On this segment of Women In Marketing we are joined by Bulgarian-born marketing professional, Mariela Hristova. Mariela is the PR and Marketing Manager at Ajman Hotel. Apart from her day-to-day, she is an art lover and occasionally paints her own work. A woman of many talents indeed. Let’s learn more.
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, MARIELA. LET’S START ON A LIGHTER NOTE. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
I was born in Bulgaria, a small town on the Danube river. I was happy and carefree as a child.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
My exterior was that of a shy person but, I was somewhat rebellious on the inside. I am an only child. Thank goodness my parents didn’t spoil me. I loved being with other people, doing new things.
Apart from reading, participating in outdoor activities was a big part of me. Even today, they remain crucial aspects of my life.
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I am choosing two animals!
Land: A Wolf. Because they are loyal, are always grouped into packs, have sharp instincts and embrace teamwork.
Sea: An Orca. I say this because of their intelligence, patience, instincts, loyalty, family love and teamwork. They are curious and funny, just like human beings.
I adore them, equally and undeniably.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
I love Mediterranean food and, lucky for you, I love to share.
I am simple on eating – anything Greek or Italian and has lots of tomatoes and cheese is on my list. I am not ashamed to have pizza every day and run more to burn the calories. My great grandmother used to say, “if you love what you eat, do not worry too much about calories, they burn anyways because you enjoyed the food”.
I always remember that when I debate on whether “should I have pizza or not”.
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
I will need some time to digest the news of this incredible windfall.
As for the plan, I dream of a journey with my parents around Norway and the Fjord islands; the windfall will expedite the realization ☺.
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 to paint and draw and have plenty of artworks unframed and stored in a box. Every piece of art created by me goes in that box. Another thing, I love to wrap gifts for my friends and family.
I love astronomy too.
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
Well, I wanted to be an astronaut. Shortly after that, a marine biologist. I have always been driven and curious about the vast mystery of the universe and the ocean. I have wanted to work in the marketing field ever since I was a student.
My lecturer, Professor Yankov, was a mystery, very challenging, creative and quite often went off-script and beyond to pull the best from us. I must say he was unique and advanced for the time, and I am talking about 1995. I did not start my career directly in Marketing; I started as a Personal Assistant and worked in various organizations from government, hospitality, banking, and telecommunication and back to hospitality since 2011.
Marketing has always been there but not on the front stage. If I have to do it again, I will. My roles have prepared me to be who I am today. When you work as an Executive Secretary, you master time management, multi-tasking, planning, analytical thinking, budgeting, etc. I am curious by nature and like to stay up to date with creative news.
I read magazines. I still buy them because I love them – the feel, the touch, the fragrance, the stories, and the personal connection to hold and to own. I never went off-board. However, I have to give credit to my boss, Roland Obermeier. He was General Manager at Ajman Palace in the UAE at the time. He was the one to push and challenge my limits. I would say that Mr Obermeier helped in nurturing my passion for marketing.
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
I love coffee; the aroma consumes me.
The first cup comes after the morning shower at home. It is a rite. I prepare one for the office, pour it into my favourite yellow tumbler from Caribou, and enjoy it in front of my computer whilst reading my emails.
The third is with my colleagues, Rafael or Ute, during the day.
Coffee motivates me; I love to inhale it, to feel its “spiritual guidance” in the morning and throughout the day. I won’t ditch it anytime soon. It is like love at first sight.
I am also a tea lover; one of my favourites is the Japanese Matcha and South African Rooibos which is available in the United Arab Emirates.
HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
I run on the beach or the running track at the marina, and I spend time by the sea. Working in a beach resort is an advantage. Ajman Hotel is a fantastic property and gives so many opportunities to explore as a guest and for me. Throughout my work, I can balance creativity.
YOU HAVE A GREAT RESUME. YOU’VE WORKED FOR COMPANIES SUCH AS NOKIA, EMAAR HOSPITALITY GROUP AS WELL AS COSMO BULGARIA MOBILE. 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?
