On this segment of Women In Marketing we chat with Cynthia who is the Group Head for Marketing & Corporate Affairs at Hollard Ghana. She was quite busy in her tertiary years as a member of the student representative council and also as a student radio journalist. Fast forward to today, she shares with us why brands need to bolster their storytelling efforts in order to appeal to their audience. Let’s jump right in!
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, CYNTHIA. LET’S START ON A LIGHTER NOTE. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
Until I was about seven, I thought I was born in Saudi Arabia because my family lived there during my infancy. My mum quickly corrected that notion when she found out, though. LOL. I am Ghanaian, born in Accra, Ghana. Growing up featured a mix of school and outdoor activities, voracious reading and being the quintessential “middle-child,” always getting into trouble at home, dragging my patient brothers into harebrained schemes and annoying my sister by following her around.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
I was the girl involved in everything from sports to writers and debaters club, to student leadership, ultimately becoming Head Prefect. I was somewhat nerdy but loved doing all the fun stuff, like dancing at “records night”. High school was a great time for me, except for not having a boyfriend, which sucked 🙂 haha!
University was a similar experience but this time with a boyfriend, lol. I enjoyed extracurriculars like being a student journalist/radio presenter and student politics. I was a member of the Student Representative Council and the General Secretary of the Independence Residence Hall. I also stood for and lost the student presidency of our department, Social Science, which was a great experience in failure. Overall, these foundational experiences shaped my career trajectory.
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Partly because that was my junior-high-school nickname for being tall and skinny with a long neck. With that said, giraffes are intelligent, graceful but swift creatures with a unique perspective derived from their excellent eyesight, height, and stature.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
Bambara beans stew with fried plantain. Yummy, delicious goodness 🙂
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
I’d drop everything to strategise and emerge with a plan to invest in my family, finances, self, and community. I believe strongly in being an enabler, so I can see myself establishing a program that provides access and opportunity to those who need it – instead of hand-outs.
I’d stay in marketing communications, though. It’s a fulfilling field.
WHAT IS THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T FIND ON YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE? ANY HIDDEN TALENTS PERHAPS? PREVIOUS WOMEN IN MARKETING CANDIDATE, DR. LIEZEL BYGATE SAID THAT SHE IS AN EXPERT HULA-HOOPER!
I love dancing! Salsa was my favourite for a while, but I usually just dance to afro beats.
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
Doctor? Not me because I disliked hospitals!
Lawyer? Yes! I wanted to be a lawyer because I was a chatterbox. After my first degree in Economics with a French minor, I fell into marketing and communications just by doing the things I loved in school, and excelled at, early in my career.
Getting a masters in communications just made sense since I was naturally veering towards marketing related roles and loved the dynamism and creativity of the field.
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
Unashamedly #TeamCoffee but one to dabble in strongly flavoured teas like Rooibos.
My best mornings see me focused at my desk early, planning, catching up on emails and generally working on my computer, sipping a cup of coffee, and a green smoothie. After a good two hours or so, I’m ready to align with my team, dig into meetings and run-around for ongoing projects.
HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
I have only recently learned to better balance work with life.
It was dreadful trying to achieve this early in my career working at agencies for numerous clients, and often working on other projects in my spare time. My “always-on” work-life was front and centre.
Now, I unplug and invest more time in my personal life. Admittedly, it’s easier to do so because working in a corporate, although hectic, is somewhat less maddening than an agency.
YOU OBTAINED YOUR MA IN COMMUNICATION FROM CLEMSON UNIVERSITY. YESSS GIRL! ACCORDING TO CNBC, RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY GLASSDOOR FOUND THAT COMPANIES LIKE APPLE, GOOGLE AND IBM (AMONGST OTHERS) OFFER WORK-FROM-HOME JOBS THAT DO NOT REQUIRE ANY FORMAL EDUCATION. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN YOUNG WOMEN UTILISE THE INTERNET TO UPSKILL THEIR CAREERS PARTICULARLY IF THEY ARE NOT ABLE TO AFFORD A FORMAL EDUCATION?
I think we’re on the cusp of a completely new way of life.
It feels like the world is wholesale testing everything from work-from-home to capability-led jobs (that don’t require formal education). We may not recognise it now, but give it another decade and this will be accepted culture.
Consequently, young women need to know there’s no limitation to what they can do, or how they can plan their careers. They must use the internet intelligently.
1. Learn how to research and use the internet extensively, beyond daily use.
2. Create and expand their networks via social and other.
3. Know that their circumstances; location, financial status, etc. are no longer a setback if they can use the internet to their advantage.
