Carsen is a digital marketer by day and a digital DJ by night. He has a great love for travel and adventure, connecting with new people, and spinning out only the funkiest of beats. No matter if he's marketing or DJing, Carsen has a talent for making people smile.

Other posts by:

Susan Celebrates 10 years at Vovia!

I have been fortunate in my career to have been surrounded by inspiring leaders and mentors, and my career path changed forever when Susan Murphy first walked into Vovia in 2014. She gave me the space to explore the areas that I was most passionate about, provided continuous support for me, and helped me believe in my ability to achieve. This kind of investment in teammates is all too rare, and this approach inspires and motivates people to be the best that they can be. 

With 10 years now under her belt as the President of Vovia, I thought it would be fun to sit down with Susan to talk about all the good times and lessons learned over these years. Vovia has completely transformed over the past decade, and I can say with confidence that Susan’s vision, drive, and ability to bring out the best in people keeps this agency on the leading edge. Read on to learn more about Susan’s journey, and Vovia’s phenomenal evolution! 

Knowing what you know now, what single piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Slow down and enjoy key moments in life. I love what I do for a living. Devising strategies that drive results is extremely rewarding, and I really enjoy working with others. I work hard to accomplish things and I’m always chasing new projects and opportunities. It feels like ‘one thing after another’ sometimes, which means I don’t always stop to reflect and celebrate what we have accomplished. If I could go back, I would do that more and give that advice to others too.

What made you move over to Vovia in the first place?

Performance and work-life balance. At my previous agency, we partnered with Vovia to run paid search for one of our larger tourism clients, so Cam and I got the opportunity to work closely together for about three years. I admired what Vovia brought to the table. The innovative perspective, the analytical know-how, and of course, the performance they were able to drive in the business. I’m a very analytical marketer and it was clear to me that Cam was too. As we got to know one another, we found we had a lot of shared values around performance and testing strategies, but also around family and work-life balance. In my prior role, resourcing issues led to continuous overtime, and it got to the point that I was missing out on precious time with my amazing family. When Cam approached me about joining him at Vovia, it definitely caught me by surprise, but it was an obvious choice and I have never looked back!

Do you remember your first day? Tell me about it.

It’s funny you are interviewing me because the person I remember the most is you, your kindness and welcoming spirit. I already knew Cam and Mike, who were amazing at onboarding me with all things at Vovia, but when I got on my machine and everything was new, you were the one I felt most comfortable asking for help so I could dig in and learn all the systems. I also remember how welcoming the entire team was. Everyone was keen to get to know me and to loop me in on their role and accomplishments. I felt like I could just be myself right away. It was one of the smoothest transitions I have ever made in my career, and definitely felt like it was meant to be.

How has Vovia evolved over the last 10 years?

We have made tremendous changes over the years. In 2014 when I joined, we were only doing paid search, reporting, and SEO. The first 2 years after joining, we expanded to all digital channels and then brought in Stacey McIntyre to move into holistic media planning and buying. 

From 2017-2018, things started to take off. We significantly enhanced our analytics, offered full media services, and stepped into e-commerce and full website reporting. We also overhauled our approach to business development and went after more RFPs being an integrated media agency vs digital only. This led to significant growth for the organisation as we started to win big clients across Canada and created satellite offices in several markets. This early growth spurt also allowed us to move to a larger office here in Calgary. 

From 2019-2020, with our growing team and volume of work, we invested in our operations, tools, and HR efforts. The team comes first at Vovia, and we realised through employee survey feedback we had to improve in areas such as personal development as well as emotional intelligence training. We started to offer more detailed SEO, onsite optimization, and content marketing services during this time as well.

2020-2021: the Pandemic. This was a wild couple of years, to say the least. When the pandemic first hit, our business was impacted in terms of certain projects and campaigns going on hold, but we made good use of the time and were able to invest in some operational items that were sitting on the back burner. A bit scary for the business at first, as there was so much uncertainty in the world, but also an exciting time because our e-commerce and post-secondary experience led to a lot of success and growth for our clients in those verticals. We helped existing clients reposition themselves and even on-boarded new clients, which was unexpected considering the times. I’m proud of what we did throughout this period, how we came out of it, and how well the entire team used the downtime productively. 

In the past few years coming out of the pandemic, we have been faced with significant changes in privacy regulations and tracking, and thus have had to invest a lot of time into our analytic efforts. For almost all of our clients, we have some form of business data/first-party rolling into our reporting now so we can have a pulse on the business in addition to the media and web performance monitoring we do. We also launched our data science services around business performance modelling/forecasting, creative performance modelling and audience modelling (when first-party data is available).

And of course, moving into the AI era, we are currently auditing tools and looking to make more advances to our services in the coming years, so stay tuned!

What was the biggest challenge that you faced at Vovia over this time?

Navigating the pandemic was definitely the most challenging. However, it was also very rewarding in that it showed us how adaptable we were as a business, and how resilient we were as a team. Vovia’s culture is extremely important to us. Since we were all working remotely, trying to maintain connectivity and supporting our team’s mental health and wellness was an ongoing focus for us. 

