Soni Styrlund: A Trailblazer in Marketing Leadership & Advocate for Women’s Empowerment

The Most Admired Business Women Redefining the Future in 2024

In the dynamic realm of marketing leadership, women have long been forging paths and breaking barriers. In this landscape, the journey of Soni Styrlund, New Business Development at BAKER Branding & Studio Café Photo, reflects a narrative of resilience, growth, and empowerment.

Her insights illuminate the challenges faced by women in leadership roles, while also celebrating the progress made and the opportunities that lie ahead. Through her experiences, Soni offers a beacon of inspiration for aspiring women in the marketing industry, showcasing the transformative power of determination and mentorship.

The Path from Talent Management to Business Development

Soni describes herself in one word, and her name’s homophone: “Sunny.” This vibrant self-definition is a reflection of her positive and dynamic approach to her career and life. Before joining BAKER, Soni held a variety of positions where opportunities seemed to open effortlessly for her.

“Doors just opened for me,” she recalls, highlighting her seamless transition through diverse roles. She began her career at Eleanor Moore Agency, now Moore Creative Model & Talent Agency, where as a VP, she managed talent and helped cast actors in national television commercials and films. Her proficiency in casting and directing talent led her to Wilson-Griak Films, a production company, where she produced, and assistant directed television commercials for national advertising clients.

Her exceptional work did not go unnoticed, and one of the top advertising agencies Campbell-Mithun Advertising, now McCann-Erickson, offered her a position where she became an EVP, ad agency producer. “I traveled the world working on global television commercials,” Soni shares, reflecting on her eight-year tenure there.

However, the demands of her family life prompted a significant shift. With her chronically ill parents moving into her home and her two young children struggling with nannies, combined with a husband who frequently traveled in his role at a national general construction firm, she sought a job with less travel.

Soni reached out to her top advertising client, General Mills, who hired her to oversee global advertising, branding, creative content production, corporate events and meeting services. This role marked nearly a decade of her corporate journey.

“Two roads diverged in the wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost

A Turn Towards Healthcare Advocacy

A pivotal moment in Soni’s career came when the CEO at United Health Group, her mother’s healthcare insurance company and the largest health insurance company in the world, contacted her, inviting her to participate in a White House Roundtable on healthcare innovation. She had been volunteering to introduce her General Mills’ peers to United Health Group’s supportive caregiving services, which led to this significant opportunity.

“The CEO asked me to share my caregiving story with the President and Cabinet Members,” Soni says, recalling the honor of participating in such a high-profile event. This engagement led to the creation of an ad campaign based on her story, featuring her as the face of their program. The initiative expanded to include a national speaking tour and associations with AARP and other prominent national organizations.

Soni decided to leave her corporate job to join the healthcare cause, branding “The Patient Experience” for hospital systems, clinics, and skilled care facilities, bringing significant changes to the national healthcare landscape. “My healthcare journey lasted a decade where I branded the Patient Experience for several healthcare facilities,” she noted, mentioning EPIC and the Press Ganey Hospital Scoring System as key inspirations.

BAKER Branding: A Legacy of Timeless Creativity and Global Impact

Soni, who has had a long-standing relationship with BAKER Branding, speaks highly of their global influence. “BAKER Branding has been globally branding products and services for 40 years,” she notes. Her history with BAKER dates back three decades when she managed global branding and advertising at General Mills and their global CPW/Nestle partners. Impressed by BAKER’s collaborative strategic design team, she later hired them to design and brand her hometown community.

A few years ago, while managing her SUNNY consulting business, Soni received a call from BAKER, offering her a position in business development. “I was thrilled to go work with old friends again, in an industry that is so much fun and creative,” Soni expressed, emphasizing that her work at BAKER never feels like work. Her admiration for BAKER’s work led her to desire to complete her marketing career within the organization, helping global clients and friends “Bring brands to Life”.

  • Strategic and Creative Excellence

BAKER Branding, a global strategy and brand design firm located in Minneapolis, MN, is renowned for its award-winning and timeless creative solutions. Clients appreciate BAKER’s Midwestern American values of transparency and honesty, their 24/7 exceptional service, and collaborative team spirit. “Our CPG and B2B work include everything from Fortune 50 iconic brands to start-ups,” Soni highlights. Their trend reports and innovative approaches are integral to every project. Additionally, their in-house photo studios, kitchens, and prop rooms are regarded as “Best in Class.”

