Milwaukee’s Trail Blazers — 3 Women in Marketing You Need to Know

Andrea Zehnder

By Andrea Zehnder

March 8, 2023

March 8, 2023

By Andrea Zehnder

Women’s History Month is a reminder that women have always been a force for change and that we have the power to shape the future. It’s also a time to celebrate our collective strength, resilience, and determination.

— Lisa Richards, CEO and Creator of the Candida Diet

Today is International Women’s Day — a day that lands within Women’s History Month! It’s no coincidence that we are excited to share this article.

We are inspired by the accomplishments of three amazing Milwaukee Digital Marketers — who are women. These award-winning trailblazers worked hard and busted right through any barriers they faced, acknowledging they stand on the shoulders of giants.

Women Garment Strikers, 1913, Library of Congress (Suffrage and labor activist Flora Dodge “Fola“ La Follette (1882-1970), social reformer and missionary Rose Livingston, and a young striker in New York City)

Meet three Milwaukee leaders shaping the world of digital marketing.

A trailblazer is an innovator, a shaker, and a leader who makes an impact in their field and leaves a path for others to follow. We’ve chosen three Milwaukee women to highlight, women who continue to inspire and pave paths for the generation behind them. If you’re not already familiar with these names, get to know them because their work is impacting the communities they serve and the companies they lead.

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Ebony Ssali, MBA

Ebony Ssali, MBA, is an author, speaker, podcast host, and Creative Director of Ssali Media Group.

A national lecturer on branding, diversity, and innovation in marketing, Ebony has garnered multiple awards in her career such as the City of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Week, Wisconsin Inno’s 50 on Fire, and Graphic Design USA’s 2020 Health & Wellness Award.

Ebony’s workbook Building A Strong Brand: A BRAND: ED Workbook is available on Amazon. And her podcast, Cream City Culture Podcast, can be found on Apple or Spotify.

True Diversity

As a leader in multicultural marketing campaigns, Ebony’s work spans multiple industries — healthcare, education, community development, and tech with a spotlight on Black and Latino markets. She is active in non-profit organizations, encouraging education and entrepreneurship. She has held a leadership role as President of Marquette University’s Ethnic Alumni Association, as well as roles in the National Black MBA Association and Rotary International in Wisconsin.

BONUS: We have been graced to work alongside Ebony as Diversity Outreach on our 414digital board!

Ebony earned her BA in Advertising from Marquette University and her MBA from Alverno College.

We asked Ebony a couple of questions.

Is there a woman who has had an impact on your career as a digital marketer?

Dr. Jean Grow was my professor more than 20 years ago at Marquette University. She was an early champion, assisting me to define my role in the industry. She consistently worked to elevate others, especially women of color, within the profession. Her tenacity to ask the tough questions formed the model which still guides the work I do today.

What is one piece of advice you’d give a young woman starting out in digital marketing — especially one who aspires to be a leader in her field?

Learn everything, and be relentless in the pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement. Tomorrow’s digital marketing will only expand to encompass socially relevant messaging, total customer experience, and lifestyle branding. Preparation and curiosity will lead young professionals into the roles of the future.

Ebony Ssali — your strength and determination are an inspiration to so many of us. You never stop learning and growing, and we love that you give back to your community. You’re proof that if a woman has the passion to succeed, life will provide guidance and mentors along her journey. That old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,“ speaks truth! Women often have to work harder to keep up with their male counterparts, and we know that women of color have even more challenges to face. You not only accomplished what you set out to do, but you have succeeded and exceeded! As you continue to soar, we thank you for being an incredible example to women.

Erin Levzow

Erin Levzow is the Chief Marketing Officer for Museum of Ice Cream. She also serves as an advisor to BUILT BY GIRLS, a dedicated community that prepares the next generation of female leaders to step boldly into careers powered by technology.

Erin is the recipient of multiple awards, but most recently was awarded the Top 25 Future is Female Award by Advertising Week New York, as well as in the 2002 CMO of the Year, BI 40 under 40, and Global MarTech Leader of the Year Awards, among others.