My advice is to Be Unique, Honest, Truthful, Remain Flexible and Available, and Keep yourself visible and present in your network. Explore new networks, stay up to date with the trends, keep learning and always ask yourself: how and what I am doing right now will bring me close to where I want to be.
In the end, luck plays itself out but you also have to seize it and act on it. Being patient and disciplined are other virtues.
Consider if you were a Shaolin Monk. For you to progress to the next level, you need training, practice, focus and self-discipline. Don’t let anyone distract you from your purpose.
I would recommend the book of Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’. This is an awakening testament on how to plan, strategize and go through your life not only professionally because when you have a balance between the two, it is when you are content.
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?
I’ve never had a female mentor. I am not a feminist. I do believe in people and their skills. I can be inspired by a bagger on survival instincts and I can be inspired by a CEO or a random person. But if I have to mention a lady that inspired me most that credit will go to two:
Alma Au Yeung, Corporate Director Strategic Projects and Partnerships at Emaar Hospitality Group. She inspires me so much. She is talented and is an exceptional leader.
Marlene Fraser-Smith, The Entertainer – I have not worked with Marlene directly. I knew her from previous roles. She interviewed me. It was the shortest and the most insightful interview ever. I wanted desperately to change my job at that time when I was a Personal Assistant. Just to change, move somewhere else, and when I met her for our interview, it was like she understood my frustrations.
She asked me what makes me feel happy workwise, and I told her about my passion for going back to Marketing. She said: Then Do It! Don’t give up! Wait for the moment. You know deeply that this role is not what you want even if I can offer you more money because this is the only thing I can offer you right now.
“I am looking for a Personal Assistant, someone who will be with me in that role for a long time. Is that what you want!?” she asked.
The answer was instant, it was a no; it wasn’t what I wanted. Until today, in my hardest moments, I think of her. I named her my angel. She was there at the right place and the time to push me unknowingly to strive for what I deserve. That was in July 2017. I will always remember her and be thankful to her for that. The shortest and the most insightful interview I have ever had in the last five years.
WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
I am an expert in procrastination, maybe because I am also good at planning and executing tasks with short deadlines or last-minute tasks; whatever the reason, I am focused on keeping it at bay and challenging it.
I always have the self-dialogue about the Two Minutes Job, it works in my favour all the time. I am more productive, organized and have time to enjoy my free time at work without feeling guilty.
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENON ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB-HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
Not a hopper, but I also don’t judge. If you are unhappy, your job is not what you expected, just move on. People have to focus on what they know and do their best rather than worry about what someone will say if they see they hopped too much. But it’s also a dagger, because to me if you hop frequently, you don’t know what you want; you have not figured it out, and your job search is based on either illusions or high salary expectations.
You take those and then you spend time victimizing yourself for not feeling happy or appreciated. Well, you are responsible for your choices, better make them and fail than the only dream, talk the ifs and make nothing.
I used to job hop long ago in my career, but I didn’t take it as a disadvantage; it was just the right thing to do, and I did it.
FOR ITS 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?
Ladies are leading ahead of Gentlemen; well, perhaps they were focused, unique and bound to success.
I’ve had the pleasure to learn from both men and women. Men are practical and have a tactical approach. Women
on the other hand are analytical.
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?
You have to know who you are and be confident. The media continues to perpetuate the narrative of women vs men.
There were many successful women before, and there are even more now.
We live in a fast-paced world. You need to grab any opportunity granted to you, regardless of what your gender is.
By constantly highlighting I am a woman, a fact that everyone can see, I have rights; by the way, everyone does and pointing it out all the time takes you to the self discriminating stage.
I have learned from both female and male leaders. Not all women are better than men and vice versa. If you are disciplined, put your heart into it and you will succeed. Rough seas breed skilful sailors.
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?
I always loved to balance between the two but employers believe that you deliver more when in the office. During the pandemic, I worked from home. I found myself to be more productive and more creative. My day was meaningful and stress-free.
In the end, it’s all about balance, discipline, clear guidance from your peers and trust.
