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Book-talk with Irina Nica, Senior Marketing Manager at HubSpot

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LATER UPDATE: listen to our podcast episode with Irina!

I had the chance to meet and work with Irina Nica two years ago. Back then, Irina was Product Marketing Manager at, a SEO tool used by digital marketers all over the world (and a company with extraordinary people and great work culture, I should add).

Our roads diverged for a while, as we both moved on to new challenges, but we recently had the chance to reconnect. In the meantime, Irina moved from Romania (our home-country) and relocated to Dublin, Ireland. She’s currently working as a Senior Marketing Manager for HubSpot, world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platforms.

Irina’s also taking her Master of Science in Digital Marketing and Analytics, at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

In our book-talk that you get to read below, we approached topics like feminism, how her reading strategy helped her solve math problems, books she recommends to those interested in a content strategy career (spoiler alerts: reading should be secondary to practice!), and lots of other interesting information related to books and reading.

Here enters Irina:

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

It’s hard to pick an all-time favorite because, as time goes by and I grow older, my reading list becomes more “mature” and I find myself interested in new things. I probably have a personal favorite book for each stage of my life.

Right now I’m absolutely blown away by everything Roxane Gay wrote, especially Bad Feminist.

I’ve always thought of myself as an independent woman. That was the bucket I chose for myself in my teens. I’m still not sure if I chose that because of that Destiny’s Child song or I was just fascinated by the possibilities that come with independence. I just knew that I wanted to be able to live my life as I wanted and have the power to choose what I want to do with my finances, my life and my body. But was I a feminist?

I sure wanted to be one. Though I wasn’t sure if I was good enough or independent enough to wear that badge. And I was also a little scared of the responsibilities that come with being a feminist. What are the “duties” of a good feminist? What if I ever choose to be a stay at home mom? Will the feminism police come and take my badge away? Will other feminists unfriend me/ Should I ever speak up about my views or is it better to keep my feminist-religion to myself?

All I can tell you is that . I have an answer to all of my questions and, at 30, I know where I stand on the feminism spectrum. I’m not going to tell you more about this because it’s a personal journey that every woman and girl has to take for herself.

But if you ever want to reflect on the topic of feminism, I’d definitely suggest reading Roxane Gay’s work. She will not feed you any answers, but she will make you think and question things. Her insights and conclusions will not point you towards a particular direction. You’ll just know what road is right for you.

In business, things are very much the same. My favorite book is usually a recent one that helped me with a particular task or question. In the last year, I’ve been working (and studying) more about online influencers. In this context, two books come to mind: one that really inspired me on how to work better with people — the classic How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie; the other helped me understand the dynamics of online interactions — The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken.

I particularly recommend Mary’s book because it’s a great read for everyone — from concerned parents to people looking for love online, to people who do business online. Other than that, the book inspired the show CSI: Cyber and the author is one bad-ass Irish lady that just speaks to the “newly” discovered feminist in me.

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Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

The other day I walked into a bookstore in Dublin and, right by the entrance, there was this big shelf with a very unusual collection. The sign on top of it said “It could be worse!” and the collection included books like George Orwell’s 1984 and the Lord of the Flies.

I instantly bursted out laughing. I just thought that it was such a hilarious marketing stunt and, yes, there are a lot of people complaining about the world today, and, yes, it could be a lot worse. There were about 20-30 books that could show anyone exactly how bad it can get.

But that really got me thinking and I realized that my relationship with books has been completely different. I feel like all my life I stood before a huge bookshelf collection called: “It could be better”.

Books have always shown me that there’s a better world I can aspire to. I read books for inspiration. To convince myself that there is always some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. That life can and will be better. And sometime I even found an answer that changed my view on life.

I specifically remember a now-funny moment when a booked really helped me. I was in the 8th grade and I was studying for my upcoming exams to get into highschool.

Back then, I loved Jules Verne and hated math. The problem was that the world didn’t care about my love for adventure. The world needed me to get a good grade in math so that I could go to a good high school. I was very aware of that, but that didn’t help me love math more. In fact, I think I hated it even more because my future depended on it.

I think that’s when I first started “tricking” myself into doing what I hate (but it’s good for me) using a book I liked. I would tell myself that I would be allowed to read a new chapter of The Mysterious Island after every X number of math problems I’d solve. And, gosh, I loved that book. I would finish a chapter, rush to do my X math tasks, just so I could go back to read another chapter.

One time my mom came into my room quite concerned. She would often find me reading and she was worried I wasn’t studying enough. But I had a plan and, honest to God, that strategy helped me solve more math practice tests than anything else I’d ever tried.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

If someone’s interested in a content strategy career, I’d definitely suggest practice over reading. Of course there has to be a balance between the two, because if you don’t explore new things and if you don’t learn (from books or blogs or peers), you’ll get stuck in your own ways. Soon the world will move on and you’ll be doing the same thing, wondering why it’s not working any more. However, reading should be secondary to practice.

