What's the Best Career Path, to Job-hop or Climb the Ladder?

Zach Brooke
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Key Takeaways

​​What​? Molly Poppie is a trained sociologist turned Nielsen senior vice president.

So what? Poppie has defied conventional wisdom throughout her career, eschewing job-hopping in favor of climbing the ladder at a single company. 

Now what? What’s important is being able to learn and grow and face new challenges, Poppie says.

August 1, 2017

Molly Poppie, senior vice president at Nielsen, found her way to leadership the old-fashioned way: moving up from within

In 2004, Molly Poppie entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a deep command of sociology but only vague notions of her forthcoming career.

Poppie, now 35, is a senior vice president at Nielsen, one of the world’s leading market research firms. She spoke with Marketing News about how she joined the company and some of her biggest projects that helped her advance over the years.

Q: You studied sociology in graduate school. What sort of job did you envision for yourself after graduation?

A: I wasn’t sure. I thought I would get my Ph.D. because a lot of the jobs I was aware of for sociology were in academia. A new faculty member came on the year I joined the master’s program. She opened me up to the possibility that you could get jobs in sociology without going into academia and steered me in the direction, based on my interest, that market research might be a really good fit for me.

Q: Was Nielsen your first job outof college?

A: No, I worked at a company that had an office in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Basically, I predicted gas usage.

Q: How did you end up here?

A: My husband also went to UWM. He was a year behind me. I worked in Waukesha for a year while he finished up school. At that point we did a national search. We were interested in finding jobs in market research. Nielsen reached out to him based on one of his applications. They said, “We have a couple of open roles. Do you know anyone else who has a similar background?” We came down one day about 10 years ago and both interviewed for two positions in data science. He got the offer for one and then I got the offer for the other.

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Q: Let’s talk about each of the roles you’ve performed at Nielsen. You started as a statistical analyst. What’s that about?

A: That was in what Nielsen calls the “buy side” of the business, which is measuring what people buy. Every time you go through a grocery store and they scan your items, Nielsen collects most of that data. That’s how we tell companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever information about what people are purchasing, where they’re purchasing it, how much of their inventory is being sold, how it lines up with promotions and how it lines up against their competitive landscape.

We do have some retailers who don’t cooperate with us, so we don’t get that scan data. My first role here was trying to develop a product that predicted sales for these stores that don’t cooperate with us.

Q: Then you became a research statistician. How was that role different?

A: I still worked on the non-cooperator problem, but I also worked on our core buy business, which is projecting data to represent the total U.S. We collect some information from a subsample of stores within the U.S. and then we need to come up with a technique to make sure it’s representative of all stores in the U.S. We were trying to work on the process and the techniques in executing it.

Q: After that came a lead research position?

A: Yes, at this point I switched over to a different part of our business for a group called the Nielsen Innovation Lab, and they were primarily focused on advertising effectiveness—trying to understand the value of different advertising and likelihood to buy if you’re exposed to something on a mobile phone twice and on TV once versus somebody who sees something on TV twice and not at all on their mobile phone. I worked in that group for a year. A lot of the focus was on mobile. It was a new space at that point, and [I was] trying to understand the value of mobile advertising.

Q: And then you moved into statistical methods?

A: Yes. I was offered the opportunity to move to the “watch side” of our business and manage a small team. I started to leave methodology development for some of our enhancements to our product offerings. This was primarily in the TV side of the business, which is what Nielsen is most known for. Traditionally, when Nielsen measures a home, … we meter through hardware and wire into its TV and ask people to press buttons to indicate whether or not they’re viewing so we know who’s in the audience and what’s on the TV. However, in some of our smaller markets, we don’t have them push the buttons to say who’s in the audience. We developed a technique that, based on what they are watching and who is in the home, can predict who’s in the audience at any given time.

Asimple example of that would be if the Disney Channel is on, it’s most likely the kid, maybe co-viewing with a parent, versus if it’s the evening news, it’s most likely the adults.

Q: Now you are a vice president. Do you still get to contribute to these projects?

A: To a certain extent. I make time. I love it. I love looking at the data and trying to find trends and patterns and understand what we’re doing and whether the data makes sense and has validity, but also understanding the client impact of the changes we’re making. I lead the methodology development for audio TV and digital business as well as some of our resonance and reaction products. That’s how people respond to advertising. A lot of that is survey-based research. Reaction is linking together watch and buy data to understand if people change their purchase behavior if they were exposed to an advertisement. I also work on some of the product enhancement on the buy side of our business. It’s a nice opportunity that I now have the ability to work on both the watch and the buy side and to look for ways we can bring those data sources together to provide more meaningful and richer insights for our clients.

Q: When you look at your career, what you’ve done goes against a lot of the conversation about careers right now, which is that you need to move from company to company if you want to climb the ladder. Do you have any insights about how you did that here?

A: When I joined Nielsen, I thought the same thing: I’ll be here for a few years, and I’ll learn some things. But the thing I love about working for Nielsen is that it’s such a big company and there’re so many different things we do. What’s important to me is being able to learn and grow and face new challenges.

Q: Now that you’re in charge of hiring for your team, what do you look for? A Nielsen marketing campaign you participated in highlighted the fact that you are interested in non-traditional résumés.

A: I look for work. Somebody who seems like they want to learn, who is very curious and wants to understand what we do, why we do it and thinks about ways that it could be done differently. People who bring different perspectives. Sometimes when we interview people, we’ll give them a research problem we’re working on now, and if they can come up with a different view or a different slant to how we’ve been approaching it, that’s really exciting for me. The more diversity of thought you can get when you’re developing something, the stronger your end solution will be. Those are really the things I look for: people who are curious are driven to find answers to research problems.

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Author Bio:

Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at zbrooke@ama.org or on Twitter at @Zach_Brooke.
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