling into a bad rut because I’ve been super, super busy, but it’s important for you to stop, right? Nothing’s gonna, I’m not a, I’m not a brain surgeon, I’m not a doctor, so I feel like I can stop for 40 minutes or 45 minutes in my day and get some fresh air and kind of bring yourself back.

So my tip, I think, would be to just, like I said, just stop take some time to, to, for yourself even, as a parent. Sometimes you just I, sometimes I’ll go outside and I’ll be like, Oh God, we were laughing about asking like chat, GPT questions. Like, how do you, how do I deal with this problem with my son?

You 

Damien: know, but I, 

Sara: I walk right outside and I’ll just take a few moments and be like, okay, gather myself. How am I going to handle this and move on and give yourself that time. It’s important. 

Damien: Yeah, it is important and it is to be able to just center and be able to say, Hey, I am grateful. And this is all about, getting to that sweet spot, right?

That’s 73 and saying, getting to that sweet spot and being grateful so that you’re not looking at fulfilling your own needs, but then to be able To look outside yourself beyond yourself, which is really where a lot of the fulfillment I feel comes from is by helping other people. And I know that you chair a local scholarship committee along with other, a million other things that you’re doing that has given over a half million dollars to graduating seniors.

Can you tell us your perspective on, on the importance of giving and maybe how people and some of our listeners could get more into Philanthropic work. 

Sara: Yeah. I, my biggest pet peeve is when people say, I’m too busy, Sarah, I’m too busy for that. You’re never too busy for something that you wanna give time to.

I love the town that that we live in. The pleasure that I get giving these kids scholarships, giving them money, standing up and talking about how awesome they are as kids and how they’re going off to college. It’s been wonderful. And for us to be given to give out 500, 000 in scholarships it’s, that’s a massive amount for a little town here in Massachusetts.

I make time for that for myself. It’s good for the soul. And I also like to do it because it teaches my kids, like there’s. There’s something about community service and giving back to your community. That’s it’s just, it’s honestly, it makes you feel good. You can have a crappy day at work or there’s going to be something going on, terrible, but knowing that, I volunteer and I’m able to make somebody’s day.

I’ve, I have kids that are, that have graduated that I gave scholarships to, that they call me for. referrals, Sarah, can you write me a, a reference letter for this job? And I’m like, how old are you? Like, when did you graduate? And they’re like, Oh God, I graduated 12 years ago. I’m like, Oh God, I’ve been doing this for so long.

But I love, I absolutely love that. It was just like, are you married? Are you have kids and what’s new. And, we have, they, they just come back for that. And it’s so important. And it’s. it’s important to give a little bit of extra time because you can find time. You can find time to give back and it’s just so good.

I honestly love it. I could volunteer. I, I see my son going into his junior year and I’m like, okay, in two years when he graduates, I will take a step back on some of the volunteering and the sports and stuff like that I do in town. Just so I can, give myself a little bit more time for other things, but I love it.

Damien: It sounds like you are making the most out of everything with all these different events, both professionally and personally, but let’s talk about other events. Let’s talk about, bring it back to the marketing side, the marketing events. It’s a huge part of a successful marketing campaign and strategy.

And I know that there was a couple of years where we just didn’t have any true events. And I know that events are a huge part of Link Unite. And I’d love to understand a little bit about some maybe tips and tricks that you might have for other marketers who are looking at making the most of these marketing events.

Sara: Yeah. Like I said, I’ve been doing events for years. I think I’ve worked for every event in the industry for the most part. The first thing is return tracking, tracking your ROI for an event. I have been blown away the last few years, post COVID having conversations with clients that are like, Sarah, we’ve never had an ROI calculator.

We, we send all our sales and our biz dev to these events and they’re not getting anything. We’re not tracking leads and I’m like, that’s crazy. First of all, so you’re investing, you’re paying for expenses and travel and you’re getting a booth and a sponsorship and you’re not tracking.

