UW Department of Communication Alumni of Distinction 2018 Communication Leader Award: Adriana Gil Miner (M.C. 2009) Adriana Gil Miner, who heads up the global Corporate Communications department at Tableau Software, wants communicators to understand that data is not just data. “Most people think of data as a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet,” Gil Miner explains, “but those numbers really are stories waiting to be uncovered and shared.” Gil Miner is responsible for cultivating relationships with industry experts, media, academia, and NGOs to advance the mission of Tableau: to help people see and understand their data. “With the right tools and driving curiosity, communicators working in this space have the power to extract meaning; an examination of weather patterns could lead to a story warning of imminent destruction, or a life-saving breakthrough,” she says. With over 20 years of technology marketing experience, Gil Miner creates breakthrough campaigns that build up brands. “We live in a world where technology is so deterministic of our day-to-day lives,” she says. “Every realm we inhabit is in some way connected to the technology we use. It’s part of how we relate to one another, how we learn, how we work, and even how we fall in love.” Gil Miner explains that as technology’s pervasive influence grows, there are more opportunities for storytellers to step in and translate the data. “What you have to remember is that a great deal of this technology is created by engineers, scientists, and others who are traditionally not skilled in using language to effectively convey the value of their products or research,” she says. “Communicators have a responsibility to not only define ‘what it is,’ but also ‘what it means’ to the organization, to the individual, and even to the world.” Gil Miner thrives on bringing new technologies to market and has worked on an array of projects, from launching Samsung 3D TVs, to building digital platforms at American Express, to managing a top company growth program called “Recurring Payments.” She credits her professional success to her background as the “black artsy sheep” of a family full of physicists, engineers, and mathematicians. “I decided when I was younger that I was a humanist, and for much of my life I then studied the arts,” Gil Miner recalls. However, even while taking classes in mass communication, dance, and poetry, Gil Miner recalls growing up in an “unusually wired” household; there were always computers around. In fact, she recalls logging on to her first one in 1979. “I learned how to code at an early age, and I remember being the only girl in my computer classes,” she says. “I also loved video games, which was quite uncommon for a girl in Latin America.” Gil Miner emigrated from Venezuela to the United States during the late 1990s, where she says her computing knowledge distinguished her from other marketers. “People didn’t even really know what the Internet was when I started,” she explains, “but I knew just enough to be dangerous.” She laughs, “My boss would say, ‘can you make us a sitemap?’ and I’d answer, ‘of course!’ But I would still have to call up my techie mother and ask questions.” As Gil Miner learned to leverage these emerging technologies, she discovered that her training as a humanist caused her to look at data differently. “After I had spent hours gathering the sales data and combining it with the information I pulled, line by line, from our weblogs, I would generate a site-activity report. However, instead of seeing just a lot of clicks, I realized that I was looking at human behavior,” Gil Miner says, her voice rising in excitement. “As I started analyzing these figures, the whys and wherefores of how users were engaging with our digital ads, I became fascinated in data as a behavioral proxy. And then my natural curiosity about other people led me to develop a hypothesis around what would happen if we changed the program’s structure.” She sits back in her chair, drumming her fingers once against the desk as she remembers. “I pitched the idea to my boss, who let me run with it, and together we created a project that optimized one of our customer programs, which I ended up managing and then growing to be one of the top acquisition programs for our client.” She leans forward, “That was one of the first times during my career where my ability to translate the data into a story, and then into an actionable strategy, improved my organization’s relations with our clients. Stories are great because they can reach people like anything!” Fascinated by the relationship between storytelling and technology, Gil Miner joined the Master of Communication Digital Media (MCDM) program, now known as Communication Leadership. “The program was still fairly new, so there were a lot of chances for educational experimentation,” Gil Miner recalls. “They were the most luxurious years of my life; I was finally able to customize my own learning experience and satisfy my curious mind. One of my favorite elements of the program was debating theory and application with other professionals,” she says, smiling. “Hearing their ideas and seeing things from different perspectives deepened my understanding of communications in a way that I never could have found elsewhere. My schooling in Venezuela was largely job training, so before MCDM I rarely studied for the joy of it.” She gestures toward the bookshelf by her door. “I still cite many of