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HERstory: Neha Kirpalani

Product Marketing Manager @ QS
Profile photo of Neha Kirpalani

Introducing Neha Kirpalani, a dynamic and multi-talented Product Marketing Manager at QS, and an official LinkedIn Creator who isn’t afraid to wear many hats. Neha’s diverse professional journey has seen her traverse a vast landscape of marketing roles – from creative copywriting to product marketing, punctuated by an adventurous master’s degree journey in the United Kingdom.

Neha’s thirst for knowledge and constant evolution is a testament to her motto, “upskill or perish,” as she passionately navigates the ever-changing marketing world. In her role at QS, she has successfully transitioned from content marketing to lead generation, ultimately landing in product marketing – an adventure she equates to visiting different ‘countries’ in the ‘world’ of marketing.

She’s a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the clock. She’s a recognized contributor for the Harvard Business Review and on LinkedIn, she’s both a champion and curator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) content, making her a thought leader and a force of change on the platform.

Neha is also a strong advocate for productivity, a principle that has guided her journey and led her to timeboxing – an effective tool she’s written extensively about. While others may buckle under the intense demands of time and work, Neha uses this method to stay on top of her game, fostering a calm and focused approach that allows her to consistently perform at her peak.

Let’s dive in!

At QS, you transitioned from content marketing to lead generation and then to product marketing. Can you share some of the key learnings from each role, and how they’ve contributed to your current position as a Product Marketing Manager?

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a butterfly chaser – following my innate curiosity and strategically charting my path within the world of Marketing. I began my Marketing career as a creative copywriter at a leading national creative agency, where I eventually ended up spearheading social media, PR, and Internal Communications while simultaneously leading a team of 15.

From there on, I went on to do my master’s at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. Post which I dove back into the corporate world, climbing the ranks from Content Marketing Manager to Lead Gen Manager, and finally PMM. I believe my drive to continuously learn and expand my skill sets has been the driving force behind my lateral and upward trajectory in the marketing industry.

Think of it this way – imagine a map of the ‘world’ called Marketing. Would you rather stay in one lane your whole life, or would you rather travel to different ‘countries’ and explore what this beautiful ‘world’ has to offer?

I’ve been fortunate and strategic to visit a host of ‘foreign locales’ – from Copywriting, Branding, Social Media, PR, Internal Comms, Content Marketing, to Lead Gen, and Product Marketing. Along the way I’ve picked up many ‘foreign languages’ – how to craft compelling narratives, how to create engagement, how to bring a product to market. How to leverage data-driven strategies. How to understand your target market. How to nurture a lead, optimize campaigns, work effectively with cross-functional teams, and so on.

Mastering several different ‘languages’ or facets of Marketing has helped contribute to where I am today – Product Marketing for a portfolio of award-winning products (Digital and Events) for the world’s leading global higher education expert QS (Quacquarelli Symonds). I’ve moved around within Marketing and tried something new on an average every 1.5 to 2 years, and I can confidently say this spirit of voyage has served me and my career well!

If I may offer any advice to women contemplating a career change, it is this: never be afraid to try something new, even if you’re not 100% sure how. The confidence gap is real, and we as women are more prone to be victims of it. That’s why I love love LOVE this Cheryl Sandberg quote and live my professional life by it: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.”

You’ve established yourself as a contributing writer at Harvard Business Review, a highly respected publication. Could you share your journey on how you became a contributor? What inspired you to write for them?

Ever since childhood, I’ve always dreamt of seeing my name in print. I’ve been a ferocious writer all my life – writing short stories, poems, and several novels. My love for writing (and consequently, Marketing) has stemmed from my love and highest regard for the written word. As I climbed up the corporate ladder, I discovered business publications including the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and the New York Times, and become a devoted reader of their prolific writing.

I’d like to think it was serendipity that led me to write for the Harvard Business Review – one of the most respected and widely read professional magazines in the world. Things fell into place organically. The ball began rolling when I attended (and loved) author and Stanford professor Nir Eyal’s masterclass on timeboxing.

I subsequently got a chance to chat to him over a Zoom call, where he dove deeper into the strategies and tools that have worked for him. I was super inspired and decided to give this novel time management approach a shot. I then pitched the idea of writing about my personal experiments and journey with timeboxing to Harvard Business Review, and they loved it! And within a short span of 2 or 3 months, I was published!

Writing about the topic stemmed from my simple desire to share my learnings – so that it could benefit more people, especially people in my circle, who are equally smart, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to demonstrate not just what timeboxing is, but how to leverage this powerful strategy, especially as our lives get busier and more hectic, and ever-more demands seem to be placed on our time. And the rest, as they say, is history!

As an Official LinkedIn Creator, how do you engage your audience and stimulate conversation around your content?
It’s been a steep learning curve yet a thoroughly enjoyable journey creating content and driving conversations on LinkedIn. It all began a little over a year ago, when I was invited to apply for the LinkedIn Creator Accelerator Program. A month after applying, I was chosen from among tens of thousands of applicants, as one of the leading creators on LinkedIn.

Over the course of 10 weeks, LinkedIn provided my cohort of 200 creators with the tools and strategies to drive conversations and build communities. My focus during the program was Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) – with my project topic “Helping women of color overcome imposter syndrome and accelerate their position in the workplace.”

Once the Accelerator ended, an even smaller select group of creators from the original 200 were handpicked to be part of the LinkedIn Creators Program, as a way of showing the tech giant’s continued commitment to building and nurturing the creator ecosystem. It’s a real privilege to continue to work with LinkedIn to drive awareness and conversation, especially for niche areas like DEI. I’ve also expanded my content focus beyond DEI, to encapsulate Marketing, PMM, Creative, and Strategy – all areas I’m equally passionate about and want to see women succeed in.

