Kelly McConville of N26 is standing against a light background and looking into the camera.
Kelly McConville. Image: N26

How N26’s Kelly McConville managed her imposter syndrome

2 Sep 2020

Kelly McConville has had an impressive career, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing get to where she is today.

Back in 2001, Kelly McConville joined Philips as a project manager and executive assistant to the CMO, helping to launch connected products within the consumer electronics division, such as the Philips/Nike MP3 player, which was 128mb.

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“This was revolutionary at the time!” she tells me. “The challenge then was, ‘how do we reach a new, younger audience?’. Building websites and launching products online was pretty new and this was the specific area I was really interested to learn more about; the new digital world and how we brought marketing material to life in these channels.

“Social media was on the rise in 2004 and 2005. At that time, the big brands in social were MySpace and YouTube – quite a bit before Facebook – and I automatically became fascinated with the mix of data and content and the usage behaviours of consumers.

“That was it, I was hooked. At the time I was responsible for 360-degree campaigns, but the digital and social channels were the ones that interested me the most. I started building Philips’ first ever social media strategies, channels and campaigns and I never looked back.”

‘How is a wee girl from Belfast here?’

McConville is now the global director of content, social media, brand and campaigns at mobile banking company N26. Before all of that though, an early interest in “all things tech” and a computer software apprenticeship is what drew McConville to the field. “This background gave me an understanding of the digital landscape as well as the kind of project and programme-management experience which is vital to get started,” she explains.

“After joining Philips, I had an amazing boss at the time who trusted me and my instincts. I spent 12-plus years working there in many different roles in marketing before I really focused on specialising in social and content.”

During the early days of her career, however, McConville came up against some challenges. “Back in the day, it was the disbelief that the ‘interwebs’ would play a huge part in our lives moving forward,” she recalls. “I spent a lot of time convincing the [Philips] execs that this was the direction we should be taking (which wasn’t easy in the early noughties).

‘While data is massively important in this world, don’t get paralysed by it’

“Having the data to prove the impact and importance of how marketing plays out in digital channels [and] ensuring we were tracking and measuring everything we did and deriving insights from this played a huge part in convincing management and teams.”

Being a woman in the industry brought its share of difficulties too. “In the early 2000s, there weren’t very many women in tech and getting your voice heard wasn’t easy. Ensuring that you were over-prepared for any meeting was a must; diving into every detail and trying to come to the table with answers as well as the confidence to deliver them.

“At the beginning I certainly had imposter syndrome. ‘How is a wee girl from Belfast here? Why should all these people listen to me?’ Again, having the trust and coaching from the Philips CMO really helped me believe in myself.”

Working in social isn’t just sitting on Facebook all day

The Philips CMO was one of McConville’s early mentors. She describes him as “a true professional and futuristic thinker” who helped her shape her early career. Another person she credits with influencing her career development is Eva Barrett. Barrett was the global head of Marcom at the time and is now the COO of Kathmandu.

“She is an amazing woman, a true creative and marketing genius with zero fear, who leads from the front by really trusting her teams and allowing them to flourish under her leadership,” McConville says. “Together, we created campaigns such as Carousel, Parallel Lines and Obsessed with Sound. She really put her trust in me and became a great coach, mentor and friend.”

Barrett inspired McConville to infuse support into her leadership. Today, that’s the best part of her job, she tells me: “I love to watch people grow into their best selves. We as managers and leaders should knock down any barriers they have, believe in them, coach them and give them the tools they need to deliver.

“The world of social media and content is so varied. Funnily enough, working in social doesn’t mean that you sit on Facebook all day. It’s actually the contrary. It’s about understanding human behaviour, digital ecosystems, user journeys, content creation, analytics, programme and project management and lots, lots more.”

Curiosity is crucial

Though she only joined N26 in January of this year, McConville is grateful for the support the company has shown her, allowing her to bring her full self to work.

“I love simplifying complexity,” she says. “Some people look at things and think, ‘where do I even start?’. Being naturally curious, I really enjoy just diving in and making sense of it all.

“Also, I can be pretty outgoing and chatty. I think that has helped build long-term relationships with partners (some of whom I have worked with for more than 15 years) as well as colleagues and managers. I’ve had the same boss since 2016 – it’s three companies later but we always seem to find each other.

“I can also be pretty tenacious. No matter what the challenge is, I will always deliver on my promises.”

In light of her own experiences, her advice for others hoping to work in the same sector is to “be constantly curious”.

“Always ask the question, no matter how simple you might think it is,” she says. “I can guarantee that most people have never thought about things that way.

“While data is massively important in this world, don’t get paralysed by it. The world of social allows you to test with a small audience, learn, iterate and do it again. There’s no silver bullet.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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