the books I first read as an MCDM student; just the other day, a colleague asked about diffusion theory and I said, ‘yup, I’ve got a book on that!’” Gil Miner also says that the projects she created as an MCDM student enabled her to reposition herself from a marketing and technology specialist to a true communications expert. “I challenged myself to become more familiar with a variety of storytelling techniques and tools.” She recounts one independent study where she compelled herself to produce one video a week. “It was like learning a new language, but at the same time it was similar to my experiences writing fiction; thinking through a concept, and then figuring out how to execute it.” She sighs, “It was awesome, super-difficult (I cried a lot while editing), and ultimately such a valuable experience. Working on these videos for an entire quarter changed my perspective on communicating with others in today’s world.” While in the program, Gil Miner also created “Flip the Media,” the official blog of MCDM, which provided an opportunity for students in subsequent cohorts to author pieces on the shifting paradigms of communication and technology. “I always tell students that developing a portfolio is the best way to show your skills and thinking.” Since the start of her career, Gil Miner says she has been guided by four core philosophies. First, she believes in earning her keep. “I have worked hard my entire life, and I take pride in my work, regardless of what I am doing,” she explains. “Perhaps it stems from my immigrant attitude; when I came to New York City to work as a business development manager in a non-profit, I had no money, no real business connections, and I was not a native speaker. However, I gave 110% to everything I did, even when I was cutting and pasting data from multiple PDFs.” She is also committed to “leading from the trenches.” Gil Miner believes it is the responsibility of every good leader to understand and stay connected with what people do day-to-day. “I do not believe in managing from some ivory tower,” she says. “I like to find opportunities to collaborate with my teams at the executional level and to share in their experiences. I believe in transparency,” she adds, “and it is important that my employees feel like they can talk to me.” Next, Gil Miner insists, communications is all about people, even in the most technical, logically-driven environments. “I’ve always anchored my approach to working on trusting relationships; I want to know who people are,” she says. “Connecting at a human level is important, because work itself is not always fun, it’s hard. And in hard times, that’s when trusting relationships count.” Gil Miner says that working for a nonprofit while she was in college taught her the value of “the personal touch.” She explains that in order to get her volunteer workforce to invest their energies into the organization, she couldn’t simply tell them what to do. “I had to get people to believe in something bigger than themselves,” she says. “I had to figure out how to make them want to do the work; that really stayed with me.” Gil Miner also feels that she has always been a very results-oriented professional. “It is a trait, I think, that comes from growing up in Latin America, where economies and governments can change very quickly,” she reflects. “Systems in Venezuela are quite volatile, so I learned how to plan by creating multiple scenarios.” She says that moving from digital marketing to public relations provided her with opportunities that were a much better fit for her personality. “When you are engaging with problems in real time and there is this instant feedback loop typical of the digital age, it is important to be agile,” she remarks. “However, you have to master the fundamentals; you need to know your brand, your product, and your value proposition inside and out.” In other words, one has to really prepare to “be last minute.” Referring to her passion for dancing, Gil Miner likens her experiences in business to dancing an Argentinian tango. “When I would go out to social dances, a tango is a conversation between two bodies; the lead dancer starts, and you have to follow, which you are able to do because you’ve learned the steps and you take your cues from the music. Everything that happens is an improvisation, built on the foundation of what the dancers know.” The Communication Leader Award recognizes a Communication Leadership alumni who embodies the program’s four core values: Creativity, Leadership, Story, and Community, and has made a significant contribution to our field in a unique, emergent way. In her own words, Gil Miner says that a Communication Leader is someone who can authentically create messages that matter to an audience and support the objectives of whatever organization she serves. “Communication is not the end of the thing,” she says. “A communication leader should be able to demonstrate how an organization can accomplish its goals by moving storytelling higher up in the funnel of its processes. By demonstrating the value of communications in the conception, design, execution, and evaluation of a product or service, storytellers will have earned their seats at the table.” Gil Miner also encourages aspiring professionals to “not just be one thing” in their organization. Instead, communicators should take a deep dive into the context surrounding their messages. “You cannot translate what you do not understand,” she reasons.