One thing I am particularly proud of during this period is how our financial foresight and governance allowed us to keep running the business ‘as usual’, in an extremely unusual time. As a business owner, I know it’s important to save for ‘a rainy day’, and that rainy day fund allowed us to proceed during those uncertain times without scaling back wages, or worse, letting people go like some of the other agencies had to. This proved to be a super smart investment as well, because the work came right back (and more), so we needed all hands on deck to seize that opportunity. 

What do you feel are your biggest accomplishments since you started in 2014? 

While the most measurable achievement is more than doubling Vovia’s financial performance, the accomplishments I am most proud of are team and client retention, and growing this business while maintaining Vovia’s unique culture.

I am extremely proud of the team we have built, and how loyal that team is. Over half of our team has been with the company for 5+ years, and we have formed some very strong relationships that contribute to how well we collaborate and innovate together.

I am equally proud of the client partnerships we have built over these years. Similar to team loyalty, we have many clients that have been with us for 5+ years; many of which have expanded the services with Vovia and have seen continued year-over-year growth from our marketing efforts. I think it’s just a testament to how important it is to always work your hardest and put your best foot forward. Open and honest collaboration, hard work, and always striving for excellence are what build trust, lasting relationships and successful programs.

I am proud of my ability (and our leadership’s ability) to motivate the team to continually innovate and drive smart strategies and growth for our clients. I also do my part operationally and financially to provide work-life balance by investing in the right areas and being conscious of never over-extending the business for ambition. Living through the experience of having more work than time to manage it has made me a more conscientious and successful leader. I care deeply about our team, and want them to have the home/personal life that I cherish, while still enjoying and feeling challenged by their career.

If you could switch your job with anyone else within Vovia for one day, whose job would you want?

I already do a lot of strategy and planning, and have done a tonne of analytics in the past, so I think switching with one of our Digital Media team members would round me out. I personally have never done the bidding firsthand. Cam told me when I started not to go there as I think he knew I might not stop lol. I think my competitive nature as well as my affinity for puzzles and testing would serve me well in ad optimization!

What behaviour or personality traits do you most attribute your success to, and why?

Driven, optimistic, caring, curious, and resilient. 

I have always been goal-orientated and have been very driven to achieve those goals. When I set clear goals and know what I want to achieve, I have always believed that I can achieve them. It’s all within my control. So, I think being driven is kind of that constant, but also being very optimistic in my ability to find a way. 

That said, I truly believe people are the key to success. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and see the strengths in everyone around me. I love to surround myself with smart, driven people and I have been fortunate to have met many throughout my life. I always try to be caring, supportive, dependable, and trustworthy, which has contributed to long-standing relationships that I feel have played a huge part in my success.

Lastly, being resilient and curious has helped me through countless challenges, and allowed me to turn many of them into opportunities. Tough situations arise all the time. My philosophy is taking a positive outlook, and being open-minded enough to see the big picture, will help me get to the next chapter, or will help me identify an opportunity. Getting hung up on things that are out of your control just limits one’s ability to move forward. 

What is your biggest hope for the next decade at Vovia?

Continued team retention, client retention, and innovation leading to performance growth, service growth and success.

What is your favourite memory at Vovia?  

Oh, there are so many. Honestly, all our team builders are a hoot. Our team is so competitive, which leads to lots of laughs and funny situations. Competitiveness is in our Vovia DNA after all. But I think the most shocking one that sticks in my mind was during a secret Santa gift exchange. I had just turned 40, and one of our teammates surprised me with a “squatty potty”. The fact that ‘Santa’ was brave enough to get me a Squatty Potty as my gift just had me roaring, and had the whole team laughing their faces off. I love the collective sense of humour and fun we have as a team. It’s just one of the things that makes this place so special.  

Describe what Vovia means to you in one word (or describe Vovia in one word). 

Performance! Everyone I have ever worked with here has been passionate about testing new ideas to drive stronger performance. A wise friend pointed out that the last 3 letters of our brand name (via), mean a path or to go places, and that is exactly what the team at Vovia does for its partners. We help them find opportunities to grow, expand, and evolve and we all feel rewarded when this happens.

Fun Questions 

If you were an animal, what would you be? Why? 

I would be a Silverback Gorilla because I think they are amazing! They are very human, but also powerful and family-oriented. They are so big and have a lot of presence, but yet, don’t use it unless they’re threatened. My Gorilla trek in Uganda was one of the most fantastic and memorable experiences of my life. 

What is one of the things on your “bucket” list?

Travelling to Machu Picchu! I’m a big traveller and I’m very grateful to have explored most of the continents in the world. However, I have not made my way to South America yet, and Machu Picchu in Peru has always called to me.   

Who do you admire the most?

Oh tough question! I honestly admire different qualities in different people. There is no one person I want to be like, but rather, I take the best I see in various people in my life and try to emulate those qualities myself. That’s why I like surrounding myself with great people; we lift eachother up.

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?

I wish I could say it’s just gonna be a comedy, but being in advertising and having a teenage daughter, it probably has to be a drama (but with funny parts throughout!). I have been told by a long time friend that Reese Witherspoon could play me, which made sense to me because she is also a feisty blonde 😅

Are you a morning or a night person?