WORKING FROM HOME IS AWESOME! MOST OF US CAN AGREE. HOWEVER, IT IS NOT WITHOUT ITS 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?
Keep yourself motivated, Plan your time, Reward yourself, Breathe a little, Water your plants, and Take a set of push-ups.
My Nike Running Club App and the guided runs I follow always tell me to Push yourself, You can do it, and in the end, always, You did it great. I stick to that. When I finish a project, I reward myself. Pizza on the menu, no regrets and Of course, I can do the run the next day as a past reward treatment ☺
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?
Saving the time of your customer.
Be able to understand them and provide solutions rather than repeat pre-trained phrases that may not be relevant enough for every customer. Technology saves time but we still need people. I enjoy human interaction.
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 world is over the brim with influencers but, how many of them are unique and valuable; how many of them are the right fit for you and your brand. Do they understand your brand, are your brand unique selling points properly understood and highlighted? These are questions I ask when dealing with influencers. I want to see how they think of our brand, our hotel. What prompted them to contact me; the voice they use when they write the entry pitch, and it goes on; if it is the free stay well, sorry, not the right match.
2020 AND BEYOND
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
I would have been more disciplined and made some more hops☺
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 love challenges. They make me stronger. I am responsible for three roles, marketing, graphic design and e-commerce, and I am sailing on those boats alone.
I wish I had help but I am making the best out of this situation. I stick to planning and taking my time management skills to another level. What helped me is planning and self-discipline. I also reward myself after the completion of a task. If it is a project, I celebrate with friends. I write thank you notes to myself and also do not forget to say thank you to those who helped me directly or indirectly with an achievement.
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
Opening my little advertising agencies that will focus on helping small businesses find their space digitally. I love what I am doing and I want to share it with others and help them in areas, which they find perhaps not enjoyable as much, like creating digital content, and being online.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
Definitely, my first to fourth-grade teacher Lilly. My teachers in the German School, Temenuzhka and Mariyana.
At the time when I was at the University, it was Dutchka Dobreva, my professor, a powerful, inspiring and outgoing woman who dared to teach off-script and challenge our brains. I love her and will always remember her (she is not among us for a long time but she is remembered).
From the broad scene, that will be The Queen of England and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and Michelle Obama, the Former First Lady of the United States of America.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
I love physical books.
The connection with the cover, the first flip through the pages, the fragrance of ink, and though ink, the fragrance is different just like the journey you are going to embark on.
I am reading ‘The Forest of Wool and Steel‘ by Natsu Miyashita. I would love to read ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles‘ by Hiro Arikawa. I love classics too; the books of Henry Miller, Anais Nin and James Michener are one of my favourites.
I love poetry currently obsessed with Pablo Neruda and Mahmoud Darwish.
I read Bulgarian classics too but they are not so famous around the world but famous in my world.
On the e-reader, believing or not I read romantic novels only, something that takes my brain to travel mindlessly and if someone asks me what the book was about, I don’t feel guilty for not remembering it.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
I prefer movie theatres, but I do have Netflix. I love documentaries and constantly replay the Magical Andes. I recently watched Penguin Bloom, and I fell in love with the movie.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
My boss Frank, whom I worked with at ING Group, the greatest human being and mentor, and my first boss, Lybomir, another great human being and mentor.
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
My former colleague from Emaar Hospitality Group, Olivia Janice Wittaker – a remarkable woman and a marketing professional.
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Be Unique, Know Your Values, Be Patient and Flexible, Don’t duel on rejections, learn from them and move on. Your opportunity is out there, it waits for you. Seize, Grab it, Dive in it. Good Luck.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME MARIELA. WE HOPE THIS INTERVIEW WILL INSPIRE FUTURE LEADERS AND OTHER WOMEN IN MARKETING. HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU AND YOUR COMPANY ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
I currently work as PR and Marketing Manager at Ajman Hotel by Blazon Hotels.
People can learn more about the hotel on Instagram and Facebook.
Our website: www.hotelajman.com
Our Instagram page: @ajmanhotel
My personal Instagram account: @mdh1801