Partnerships Team Member at Pinterest, Ariel Kao, Talks About Working at Pinterest and Living in NYC

"Hi I'm Ariel, I'm currently on the Partnerships team at Pinterest in NYC, working to strategize and pitch advertising solutions for high growth potential accounts. Prior to Pinterest, I spent two years at SocialCode running digital advertising for Fortune 500 companies like VISA, Dannon, Chase, and Michael Kors on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Linkedin, Youtube, and Pinterest of course. Data analysis, beta testing, and direct response advertising are the cornerstones of my career thus far, and I love it because you get to take risks, learn from it, and see tangible business results from the actions you take.

I was a Cognitive Science major back at UVA and an involved member of the HackCville community. Big love for the AKPsi, rADical, Pioneer, Promotions, Green Grounds, and VCG communities. Through various startup internships throughout the years ranging from graphic design to market research analytics, I finally honed in on social advertising and analytics as the two big pillars in my job search (along with New York being criteria number one). I've always had a passion for the creative from digital photography to spoken word. Currently reading Black Box Thinking."
an image of Ariel the marketing professional from pinterest
Meet Ariel Kao
Which of the summer internships you had during college best prepared you for your work at Pinterest and SocialCode?

"I casted a wide net in terms of types of startups and types of functions (data analysis, social media, blog post, etc) but ultimately the ones that really mattered were the ones that were directly related to the job at hand. So for SocialCode where my role was to run ads on social platforms, which something I touched very briefly on Commonwealth Joe, I made sure to highlight that.

What I find to be a useful exercise is combing through the job description and finding the key experiences they're looking for — say "data saavy" "social expert" and "sales" and then cherry picking the experiences you've had that fits the bill EXACTLY. Which means right now the best thing to focus on is gathering a bunch of experience. I will also say on the gathering experience front that the sooner you know what you're trying to do as a career the better because you can seek out the experiences that are going to build up to that point. Maybe the first experience isn't exactly what you need but it gives you skills to get the next internships that's closer to it.

But if you don't have an exact idea right now that's okay too, then you should just be chasing a bunch of things that interest you that builds all sorts of skills, and you can pick through it all later when organizing your story for an interview!"

How do you market yourself as a creative in a business setting? (translating those creative skills/interests in design, spoken word, etc. into settings/interviews that are often more "square"?)

"That's a really interesting question! Funny you ask that because when I was interviewing for jobs in NYC there was the advertising side of things but then I also interviewed for a few design roles as well. That being said, my design background was really more of a nice "add-on" as opposed to being crucial to what was really an analytical/product role at SocialCode, and a sales oriented role now at Pinterest.

Design has come into play however when a client has creatives that aren't great and you suggest an edit but their creative team isn't able to handle it and maybe your company's internal team can't either, then you can just roll up your sleeves and do it in the interest of time. I think it also comes into play during interview processes as a differentiator when they ask about what things you're passionate about outside of the job function itself. It's also a skillset that allows you to establish yourself as the "go to creative gal" at work. It's important when you're in a team of people all doing the same function that you become known for something, people may come to you for measurement questions, or excel tips, or in this case design guidance.

Lastly I will say being "creative" can manifest itself in fun and unique ways. From compelling and beautiful storytelling in a powerpoint presentation to bringing even more business value to your client by suggesting a creative concept that's more digitally native if they've just been repurposing content from TV."

I would like to know more about what your experience at SocialCode was like? Running digital advertising for Fortune 500 companies sounds like a dream job, but surely there were times you were challenged one way or another?

"Haha yes it really was an exciting first job out of college. I remember the first few months thinking 'all this money is spent on strategy, creative, agencies, etc and it all comes down to me this 22 year old pushing a few buttons and putting the ads out there? What if I messed this up?' and the the truth is you will. At a bare minimum SocialCode was a social advertising partner that understood the ins and outs of ad buying from product betas to analyzing data to squeeze out the best performance, both a strategy and also executing "flawlessly". But it's actually very easy to mess up the copy or targeting parameters (you're supposed to target Canada, but you accidentally target US because that's the default).

So that's your first challenge there — QA-ing properly. But more than the executional challenge, it's a challenging job because you're constantly trying to be creative and insightful and find added value to the client. We're not just there to push buttons, we're there to drive testing agendas, to level up insights from the data and advise them on how they should be advertising, on what platforms, what should their key performance indicators be?

What I also found challenging at first was learning how to work effectively with my team, most of whom was actually out in SF. It's exciting to run ads for large companies, but it's also a lot of pressure to make sure things go well, and you're going above and beyond, because these companies with large budgets can just as easily go to another company that does the same/similar thing."