For daily inspiration, I recommend subscribing to 1-3 blogs that cover the topics that you’re interested in. But, readers, beware of marketers who are great at marketing themselves. They usually lack depth and knowledge and their examples are dusty and might harm your campaign. Try to read things from practitioners who share their latest experiments.

As far as books go, two titles had a profound impact on my career:

  • Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads by Luke Sullivan – This book taught me how to think when I write. It also taught me how to be the voice of a product (or a person) in writing and, ultimately, how to build my own voice.
  • Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah – if you’re working in B2B or you’re working on your own SaaS product, you have to learn the basics of Inbound Marketing. I do admit that the concept of “inbound marketing” is evolving and you should also follow marketing blogs to make sure you’re up to date with the latest practices in SEO, Facebook Marketing, etc. However, if you’re just getting started, this book will definitely give you a foundation to build on.

  • I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

    I prefer hard-copies because they allow me to literally see how much I read. I get a kick from being able to visualize my progress and I think, in a weird way, that helps me stick to my habit of reading.

    So every night, before I go to sleep, I turn the book and check out how “thick” is the part I already read vs what’s left. It’s a silly mind-game I play with myself, but it brings me joy. I know it seems a bit counter-intuitive. In the end, we don’t read with the purpose to get to the end of the book, right? We read to learn something or to enjoy the process.

    As much as I do agree with that, I think this little tactic can help a lot, especially when reading useful, but less enjoyable books. Think about the “broccoli” of books — things like Kotler, academic journals and other “I’d-rather-watch-some-Netflix”-readings. You need some kind of strategy to fight that procrastination monster. You can use the feeling of progress to fuel happiness and, ultimately, nurture a healthy habit.

    Speaking of progress, I’d suggest giving The Happiness Hypothesis a try to learn more about the connection between progress and the feeling of happiness.

    There’s also another little trick I’ve discovered a few years back. It goes like this: If I start a book and I don’t like, I drop it.

    It sounds so silly to keep on reading a book if you don’t like it. But that’s exactly what I used to do (and I think I got this bad habit in school). Once I started a book, I had to finish it. Quitting just felt wrong. So I’d usually “power through” even the most boring, useless books.

    I remember the last book that I allowed to torture me: “Quo Vadis”. I used to hate every little sentence, but I just didn’t allow myself to drop it. I felt like I had to finish it.

    Some people do this with TV shows and it’s even worse. They end up wasting countless hours on Netflix just to finish a show.

    But one day I realized something: I don’t do the same with music or other things that I start. For example, if I’m on Youtube and I find a new song, I don’t keep on listening to it if I don’t like it. I just skip to the next one. Without ever feeling bad about it. I don’t listen to the entire album and buy tickets to all of their concerts. So why was I so keen on finishing every book I started?

    I guess it was just a bad habit. Now I start loads of books. Sometimes I read them cover to cover. Other times I skim through them, I take what I need and leave. I allow myself the luxury to pick how I spend my time.

    How do you make time for reading?

    I don’t. It’s my hobby; my favorite way to spend my free time. It relaxes me, I get a nice little happiness kick from it at the end of the day and, most often than not, it has helped me in my career.

    Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

    I used to try to take notes, but I realized I’d never go back to review them. For me, notes from books are like pictures in my phone — I love taking them, but I never go back to look at them.

    For a while, I thought the notes taking process was wrong. I tried different apps, writing in a notebook, on pieces of paper, with better pens, etc. But then I realized my reading habit was the actual issue.

    What I was reading wasn’t in tune with my present life. I would read books that I thought would come in handy some day — like a book about how to make products go viral — and I would try to take notes on that. In real life, my problem at work would be that I couldn’t find a way to show the ROI of a particular campaign.

    So, now I approach my reading very carpe diem. If I have a problem with calculating ROI, I read about ROI. I don’t take notes on that. Instead, I immediately put into practice what I’m reading. And that helps me remember what I learn and makes notes completely unnecessary.

    How do you choose what books to read next?

    For my fiction cravings, I usually start with a thorough research on GoodReads and Youtube, based on the topic I’m interested in. Sometimes I just feel like reading a love story. Or a memoir. Whatever I feel like reading, I research that genre and I pick a title that’s well reviewed.

    The latest business books I picked were recommendations I heard at a conference.

    I also pay attention to any book recommendations my friends post on Facebook. I started reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime after I saw Radu Marcusu, CEO of Upswing, recommending it. He swore by it that is was funny — and it was! Until the last chapter. I remember listening to the audiobook on a train and crying my eyes out. So yeah. That happened.

    Now I’m reading The Three Body Problem, what’s probably to be the best (hard) chinese sci-fi ever written. I saw this once on Vladimir Oane’s blog, and when I was looking for a fiction book to read, I remembered I saved that one on GoodReads. And now I’m just blown away by it.

    If you want to learn more from Irina Nica, you should listen to the podcast episode we did together!

    Links where you can follow Irina Nica or find out more about her projects:

    All books mentioned by Irina in this interview:

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