Career Stories

How a Chance Elevator Encounter Launched This VP’s Career in Marketing

Alisha Reed, the Vice President of Marketing Strategy at Protective Life
Alisha Reed, the Vice President of Marketing Strategy at Protective Life.
| Courtesy of Protective Life

When Alisha Reed first started down her career path, she had a clear goal in mind: to become a Chief Operations Officer. But that all changed when the company she worked for early in her career offered her a role on the marketing team.

“Despite the fact that I had zero marketing experience and had only taken one marketing course in college, the company leaders thought I had great potential,” says Reed, who today is the Vice President of Marketing Strategy at Protective Life Corporation. “I seriously considered the offer, but planned to turn it down to continue to pursue a management path in operations.”

That all changed when Reed rode up the elevator the next day to share her decision. She ran into the CEO, who said he had heard she was joining the marketing team.

“In that instant, I knew I needed to accept the offer,” she says. “Had it not been for that fateful elevator ride, I may have never considered a career in marketing, which has become my passion over the last 20 years.”

Here, Reed shares why working in insurance is fulfilling and exciting, how she's helping Protective Life recruit with diversity in mind, and what books are currently on her nightstand.

You’ve been at Protective Life for more than 16 years. What initially excited you about joining the company and what has kept you there?

Protective Life’s growth trajectory was incredibly exciting to me then and still is today. Through both organic growth and an active acquisition strategy, Protective Life is always growing and changing. When I joined the organization, there were fewer than a dozen marketers in our life insurance and annuity business and we supported three distribution channels with a handful of products. Now there are more than 100 marketers, and in the life insurance and annuity business we support more than 10 distribution channels and offer products we didn’t even think about 16 years ago. That type of growth requires us to constantly be reinventing our approaches to marketing, which keeps the job interesting and challenges me to continuously grow my skills and knowledge.

What are the core responsibilities of your current role?

I lead our marketing strategy team, which encompasses a variety of functions. We conduct research to gather insights about our customer and distributor needs to help define our product, sales, and marketing strategies. We work with our sales partners to set goals, objectives, positioning, and tactics for our advertising and promotional efforts. We also have a team of project managers and specialists responsible for overseeing the execution of those plans.

How is your journey at Protective Life—complete with five promotions—indicative of the way the company supports employees and encourages growth?

My career path reflects many of the benefits of working at Protective Life and why it’s a wonderful place to build a career. The first is that the company’s constant growth creates new opportunities for everyone. My last two roles did not exist prior to me holding them; they came about due to the expansion of marketing’s role in supporting a growing organization.

Additionally, Protective Life is incredibly supportive of professional development opportunities, which span from licensing and designation programs, mentorship, leadership development programs, executive education support, and technical training. Leaders also help employees create individual development plans, which include formal education, stretch experiences, and opportunities for exposure across the enterprise.

Tell us about a recent project you’re most proud of and what impact it had.

One of the most rewarding projects I have led was the marketing launch of our distribution company, Concourse Financial Group, in July 2021. This was one of the first opportunities for our team to inform an overall go-to-market strategy from start to finish, including determining what markets and customers we would serve, what capabilities we would need to build, development of a new brand, and execution of the launch and promotional plan.

This new subsidiary is a core component of our retirement division’s growth plan, and it was a fantastic example of the role that marketing can play in forming not only a campaign strategy, but also a business strategy.

What has been the biggest challenge working in a male-dominated field, and how have you overcome it?

The challenge has varied based on my life and career stage. Early in my career, before I was with my current employer, I encountered situations that were outright inappropriate. It was essential that I demonstrate a level of maturity and level-headedness to address them in a way that set appropriate boundaries without damaging necessary working relationships.

Mid-career, the issues I encountered were more related to parenting expectations. There was a period when one of my children was extremely ill for an extended period and my husband and I were trying to balance providing for her care and managing our jobs. Both of our employers suggested that I should take time away from work simply because, as the mother, I was perceived as the traditional caretaker. In this scenario, I really had to process my own identity as a mother and how external expectations shaped my view and influenced feelings of guilt and responsibility.

Today, the challenges tend to be more related to unconscious biases around communication styles and approaches to conflict negotiation. I have witnessed and experienced many occasions when women have asserted a conflicting viewpoint or passionately expressed an opinion that is perceived as “emotional” or “pushy” when they have done nothing differently than their male counterparts who are perceived as “direct” or “commanding.” Overcoming this requires a high degree of self-awareness in addition to an acknowledgement of the bias in order to adapt my approach.

All of that said, I have seen positive change in our industry regarding gender-diversity in leadership and an evolution of how women’s roles are viewed in the workplace. While we still have room for improvement, we have come a long way from the working environments I experienced in the late 90s.

Tell us about your experience as the divisional leader of company's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. What does the role entail and what have you achieved?

I serve as the leader of the Protective Retirement Division DEI committee, which is responsible for improving diversity in our talent pipeline and building a culture of advocacy and inclusion, and is part of a larger company-wide commitment to DEI. We have been operating as a committee for just over a year and have been focused on establishing sponsorships of industry and Cincinnati-area committees, associations, and initiatives. We have established sponsorship relationships with Women in Financial Services, The College of African American Financial Professionals, and Central State University College of Business, to name a few.

At Central State, I serve on the College of Business’ Advisory Council and have been able to bring Protective Life funding to a variety of scholarships and events at the school. Protective Life has also made a five-year commitment to the Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality to sponsor a program that offers students a certificate in financial literacy.

This leadership assignment has been one of the most fulfilling in my career, allowing me to bring causes I am passionate about within my faith community to my workplace.

What is your favorite part about a career in marketing?

Marketers get to bring things to life. This is especially true in our industry, where we sell intangible products. We get to deeply understand the needs and desires of our audiences and then show them how we can solve for them. That, in itself, is fulfilling, and then we have the bonus of getting to be creative in the ways that we bring those stories to life. There is always room for new ideas and innovation in marketing.

What is a misconception about working in the insurance industry and how would you respond to it?

That it is boring. On the surface, insurance products don’t sound like a fun thing to market or sell compared to technology or consumer goods. However, a lot of people miss what our products do for the end buyer. We don’t just satisfy a craving or make your skin glow or give you a new tool to use; we protect dreams and ambitions. Our products make sure families are taken care of when the unexpected occurs and allows people to live out their long-envisioned retirements. That’s pretty meaningful and exciting in my book.

What are you reading right now?

I rotate my reading to include fun fictional titles, business books, and faith-based topics. On my nightstand right now you’ll find: The Love Songs of W.E.B DuBois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, and Chasing Vines by Beth Moore.

How do you maintain work-life balance?

This is truthfully something that I have never been particularly good at, and I have had to adjust my approach throughout my career. Today, I am very mindful in planning periods of intentional rest or my workaholic tendencies easily take over. I may run hard for a few weeks to get through a challenging season or series of deadlines, but I have purposeful recovery time planned on the other side. That’s when I fully disconnect from work and engage with things that bring me joy such as traveling, reading, and spending time with friends and family.

Updated 9/16/2022