Could you please talk a bit about your experience so far working at Pinterest? What's the atmosphere like and who do you work with? Also, if you know have any insights about other career opportunities/departments at Pinterest could you please share those?

"So far the experience at Pinterest has been amazing! What's interesting about this platform, compared to the other ones, is that it has the appearance of a huge company that's been around for a while now, but it operates a lot like a scrappy and thrifty startup. Something that is often true when you move to the platform side (so what would be true of Facebook, Snapchat too) is that everyone comes from a variety of different experiences/background from programmatic buying to paid search, and tends to be in late 20s or early 30s. That's a really awesome environment because you can learn a ton from the people around you who come from anywhere! I work most closely with a partner manager — each account is typically assigned one partner manager who does more of the pitching and selling in and an account manager (me!) who is in charge of ensuring great performance and upselling (asking for incremental, introducing new betas or product updates).

The engineering team is incredibly complex with teams that focus on the advertising product, but predominantly on the overall user experience and new features like the Lens. I think it's something like 10 different teams covering front end back end and all sorts of areas. Then we have research and insights teams that comb through data, and user stories and brand teams that market the Pinterest brand and talk to everyday pinners. And you have legal, brand safety, product teams, etc. But I believe Engineering and Partnerships are the largest, I'm on the latter. The partnerships team is broken up into three parts — Field, Growth, and SMB. Field is the fortune 200s, Growth is people who are currently spending small amounts but have larger spend potential (I'm on growth). Our job is to be essentially "pinterest reps" but more importantly to the business, sell in the value of advertising with us, so we're tied to quarterly revenue goals."

How did you find out about the position your currently hold at Pinterest? Do you have any networking or other advice for how to get into companies based in NYC for either a job or for an internship?

"EXCELLENT question. Something as a college student I was resistant to was 'using a connection to get my job' because I wanted to be able to 'get it on my own.' The thing is though that the jobs I've had aren't that hard if I'm being honest and pretty much most college grads could do it! But having a connection gets your foot in the door that much quicker so you can sell in why hire you. When I was thinking of making a transition to a platform I reached out to people who I used to work with at SocialCode but had since moved on to these platforms. That was a great thing about SocialCode — I knew people that moved to all sorts of places — Amazon, Google, Facebook, Oracle, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.

It's so crucial to form genuine connections and work with as many people as possible on the job, because you never know when you'll find a friendly face at a company you're interested in working with down the road. That goes for college too! Anyone you met could be sitting somewhere interesting. And I got my job at SocialCode because I reached out to a friend about a different company who then referred me to her friend at SocialCode.

I think you shouldn't be afraid to reach out to people you met at an alumni event once too. They may not remember you but you should remember them. Take note of their names, then reach out on LinkedIn when the time is right and remind them of where you met and what it is you're hoping to get. Most companies give out referral bonuses so if you're resume is strong then they have nothing to lose for referring you. As for companies based in NYC, if you're referring to startups specifically there are a TON of job boards. Like Built in NYC,, The Muse, etc."

What is your favorite part and least favorite part about living/working in NYC?

"Favorite parts: So many restaurants and bars to try, so many people to meet and surround yourself with you can really pick and choose your poison, really diverse set of industries from advertising and design to law and finance, the convenience 24/7 Duane Reade on most street corners cannot be understated, everyone is so fashionable I love the mornings and seeing what people are wearing to work! The energy and pace of life!

Least favorite parts: high cost of living, so many smart people to compete with, not as wonderful people you might encounter on the streets or in your day to day, taking the subway (your commute) can be a pain, having major fomo — it can be hard to be okay with staying in but over time it's easier to justify, or maybe the opposite problem of you're introvert and it's overwhelming."

You've been in the working world for a few years now — from all the awesome things you've already accomplished, what are you the most proud of?

"Tough one to answer! Honestly probably getting this position at Pinterest — I remember starting to get bored and restless in my role at SocialCode and someone close to me saying 'that's okay that your dissatisfied with the status quo but don't become one of those people who just perpetually complains about their job and does nothing to fix it.' That really stuck and I remember when I applied to this job the recruiter told me 'we've already interviewed a few people and are about ready to fill the position so are you willing to move fast with us?' which of course I was.

But I remember thinking oh no, there are so many other qualified candidates already in the pipeline. So the moment I'm most proud of was when I didn't hear back from the recruiter after my final round interview for a few days — I sent her an email with a bulleted list of reasons to hire me plus examples to back it up, which I think really helped to push me over the edge. She replied saying 'sorry for the delay, I actually haven't spoken with the hiring manager yet, and I forwarded this to her — she's impressed, stay tuned!' Might have not been a kosher move, maybe even a slightly aggressive move, but I'd like to think it worked!"
SEPTEMBER, 23 / 2018