4. Be unafraid to explore, and tap into the depth of knowledge and functional resources that the internet provides.
YOU HAVE A GREAT RESUME. YOU’VE WORKED FOR COMPANIES SUCH AS OGILVY, TEDX ACCRA AS WELL AS GLOBAL MEDIA ALLIANCE. HOW IMPORTANT HAS LINKEDIN BEEN FOR YOU AND WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG WOMEN LOOKING TO ESTABLISH THEIR PROFESSIONAL BRAND FOR NETWORKING PURPOSES?
Thank you! LinkedIn has been especially vital to me as a recruitment platform. I have found and brought on board team members who have excelled. It’s also a brilliant platform for organic networking – the kind that occurs when people connect after commenting on the same post, etc. It’s a great gauge for the pulse of the professional world, i.e. trends, etc.
Create a unique profile with a great photo and easy to read profile including your projects; connect with a diversity of people from peers to role models (don’t be afraid to email that CEO); engage and interact with others within your circle. People love when others comment on their posts. An intelligent comment can get you noticed by the right person. Finally, contribute and share! That’s my advice for young women.
SABRA MWAURA WAS A FEATURE FOR OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES. SHE MADE A FEW GOOD POINTS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORSHIP FOR WOMEN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MENTORSHIP?
We must be champions for ourselves, whether mentoring up, down, or laterally to our peers. Mentoring must become culture, not necessarily driven by structured programs but by women pulling themselves up, having our own “girls club” to ensure no woman is left behind. There are great lessons from how men at work gravitate towards bonding moments that result in serendipitous opportunities for themselves.
WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
Sometimes, good is better than perfect; make critical sacrifices when chasing perfection could result in missed opportunities!
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
At the mid to lower level it aids one’s career; building a wealth of experience and depth of perspective. Job-hopping boosted my career. With leadership roles, depending on the nature of the brand and its level of awareness, it could dent a brand-owning marketer’s reputation if they hop to another job within a very short time without accomplishing much in their existing role. That usually raises a few eyebrows.
Even so, the world is now more accepting of change, so job hopping is no longer perceived negatively as a sign of disloyalty or lack of character.
FOR IT’S 2019 MOST INFLUENTIAL CMO’S REPORT, FORBES LISTED 31 WOMEN OUT OF 50 CANDIDATES (19 MEN). IT APPEARS THAT MORE WOMEN OCCUPY CMO ROLES COMPARED TO OTHER C-SUITE ROLES. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS THE CASE?
The diversity and dynamism of marketing allows people of different backgrounds and qualities to excel without being bound by typical male hegemonic structures. The creative and emotive nature of the CMO role also lends to strengths natural to women making them more confident in their ambitions.
REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN MARKETING, PARTICULARLY, IN SENIOR ROLES IS ON THE UP. IN YOUR OWN OPINION, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN STILL FACE DESPITE THESE CHANGES AND HOW BEST SHOULD THESE BE ADDRESSED?
It’s refreshing to see this trend. I look forward to a time when women are fully represented at the top. However, it’s harder for women to appreciate that all leadership positions are open to them. The tokenism of women leaders further creates an impression that few women can achieve leadership roles and that subconsciously limits women’s ambitions.
Added to the existing culture that weeds out women who take time out to have families, it takes extensive personal effort, aided by mentors and champions, to access leadership opportunities.
ONE OF THE LEARNING CURVES FOR MOST ORGANISATIONS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE PANDEMIC, IS THE SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURES TO FACILITATE REMOTE WORK. FOR TECH PLAYERS IN SILICON VALLEY THE TRANSITION WAS RELATIVELY SMOOTH WITH THE LIKES OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER DESIGNING A FUTURE WHERE THEIR STAFF MAY POTENTIALLY WORK REMOTELY FOREVER. THE ARGUMENT THOUGH, IS THAT THIS IS LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE COMPANIES TAKEN SO LONG TO IMPLEMENT REMOTE WORK OPPORTUNITIES?
Until now, there hasn’t been a compelling reason for companies to adopt remote working as their primary mode of work. Like most revolutions, the majority will only make sweeping changes after a tipping point, when everyone else is doing so.
With the pandemic, companies in Africa especially, have been forced to leapfrog to remote and digital ways of work and quite frankly, there’s no going back. 2020 showed remote work, works. Moving forward, companies can’t deny flexible working arrangements to their employees since it’s proven efficient.
WORKING FROM HOME IS AWESOME! MOST OF US CAN AGREE. HOWEVER, IT IS NOT WITHOUT IT’S SET OF CHALLENGES. EMPLOYEE WELLNESS HAS TAKEN A SIGNIFICANT STRAIN WITH PEOPLE WORKING LONGER HOURS AS A RESULT OF EMPLOYEES BEING ‘ALWAYS ON’ AND NOT BEING ABLE TO SWITCH OFF. HOW CAN EMPLOYERS GUARD AGAINST EMPLOYEE BURNOUT OR IN THE WORST EVENT, LOSING THEIR BEST TALENT?