  • Stewards of Iconic Brands

As brand stewards, BAKER has designed some of the most recognizable brands, including Nabisco’s Oreo and Ritz, Wrigley’s 5 Gum, Duncan Hines, General Mills’ Cheerios, Trix, and Lucky Charms. Henkel’s göt2b and Persil are also part of their impressive portfolio, among many others. Soni emphasizes, “BAKER cares deeply about our legacy, just as our founder Scott Sr. did. Scott Jr. now carries the BAKER mission forward for the next generation with the same BAKER Branding guiding principles – leading by example, showing every client the world’s best customer service their money can buy, and hiring young talent who share the BAKER values and belief system, we will make a difference.”

Soni’s Brand Manifesto and Architecture is Symbiotic with BAKER

  • Purpose and Vision

Both Soni and BAKER understand the power of self-branding and corporate branding. BAKER is a branded company that elevates its talented branding professionals, each embodying their unique individual brand. In this way, BAKER is both a branded company and a company of brands.

“I fit right in with the company’s dynamic culture!” As part of her self-brand, Soni has a personal Purpose Manifesto, which is synonymous with the BAKER family – rooted in inspiring everyday actions to make the world a better place, guided by the principles of doing things the right way and doing the right things. Her illuminating brand promise is encapsulated in the word “Light,” while her vision aims to “Matter, by making a difference in the world.” Both share a clear Mission: to touch the lives of others by meeting their needs and exceeding their wants.

  • Core Values and Slogan

Soni upholds values similar to those of BAKER, including perpetual optimism, creativity, dreams, and a life reimagined for themselves, their company, their clients and consumers. Together, they reimagine the future of global brands. They leverage their collective genius, a combined BAKER and client team, to bring about change, demonstrating commitment – leading with both head and heart.

She loves to nurture the little ideas, preserving and distributing her “Pixie Dust”. Her desire to honor her moral slogan, “Reach for the stars but keep your feet on the ground,” underscores her philosophy of dreaming big, but never losing sight of her humble beginnings. This is why she feels right at home at BAKER, who remains “Minnesota Modest” about their decades of award-winning brand designs.

  • Brand Tag Line and World View

Every brand has a tagline. BAKER “Brings Brands To Life”…and life to brands. Soni created one for her brand too, “The Sky’s The Limit!” At BAKER, she is fully aligned with the company’s worldview to leave the earth better than you found it. Both brands’ benefits are built on delivering relevant stories and magical experiences across the five senses, backed by a lifetime warranty and an above-ground perspective.

  • Brand Foundation and Personality

When you think of BAKER, the color purple comes to mind. When you think of Soni’s brand foundation, her assets are a bright smiley face, a wink, a sparkle, and a Sunny song ringtone. Her brand personality is aspirational, portraying a modern-day heroine who is engaging and meaningful. Within BAKER, she plays a key role on their B-Force of branders. Soni’s personal brand delivers colorful fun across five sensory experiences, and a magical ingredient of invisible glitter that enhances, elevates, and promotes flight—only possible when surrounded by like-minded brand gatekeepers at BAKER.

Leading with Insight, Expertise, and Insight

Soni emphasizes that her role at BAKER Branding extends beyond merely attracting new business. It is characterized by her strategic insight, proactive initiatives, and dynamic approach to maintaining client relationships and team collaboration.

“My role isn’t just about bringing new business in the door,” she says, “but rather to offer my experience and expertise to our BAKER team.” Having been on the client side, she understands the inner workings of a global company, which allows her to bring valuable insights into BAKER’s presentations.

Soni works closely with BAKER’S President, Scott Jr. and the executive team, as she manages new business opportunities through the BAKER website and Studio Cafe portals. She helps focus on developing teams that best suit a client’s needs, and actively seeks opportunities by attending various local and national expos, introducing BAKER, and showcasing their capabilities. “I’m a key player in developing initiatives to promote BAKER’s latest work and present case studies that define our client’s project’s strategic designs and award-winning successes,” she notes.

Soni’s connections and community involvement enable her to bring exciting opportunities to the BAKER team, underscoring her proactive approach to promoting BAKER’s strengths. Her initiatives play a crucial role in highlighting BAKER’s recent projects and strategic achievements.

BAKER’s dynamic environment keeps the team engaged and motivated. Every morning begins with an 8:00 am team “sharing and collaboration” call to ensure everyone is aligned. “There is no such thing as a regular day… and that has made all the difference in maintaining the excitement and element of fun and surprise,” Soni observes. Post-COVID, maintaining the company culture through these connections has become even more critical.