Prior to MOIC, Erin was VP of Marketing Technology at Del Taco Restaurants, and before that, she was the CMO for Marcus Hotels & Resorts. Erin has served as VP of Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM), Loyalty, and Marketing for Hathway in Austin, Texas, a customer service experience company specializing in helping billion-dollar brands develop mobile-first strategies. If you check out her LinkedIn page, the list of senior positions, advisory seats, and interest in women’s success dates back to her college days when she was President of The Women’s Project. And when she is not leading her team at work, she is leading her family of three (plus her husband) at home.

BONUS: Here at 414digital, we are proud to have Erin serve as President on our 414digital board.

We elicited from Erin the following:

Is there a woman who has had an impact on your career as a digital marketer?

I think many women have impacted my career but the most impactful woman has actually been my therapist.

What is one piece of advice you’d give a young woman starting out in digital marketing — especially one who aspires to be a leader in her field?

Lean in and embrace change, ask lots of questions, don’t judge, and lift up those around you.

Erin Lezvow, you could not be more genuine, approachable, and down to earth. Yet when we read of your accomplishments, you have Rock Star Status! You are what so many young women hope to accomplish: an incredible home life and an incredible career. Who says women have to choose!? You prove that you can have it all. We know you this about you because we here at 414digital get to work alongside you and benefit from your leadership and knowledge of digital marketing. At 414digital, we are the recipients of your acceptance and kindness. We are so proud to have you as our President!

Michele Allen

Michele Allen is Principal of Crux Creative, a 360º Creative and Marketing Agency based right here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Michele and her team (lead mainly by other women rockstars) boast a long list of awards — American Graphic Design Award, BMA Interactive Design Award, BMA Self Promotion Tradeshow Best of Division, BMA Best Newsletter Design… the list goes on and on.

Michele started out as a designer in the early 1990s when the field required more manual work to produce printed materials. She evolved into environmental design, where she transformed spaces and user experiences. Michele’s entrepreneurial spirit and natural leadership built Crux Creative, an agency that focuses on Brand Development, Digital Marketing, and Experiential Environments. Michele and her female leadership team have been doing this successfully for more than 20 years expanding to offices in both Milwaukee and Chicago.

We asked Michele the following:

Is there a woman who has had an impact on your career as a digital marketer?

I have been very fortunate to have several women who have impacted me in various ways throughout my career. One in particular was a client for many years but also owned a very large firm out east. She always encouraged me to be a strong and independent woman with a purpose to deliver every time and care about the businesses of my clients as if they were my own. I lost her about six months ago to an unexpected tragedy but her love for business and her intuity has inspired and guided me immensely over the years.

What is one piece of advice you’d give a young woman starting out in digital marketing — especially one who aspires to be a leader in her field?

I believe there is a balance to achieve and figuring out who you want to be, I am still working on that. There is so much of ourselves that go into what we do, but building strong relationships that empower and focus you are truly priceless. Surround yourself with trustworthy, smart, hard working and passionate people. And there will be several times that you will have to adjust, adapt and alter course, but just remember not to be discouraged, that is how you fine tune and excel.

I have been a business owner for over for 18 years, through highs and lows and then working through Covid has changed my perspective from what it was just 4 years ago. Digital is clearly one of the most powerful means of marketing and expertise in this field is just one piece of the puzzle, but how to stay on the forefront, fit and adapt to the future is even a bigger piece of the puzzle.

Michele, you inspire us because you have succeeded in a field dominated by males and your passion and talent put you on the top of the list of relevant companies achieving great work and growth. We learn from your hard work and passion to keep moving forward through the challenges that we face, not just as women who want to lead and succeed, but as women who aspire to build businesses, lead a team of women (especially), and grow in our field. Your career has evolved and you are at the helm of your ship. We celebrate you and your achievements!!

Shaping the future

Less than 1/3 of women hold leadership positions in the marketing agency world, according to Campaign and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

The need for diversity in the marketing and advertising industry is apparent. We are proud to highlight Milwaukee’s female trailblazers in marketing who are widening the road for others to follow. Ebony Ssali, Erin Lezvow, and Michele Allen are innovative, creative female leaders. Join us in applauding them. We are thankful they are leading the way forward.

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