Employers need to set boundaries for work and give uninterrupted time off despite the burden of work. Employers must foster a work culture that encourages employees to log-off at the end of the day without feeling guilty or judged. The same principle applies to paid-time-off/leave.
People are more efficient when they know they have a set period to work with so that unplugging away from work provides them with the needed mental refresh to live their lives. That said, employers need to develop handing-over structures that ensure work doesn’t stall when employees take an uninterrupted time-out.
BCG PUBLISHED ITS INNOVATION REPORT FOR 2020 AND AT THE CORE OF ITS SELECTION CRITERIA ARE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MARRIED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING INNOVATIVE?
The ability of a said thing to provide an agile approach to an already existing solution.
Being agile requires a retooling of processes, mindset, and expected outcomes to accommodate existing nuances while adjusting for future needs or the unexpected. Whether through digital tools such as artificial intelligence, or simply, via system tweaks, innovation is how we’re working today. Although times are changing, the fundamentals of product and service delivery remain the same so being innovative is non-negotiable.
HEMAL THAKKAR, BRAND MANAGER FOR BURGER KING INDIA IS A RECENT WOMEN IN MARKETING FEATURE. ONE OF THE KEY AREAS SHE IDENTIFIED FOR CONTINUED GROWTH IS THAT OF INFLUENCER MARKETING. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF MARKETING LOOK LIKE ACCORDING TO YOU?
The future of marketing will be driven by the softer, less flashy side of the practice like PR & storytelling.
We are living in a world where content must be compelling to cut through the clutter. Consumers are increasingly drawn to relatable stories that tug at their heartstrings or compel them to act on their values. So it’s no longer enough to sell a product that looks good..
Brands must take on living personalities through their words, actions, and interactions across channels; intentionally shaping their personalities with micro-storytelling targeted at specific segments of their target audiences.
Consumers have come to expect this iterative effort, whether it’s via influencer marketing, branded PR or some mishmash of channels and platforms. We’ve broken the boundaries of traditional marketing and I’m excited to see how much more revolutionary things get.
2020 AND BEYOND
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Live in the moment and just do it!
WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAIN POINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?
I’d say my biggest challenge at work is keeping our brand relevant and fresh. In our on-demand world of fleeting trends, it is easy to become yesterday’s cool kid. It’s imperative we understand our stakeholders, their lives and the environment within which we interact – to effectively stay ahead of the curve while maintaining their trust by delivering on our brand promise.
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
Professionally, I have a tall list of goals that drive my ambition. From business leadership growth to giving back through structured mentorship and social schemes.
Personally, I would love to visit Cuba, Japan and my ultimate list item, a road-trip across Africa. I had fun paragliding, so I want to skydive, bungee jump and swim among coral with my family.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
Seems cliché to say my mom but she, Winifred Arthur, is right up there. She’s a model of a resilient and independent woman. I admire her grit.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DO YOU CONSUME INFORMATION?
I consume most of my information via mixed media – I often start with radio in the mornings, transitioning to social media during the day, and then podcasts at night, or occasionally, TV news.
I voraciously read online articles – mostly picked from my Twitter feed, and ranging from current affairs, politics to lifestyle, food, and science.
I struggle with using an e-reader because it lacks the wholesome reading experience of physical page-turning. I once bought an iPad thinking I’d get into iBooks, but it soon became a white elephant.
However, I’m happy to read short feature pieces online, but just not e-books.
WHAT WOULD YOU COME BACK AS IN THE NEXT LIFETIME CAREER-WISE? DO YOU THINK YOU MISSED A CALLING?
Doing what I do now in marketing communications, but also journalism, which I’ve dabbled in previously, and travel curation. I believe there’s still time to fully achieve all three within this lifetime, though lol.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
I’m halfway through “Bridgerton”, and then I’ll take on “Death to 2020” for some dark humour, closely followed by “Girlfriends” and “Moesha” for nostalgia.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
It’s been over a year since I last saw my sister, brother-in-law, beloved nephews and extended family. I know they’re doing OK, but like the majority of people, our travel plans for 2020 were scuttled and we’ve had to rely on video calls. Fingers crossed 2021 works out better. I miss them.
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
1. Rosy Fynn – CEO of Busy Ghana
2. Akua Owusu-Nartey – Regional MD, Ogilvy Africa
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Get your feet wet.
The 21st-century world of work loves people with varied backgrounds and experiences for the diversity of perspective they bring to the table. You can only achieve this perspective if you try new experiences and develop diverse skills professionally and personally.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME CYNTHIA. WE HOPE THIS INTERVIEW WILL INSPIRE FUTURE LEADERS AND OTHER WOMEN IN MARKETING. HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU AND YOUR COMPANY ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
Thank you for the opportunity. It’s my pleasure.
Follow Hollard Ghana @HollardGhana across all social media platforms