The rest of Soni’s day involves a mix of calls to old friends who need BAKER Branding, cold calls to new potential clients, and preparation for client presentations. “Trips to expos are a requirement to connect with clients,” she adds, with the Fancy Food Show in June being one of those important trips.

Evaluating Success Through Key Questions

Soni holds a distinctive definition of success. She explains, “Success is the positive outcome of completing desired goals.” Soni measures her success against a series of introspective questions, which she has integrated into her SUNNY Brand documents. They serve as a guide for her personal and professional achievements, help Soni maintain focus on her broader mission, and ensure that her actions align with her values and objectives.

The questions are:

  • “Am I delivering on my Purpose Manifesto, Brand Architecture, and Personal/Professional Goals?”
  • “Do I touch every life I encounter and enrich their experience?”
  • “Have I had a significant impact on creating positive change in diverse industries and lives?”
  • “Does my existence make the world a better place – every day?”
  • “Is my legacy a personal and professional story of tremendous accomplishments?”

Soni’s understanding of success is deeply personal and reflective. After experiencing a few near-death events, she pondered the fundamental questions of existence and purpose. “I had to ask myself why I exist, what is my purpose on Earth, and with such little time, how do I accomplish what I am here to do?” she reflects.

These profound experiences have shaped her approach to life and success, emphasizing the importance of making a meaningful impact and leaving a lasting legacy. Soni’s perspective on success is not just about achieving goals but also about enriching lives, creating positive change, and ensuring that her existence makes the world a better place every day.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not differ it nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” ~ Etienne de Grelle

A Remarkable Journey of Transformation and Fulfillment

Soni describes her life journey so far as “nothing short of remarkable.” She reflects on how she has stayed on her planned path with few regrets, using the bumps in the road to positively redirect her course. “I am on plan,” Soni asserts, emphasizing her purposeful approach to life.

The first half of Soni’s adult life was marked by a relentless pursuit of having it all, being it all, and doing it all simultaneously. “The first half of my adult life was spent trying to have it all, be it all, and do it all…all at the same time,” she recalls. This phase was thrilling and rewarding, yet also exhausting. Soni was driven by her dreams, equating having it all with designing a grand life and reaching her goals as quickly as possible.

Midway through her adult life, Soni experienced a significant shift in perspective. “I took a life journey correction midway through my adult life and decided having enough was enough,” she explains. This realization led her to understand that while one can have it all, it is not possible to have it all at the same time. Soni began to transition from racing toward the future to living fully in the present. “I stopped racing for tomorrow and began living in the today. Having enough leads to a happy, satisfied, enriched life,” she concludes.

This shift involved moving from an internally focused mindset of personal best to an externally focused philosophy of helping others achieve their best. It underscores her journey from the ambitious pursuit of having it all to a more contented and outwardly focused approach, prioritizing fulfillment and the well-being of others.

Navigating Challenges with Persistence and Vision

Soni believes that “You are your own roadblock,” emphasizing the importance of self-awareness and the need to get out of one’s own way. Her journey has taught her invaluable lessons, each rooted in overcoming significant obstacles. One of the key insights Soni shares is the critical role of timing in the success of innovative ideas. “Timing is everything,” she asserts, recounting how many of her ideas were ahead of their time by about seven years.

“You can have a brilliant idea that you want to bring to the world, but if the world isn’t ready, you will face unimaginable roadblocks,” she explains. Her advice is to never give up and to revisit those ideas later, suggesting that one should “check back in seven years.” Living on the leading edge, as she puts it, means anticipating readiness rather than pushing too far ahead.

Soni has always reimagined people, places, and products, often acting as a disruptor. “Disruptors scare people. I scare some people,” she admits. Drawing inspiration from the Apple Computer Campaign, she resonates with the idea of being among “the crazy ones.” Knowing your audience and surrounding yourself with like-minded visionaries is crucial. “Surround yourself with like-minded crazies as often as possible,” she advises, highlighting the importance of finding and building a supportive community.

A visionary by nature, Soni acknowledges the challenge of avoiding scope-creep. “It takes great self-control to avoid scope creep,” she notes. Visionaries often see potential in projects and want to improve everything at once, but Soni warns against trying to “boil the ocean all at once or you’ll drown.” She cites Ralph Lauren as an example, who started small with the design of a man’s tie and gradually built an empire. This lesson underscores the value of focusing on one step at a time and exercising patience and restraint in achieving long-term goals.