Morning! But I can be a party animal when the time presents itself, and I am with amazing people. 

What is your favourite hobby?

Travelling is at the top of the list; I absolutely love exploring new places and people. I’m also a yogi and have been practising yoga regularly for over 10 years. I’m nowhere near as flexible as I probably should be, but find the practice soothing and meditative. I’m big into skiing and love being in the mountains. I’ve also really gotten into golf recently! I enjoy nature and a challenge, so I think golf checks off those items.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

I was at our hotel in Africa and asked for spaghetti with no meat. They brought me Spaghetti with ketchup as a sauce, and peas and carrots in it. I was honestly very hungry so I ate the whole plate! It got the job done.  

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

My dogs, who sleep in bed with us, give me kisses and cuddles first (even before my poor husband lol). I love them very much, and this always starts my day on the right foot.

What is your favorite quote? 

This is more of a slogan than a quote, but Nike’s “Just do it” has always hit deeply for me. I’m very much a ‘get it done’ kind of person. When things get tough and don’t go your way, what do you do? Just do it. Work hard-play hard philosophy is something I try to live by.

Biggest fear? 

Being locked in a room with lots of bees. I had a bad run in with a Jellyfish when I was young and have been terrified of anything that can sting me ever since. Fun fact, our first Vovia office had a honey farm on the roof, and sometimes bees buzzed into the office. Eeek! I’ll never forget one day when I was in a meeting in the front boardroom, and a bee keeper in full beekeeping regalia walked by, instantly spiking my heart rate.  

Biggest dream?

I can’t tell you that, or it won’t come true 😉 Being a caring wife, mother, business owner, daughter, and friend, I have many dreams that relate to everyone around me. What I can say is most of the goals I set, I achieve. It’s just about making sure you know what you want, and then making a plan to achieve it!

If you could get a yacht what would you call it?

 It would be something inappropriate to get laughs, clearly.

What product do you love to shop for the most?

I don’t think it’s any secret. I am a shoe Queen! Embarrassingly, I just got back from my kid’s soccer tournament this weekend with three new pairs… Perhaps even more embarrassingly, I have several shoes that are too hard to walk in, so they just sit in my closet. I almost wonder if I just need to do an art display of them, so I can visually enjoy them without feeling the pain of walking in them!

Favourite book 

I have read a tonne of business books being a B.Comm – MBA, but none of them were my ‘favourite’. I much prefer the butt kicking Jack Reacher series when reading for fun! I am definitely somebody who enjoys adventure, but I wouldn’t want it every day in my life. So I like having books that give me that escape and a little adventure.

Favourite movie 

The new Jumanji with the Rock. I literally lost my voice from laughing so hard.

Favourite place 

Hawaii! The beaches, volcanos, climate, vegetation, and diversity from island to island is just so amazing to me. We generally try to go back every two or three years.

Time machine – hop in the DeLorean, where do you go and what do you do? 

There is nothing I would change as I value all my experiences. That said, I would love to go back and relive one of my most memorable moments – my trek in Africa to see Gorillas in their natural habitat. I remember it like it was yesterday, and would love to go back and do it all over again. 

If you were a superhero what would your powers be?

Teleportation for obvious reasons – running a company, my love for travel, and being a soccer mom I have more places to be than I have time for.

SPEED ROUND – Here I asked Susan to answer as fast as she could and if I caught her thinking I would skip to the next question. Here’s how that went…

This or That

  • Coffee or Tea – Coffee
  • Sweet or Savoury – Savoury
  • Rice or Noodles – Noodles
  • Thai or Indian – Thai
  • Movie or Documentary – Movie
  • Cats or Dogs – Dogs
  • Call or Text – Email! 
  • Bacon or Eggs – Eggs
  • Ocean or Mountains – Ocean
  • Facebook or Insta – Facebook 
  • Music or Podcast – Music
  • IOS or android – IOS
  • Fashion or Function – Function
  • Sneakers or Sandals – Sandals
  • Driver or Passenger – Driver
  • AI or Automation – Automation 
  • Cups in the cupboard, right side up or upside down – The right way. Um right side up! 
  • Movies – Theater or Home – Theater
  • Action or Horror – Action
  • Mac or PC – PC
  • Soup or Sandwich – Soup
  • Ninjas or Pirates – Pirates
  • Sunrise or sunset – Sunset
  • Paid or Organic – Paid (SEM are my initials, after all) 

Word association 

  • Marketing – Vovia
  • Candy – Gummy Bears 
  • Coffee – Hawaiian 
  • Backstreet – Boys
  • Performance – Vovia
  • Email – Love it
  • Team – Collaboration 
  • Gold – Olympics
  • Karaoke – Singing 
  • John – Murphy (my dad) 
  • Paid – Search
  • Banana – Gorilla 
  • Google – Office
  • Ninja – Warrior
  • Winnipeg – Cold
  • Hawaii – Warm
  • Vovia – Performance 

Big congrats to Susan on hitting this amazing 10-year milestone, and cheers to a decade well lived.