So we actually one of the events I work on is contact. io, which is happening in Denver over the summer. And we put an ROI calculator on our website, which is super cool. I’m telling people to, to use that to just track a little bit, but you also have to have a track, some kind of a tracking system set up for yourself to be tracking these events, and it’s also about who you’re sending to these events.

You need people that are going to be willing to talk to anybody. You’re going to have, I always say, I make. I’ve made more connections in an elevator or, walking downstairs to a restaurant or something that I have at during the expo hours because people are running around. And it’s also, I’ve noticed a lot of times people are not buying passes.

They’re doing that lobby con where they’re showing up to events. I urge people to buy the pass because if you’re not buying passes to attend these events, then these events are going to crash and burn, that’s how we’re paying to have them. We want to have these events to have you, have a lead funnel and have, grow your business.

So we’re always for that, but I just, who you’re sending is the biggest tip. I’ve seen people, they get a 20 by 20 booth and they’ve got people just sitting in there on their phones, on their computers, that’s not going to work. You need to be up out.

You need to be, we always call them the hunters. You need a hunter for working for your company. That’s out there just talking to everybody. We want you to post your attendance. Are you coming to affiliate summit in July? Make sure you’re posting on a regular basis to let people know.

Make sure you’re tagging, your top clients or your customers that potentially they might not be at the event. But if you tag them, they’re like, Oh, maybe I will go. Oh, I’ll head over to New York to go to that event. 

Damien: And there are also just more detailed pieces just in terms of yeah.

Business cards because people aren’t doing these anymore, right? Or the lead collection process, you’re talking about the tracking the ROI, but it’s like how quickly and how easily can you. Collect these leads to be able to then engage with them either during the show or after the show.

And then just collaboration just in general at these shows is so huge. And as you said, you can have great conversations on the escalator and the elevator, just right outside this, but there’s also just a bunch of little tiny turns of the dial, one or two degrees. Yeah. That can actually make this much more successful.

Sara: Yeah. And I have a the digital business card and that’s changed my life because I was always, I used to keep my business cards in my badge, behind my badge when we used to have, when the badges slipped in and I’m like, hold on and I’m, so now it’s just I pull up my phone and, scan this and, I always take a picture of the badge and I try to immediately connect with that person on LinkedIn or ask for their cell or Skype information right, immediately.

So that when you’re going back, you can make notes. Like, how am I, how could I work with this person? And it’s just it’s being a little bit quicker, not taking, I laugh, I think 15 years ago, I’d have a little bit a notebook and I would be, taking notes.

So we don’t have time for that now, you want to meet as many new people and make the process quicker. But you’ve got to be talking to, you have to have the right people that are going to just go out and network and collaborate because. There is so many people that you can work with.

But if you’re sitting back, not having those conversations, you’ll never know. 

Damien: Yeah, absolutely. Sarah, thank you so much for your time. Is there any other advice that you might have either from the link? Unite? Side or on the lead generation world and any other tips, tricks or tidbits of knowledge, I 

Sara: would just say, come out and attend these events, send, send your women to link unite.

We would love to have them. We’re circling up people at all of these events so that, when you go to the, if you’re a newcomer in the industry, you can meet somebody and then you’ll see him at the next event and it’s, you feel a little bit more comfortable.

Just get yourself out there, attend the events, try, definitely buy a pass. We would appreciate everybody that, buys the pass. And then track what you’re doing. You know what I mean? It’s not just a big party. We, people are like, Oh, we go to these events just for the parties.

And, that’s not what our events are for. We want you to generate business. 

Damien: Yeah. And you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Again, Sarah, thank you so much for all of our listeners. Sarah Malo, again, the president and CEO of link unite. As well as the VP of partnerships at lead generation world, as well as avid hiker driving instructor philanthropist, everything.

So Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. 

Sara: Oh, it’s been amazing. Thank you so much. I just got to give a shout out to Melanie Bivens. I know she, she helped me get on this podcast. She’s absolutely wonderful. So I just wanted to give her a shout out and I can’t wait to see her soon.

Damien: She is great. Thank you so much, Sarah. Appreciate it. 

Sara: Take care