Soni’s reflections on overcoming roadblocks reveal her strategic mindset and relentless pursuit of improvement, balanced by a deep understanding of timing, community, and focused effort.

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Future Vision: Expanding Impact with Innovation and Sustainability

Soni and BAKER envision a future that focuses on creating evergreen strategies and timeless brand designs that leave “Lasting Impressions”. This commitment to enduring value is a cornerstone of their vision, as outlined below:

  • We will expand our sustainable practices and responsible stewardship while working with our clients and their supply chains.
  • We will grow our global client base including strategic e-commerce and design.
  • We will help our global CPG clients brand interactive experiences at every touch point – digital, at shelf, home…
  • We will work with AI cautiously and ethically – embracing robotic speed and analytic data.
  • We will be working with more and more entrepreneurs, customers, and influencers who develop new artisan brands that consumers love.
  • We will search for clients who share our values and beliefs.
  • We will continue to work with brands as they follow new distribution trends and innovatively create experiences at every customer’ touch point.
  • We will continue to surprise & delight our clients with our collaborative spirit, our speed, and award-winning, effective branding.

Soni sees a bright future for BAKER as the company continues to elevate its strategic branding innovation, sustainable designs, use of new technology and continued client service excellence, ensuring the agency remains at the forefront of the branding industry.

A Legacy of Innovation and Diverse Impact Across Multiple Industries

Soni regards her greatest achievement as producing a series of firsts that changed the world, and it was all in the timing. During the golden age of advertising and marketing: this includes creating the first national advertising online bidding system adopted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, pioneering the industry’s first kid-focused, Consumer Packaged Goods website for Big G Cereals, the world’s first on-line cooking and baking website, Betty, and developing the industry’s first global CPG digital asset management system. She also established and produced the industry’s first of its kind, corporate International Award Shows, “The Gimmy’s” – at General Mills, across all marketing disciplines. Her inspiration for reaching across the company to produce the first fully integrated, branded campaign story for Trix, received the first annual Chairman’s Award.   She streamlined global advertising operations and transformed procurement methodologies, where her cost saving initiatives were awarded special honors by three C-suites executive teams.

Additionally, while Soni chaired the Association of National Advertisers’ Production Committee, she and her team, initiated Streetlights, the diverse Hollywood production training non-profit. Separately, she and her sister, a first-grade public school teacher, advocated for the overturn of national policies and got state laws written and passed to empower teachers and ensure safe schools, while working with the US President’s Cabinet Members, federal commissions and two Minnesota Governors. At General Mills, she created a national Women Directors’ Program with a commitment to allocate 10 percent of all global advertising projects to women. She also founded the Minnesota Film & Television Board and Minnesota Women in Film Chapter. She helped implement caregiving programs for daughters with aging parents and tech innovations, creating program expansions and the marketing of CaringBridge, a national on-line care community.

Soni’s contributions extend to Somali Women & Infant healthcare partnerships and on-line training programs through Isuroon, a Senior Women’s Leadership Circle for AARP, and she founded the Minnesota based Norway House’s Business Accelerator Resource Network to engage and support Scandinavian business across the US. Additionally, Soni branded her hometown, which was named the #1 Place to live in America by Money Magazine.

Mentoring and Sharing Wisdom

Soni is actively involved in mentoring young women entering the business world, where she imparts both personal and professional advice on how to design a successful life. She also shares insights on designing one’s brand and the balance between having it all and having enough.

For Soni, the relationship with the next generation is symbiotic. “This is a two-way street: I impact the lives of young women and young women impact my life,” she reflects. This reciprocal exchange of experiences and ideas enriches both parties involved.

Soni’s commitment to influencing the next generation extends to producing an Industry Report on Gen Z. “I’m producing an Industry Report on Gen Z at BAKER. This report includes conversations and input from them. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the future of our world through their lens,” Soni shares.

This initiative not only helps to understand and cater to the needs of the upcoming generation but also allows them to contribute meaningfully to shaping their future.

Passion in Work and Team Dynamics

Soni emphasizes finding fulfilling work and surrounding oneself with a supportive team. She advises, “First, find the job you were born for and surround yourself with wonderfully talented, decent, hardworking people who are team players.” This approach blurs the lines between work and personal life positively.