Truth be told, when I began, I knew very little about content creation on LinkedIn. Over the past year of constant and rigorous experimentation and learning, I’ve managed to build a strong little community of close to 7,500 followers – a number I would have never dared to even dream of a year ago! But more than the numbers, it’s the dialogue and ideas being exchanged within this community, that keep me going.

Honestly, it’s not easy trying to balance a full-time, revenue-driving role as PMM alongside content creation and personal branding (which I do in my spare time, and which I should hasten to point out, is unpaid work), but the rewards in the form of rich conversations and connections more than make up for the hard work. I’m inspired by the work of my fellow champions in the DEI space like Mita Mallick, Lisa Hurley, Anne Bono, Sabrina Meherally, Brianna Doe, and fellow LICAPers Shashwati, Laura Mathias, Luke Manton, and many others on LinkedIn.

I’m a learner by observation – I’m absorbing like a sponge from LinkedIn’s biggest creators like Ryan Musselman, Nausheen I. Chen, Sam Browne, Tasleem Ahmed Fateh, Daniel Peretz, Matt Barker, Justin Welsh, and so many others. Another duo of creators I love are Devin Reed, as well as HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah – very different in their approach to content, but whom I imbibe so much from on a daily basis. There’s just such great content out there on LinkedIn today, and my hope in sharing this list of favourites is to inspire aspiring creators (like former me, a year ago!) to take the plunge. Everyone has something valuable to say, valuable learnings to add, and great takeaways from their journey – and that’s what I’m here for as a content creator and consumer.

You’ve written about productivity tools such as time boxing. Could you elaborate on this topic and how it’s been beneficial in your personal and professional life?

Timeboxing has been a real game-changer. In my article, I shared my journey and highlighted that when I began timeboxing, I had just taken on a new role (back in 2021, it was Lead Gen Manager), which was a huge step up for me. From previously managing just one part of the funnel (Engagement), I suddenly found I had a ton of more responsibilities as a new Lead Gen Manager, as well as myriad new pressures and demands on my time. I quickly realized I had to get super organized if I wanted to succeed, and I had to do it fast. Hence the Nir Eyal masterclass, the subsequent interview with him, and my experiments with timeboxing.

Aside from the obvious advantage of being much more organized and on track, using timeboxing has also freed up a lot of mental space and consequently made me a calmer person. Whereas before I would sometimes freeze like a deer in the headlights of overwork, I can now calmly attack and timebox big projects into smaller tasks, and I have a plan of how to achieve them because I know roughly when I’ll be tackling them during a given week or month.

Of course, last-minute things do crop up and my calendar is always overfull, but I allow myself that little wiggle room so I’m not overscheduled and at capacity 100% of the time – no one can or should be! It’s more about being realistic about your priorities, testing and iterating, and growing from there. Timeboxing has allowed me to take on more and more over the last 2+ years, and has had a huge part to play in whatever success I’ve managed to achieve for myself, both professionally and personally.

You’re a strong advocate for upskilling. How have you personally applied this belief in your career, and why do you think it’s important for others in the industry?

100%. My motto is: Upskill or perish! Everything moves around us literally at the speed of light, what was once innovative yesterday is obsolete by tomorrow. In this turbo-charged, hyperconnected, AI-driven “brave new world” we’re living in, it’s imperative to stay up to date. With ChatGPT, Bard, and the myriad other AI tools dominating the discourse today, it’s even more critical to stay sharp in order to stay competitive. That’s why I invest heavily in upskilling.

For instance, when I took on the role of PMM just a year ago, I invested a good 2 months at the start of the role doing a rigorous PMM certification offered by the Product Marketing Alliance, a fantastic platform founded by Richard King. In addition, I’m a HUGE HubSpot nut and have done over 20+ of their Academy courses over the last 2 years, including: Inbound Marketing, Email Marketing, Customer Experience: Journey Mapping. That’s hundreds of hours I’ve invested in my personal growth, and I’m not shy to credit my success to this consistent upskilling.

I’ve also done a fantastic business writing course with former Economist and Bloomberg writer and Wall Street Journal editor Shani Raja. I highly, highly recommend his course Writing with Flair[NK1]  to anyone wanting to cut their teeth in the writing world. I’m more than happy to chat with people and swap learning tool recommendations – it’s something I actually nerd out over with close friends and ambitious colleagues!

What does a typical work week look like for you? Any tools that you use regularly?

Ah, a day in the life of…! Typical work weeks are packed with projects: with deep focused work in the mornings, meetings and calls every afternoon, and the time I “box” and set aside every single week for reading, learning, and growth.

As PMM, I handle multiple high-impact delivery projects. With this role, I simultaneously don the hat of project manager, marketing manager, and lead copywriter for my business area – project managing various critical priorities, creating marketing strategy, and drafting copy for email and social campaigns for my products. It’s a high-pressure, super agile EdTech role – with key senior stakeholder management (Managing and Sales Director-level) baked into the job description.

In terms of personal growth projects, I’m studying advanced French (CEFR B2) and just about to write my exam – so that’s been super hectic as well. Add to that LinkedIn content creation (I’ve been less active than before, given how busy the past weeks and months have been), which I do in the evenings after work, and you can see how I’ve got my hands full for the better part of the work week!

In terms of tools, I like to keep it really simple – that’s how I know it’s effective. I use my digital calendar to schedule my workday into little time boxes, as described above, as well as a pen-and-paper physical planner for all my other projects. I find that the combination of both helps me stay hyper-organized and on top of all my tasks for the day and week. ChatGPT has become my go-to for content drafting (which I then refine), while HubSpot remains my #1 tool for email marketing. We use ClickUp and JIRA at work for project management, but personally, I’m a bigger fan of Slack and my limited time using Asana in a previous lifetime.

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