Lara Tokarz is a wife, working mom, and yogi who resides in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. When she isn’t leading digital strategy for Juice Interactive, a boutique digital marketing and design agency in the West Loop, she’s likely spending time with her architect husband, Chris, in the city with friends or wrangling her two sons into a bike trailer to get out and about in nature.
BB: Right now, you are leading digital strategy for Juice Interactive. How did you end up in your career and how did you end up at Juice?
Despite the fact that I started out at UIC as a bio-chemistry major, I switched to marketing because I worked full time as a promotions manager while attending school full time. I really began to love marketing so, I switched majors halfway through my college career. I ended up being a digital marketing strategist because of a need to learn different types of marketing that would affect my first corporate job. As a result, I never really ended up focusing in on particular area of marketing. A lot of marketers end up in one area and stick to it; becoming a subject matter expert, but I was never allowed to because my first corporate job forced me to be more of a Jack-of-all-trades in order to do my job successfully. So, something that I thought would end up hurting my career, ended up making my career. When the digital world started to blur the lines of what experience composed a traditional marketer, my experience in so many areas made it easier for me to move into strategy.
I actually began on the corporate side working as a marketing manager at ULTA Beauty on their e-commerce team. Because it was e-commerce and the team was small, I was able to learn a lot about technology and the various platforms that run them. After spending 4 years with ULTA, I was recruited by a friend to be a strategist at a global PR agency. I fell in love with strategy and consulting and I realized there was a need for it.
At some point, I realized I could either continue with large agencies or I could transfer to the world of boutique agencies. Juice was a random connection I had and I immediately fell in love with their work and team. The team at Juice is wicked smart and truly embody creativity. They were also far more flexible and accepting of my need to balance my work with my family because the two partners are also very involved parents. So it was a way better fit for me.
BB: So, since you are a working mom. How do you tackle a full time career and a family? What are your tips?
Being a working mom is not easy. Actually, being a mom in general is not easy, whether you work or not. I think we can all agree to that. Being a mom is a series of small wins in a world where everyone and everything is trying to steal a few minutes here and a few minutes there. However, I feel like (at least this week!) I have managed to balance working, marriage and motherhood. There’s probably women out there who do so much more than me whether that is in their career or at home, but I feel like I have managed to strike a very healthy balance that works for me.
The key to the balance in my life is a vast support system and yoga – both of which are crucial to both my success and my sanity. I was lucky enough to have family that has hosted daycare for my two sons for the last 3 years. For me and my husband, who both commute into the city and have careers that very rarely stick to a 9-5 schedule, having family be with our kids as we grew our careers was super important. Aside from our families, I was also lucky to marry someone who is very much a 50/50 partner – sometimes more on his part! He picks up where I slack a lot of the time. I am fairly certain that zero laundry would get done without him.
As for yoga, it is something that I have practiced for nearly 18 years. I checked out a book about yoga and meditation from the local library when I was a freshman in high school and haven’t looked back. Outside of when I was pregnant, I practice as often as possible. For me yoga is very mentally clarifying. Even if I can only steal 15 minutes away to practice, or even have my older son join me, yoga can always help me center my mind. My tip is to not force it. Yoga is not about what poses you can do, it is about the simple act of doing them and getting them right.
Lastly, I spend my time at home with my husband and kids as much as possible. Despite being a working mom, I am huge baby wearing advocate (still wearing my 18 month old) and I try to make sure my kids get a lot of time to learn by doing. We go for bike rides, hang out outside and explore nature, and we try to take them with us where ever we go. I know that seems like a given when you are a parent, but its harder than it seems!
BB: What are some effective ways to enhance your digital presence if you are a brand or business?
There are two answers to this, but one precedes the other. First, content content content. I cannot stress this enough! Find ways to provide content that most appeal to your audience and then take those content ideas and diversify them. Don’t just use images – use video, which is the most engaging content you can have, audio, podcasts, white papers, infographics, etc. Got a big idea? Make a big piece of content like one big white paper or one long video, and split into a series of posts. The key is to get people to come back. Secondly, make sure you are in the right places. This applies to social media as well as advertising and even events. Your content is the most important thing you can own, but if it isn’t distributed correctly, it doesn’t mean a thing. And don’t forget to think about what types of content make the most sense for each channel. I always tell clients to think outside of the box and take some risks.
And for the love of all that is good, make sure everything is mobile friendly! Especially for consumer facing content. In today’s world, so much is dependent on optimization – even SEO. Sometimes it is a little extra time and investment to make all of your owned content, including your blog or website, mobile optimized, but it is very much worth it.
BB: Outside of yoga, what other things do you do to keep a healthy balance in your life as well as your family’s?
I like to tell people that I never learned to bake for a reason. I love sweets, but I work on avoiding them outside of fruits and the occasional Oreo. The biggest cooking health tip I have is to cook from scratch. I think people hear the term ‘from scratch’ and assume that this is a time-consuming thing. Clearly, I am proof that it is not! We make it a point in our cooking to use very little additives outside of spices for food and that food is bought fresh and either used right away or frozen immediately.
I have an arsenal of recipes that are all meals from scratch and all take under 45 minutes total from start to on the plate. Its not a hard thing to do if you are willing to put a little bit of planning into you weekly meals. Cooking this way is something that I am used to because my mother and grandmother cooking this way. I couldn’t even tell you how to cook any other way. Outside of cooking, I try to stick to healthy snacks and drinks. In our family, the only drinks in the fridge are water, juice and almond milk (although my husband drinks regular milk). Very rarely do we have a soda, especially the kids.
Follow Lara’s adventures on twitter: @latokarz