She advocates intentional living, prioritizing purpose, passion, and personal fulfillment. Soni states, “The key is intentional living with Purpose, Passion, and Profiting rewards,” highlighting the importance of finding joy in everyday moments.

Soni warns against trying to achieve everything at once, recommending a balanced approach to personal and professional goals. She observes, “Trying to handle everything at once can be quite tiring. Mapping out a life journey with personal and professional goals will bring the balance into check if you designed the plan and timeline with head and heart.”

Soni also acknowledges the challenge of balancing work and personal life, noting that “genius moments” can happen at any time, including in the middle of the night. However, she advises trying to switch off to live in the present, which benefits oneself and others. Lastly, Soni stresses setting priorities and boundaries to protect personal time, citing her mother’s advice. She concludes, “Time is a precious commodity that you can never get back, so set priorities and follow them.”

“The little things are most worthwhile – a quiet word, a look, a smile, A listening ear that’s quick to share, another’s thoughts, another’s care. Though sometimes they may seem quite small, these little things mean most of all.” ~ Margaret Lindsey

Surrounded with Excellence and Purpose

Soni surrounds herself with high-achieving individuals who hold her accountable, stating, “I want to surround myself with “Best in Class” people who hold me to a higher standard than I do myself.” This accountability motivates her to deliver the best services.

She follows her guiding principles, including her Purpose Manifesto and brand architecture, to stay motivated. Soni explains, “I follow my ideals that act as my guiding principles and when I don’t feel motivated, I use them to remind myself as to why I am here and to get moving.”

When feeling lost or unmotivated, Soni reflects on her purpose, similar to how a brand team evaluates its brand’s purpose when faced with challenges. She shares, “When you get lost, and you will at times, go home. When a corporate brand gets de-positioned, the brand team goes home and evaluates why their brand was born, what is the brand’s purpose – the same goes for people.”

Regarding her personal goals, Soni remains committed to making a difference in the world, particularly through initiatives like her Safe Schools Movement. She reflects on her desire to travel and spend quality time with loved ones, noting that her professional travels have often been confined to work environments.

Soni leads a well-designed life, driven by intention and purpose. Her journey includes forty-eight years with her husband, raising two successful daughters alongside beloved dogs, and caring for aging parents at home for a decade. She values lifelong friendships, particularly with national sorority sisters and friends, and takes pride in her home, gardens, and hometown branding efforts.

Soni’s global career and experiences have enriched lives, complemented by her involvement in 19 non-profit boards, legislative advocacy at various levels of government, and unique experiences such as decorating the White House for the holidays and attending a dinner reception with the First Lady. Soni also expresses her intention to continue working as long as it feels enjoyable and fulfilling, emphasizing that working with BAKER Branding is a source of joy and purpose for her.

Navigating Leadership as a Woman in Marketing

Thriving in the marketing industry as a woman in leadership has never been more opportune, according to Soni. She acknowledges the trailblazing efforts of feminists in the 70s, who paved the way for her generation. Soni entered the workforce in the 80s, finding that the doors were wide open and the glass ceiling had been shattered. She attributes much of her success to the supportive environment provided by her colleagues and mentors.

Soni notes that she excelled particularly under the guidance of “Gentlemen” who were not only confident but also great mentors. However, she highlights a potential challenge with working with “Guys,” who she suggests can be threatened by women in leadership roles and may prefer working with other men, creating difficulties for women striving to thrive.

In contrast, Soni advises women to seek out supportive female colleagues or “Gals” who are collaborators and confident. She warns against aligning oneself with “Ladies” whom she describes as complex, controlling, and insecure. Soni’s message to aspiring women in the industry is to live an intentional and well-designed life.

She emphasizes the importance of defining one’s brand, seeking mentorship, and maintaining a balance between personal and professional life. Soni encourages women to embrace the possibilities, choose their professional relationships wisely, and learn from both successes and failures.

“Don’t be a lady, be a legend.” ~ Stevie Nicks


Soni Styrlund’s story encapsulates the essence of female leadership in marketing — a blend of tenacity, vision, and unwavering commitment. Her journey underscores the importance of supportive mentors and a steadfast belief in oneself. As she continues to inspire and uplift those around her, Soni exemplifies the transformative impact of women in leadership. Her words resonate as a call to action for aspiring women, urging them to embrace their journey, define their brand, and lead with purpose in the ever-evolving landscape of marketing leadership.