The word feminist has so many negative connotations it seems to be so hard for the world to find that balance between uplifting women and not trashing men. I don’t believe that men need to be brought down for women to be brought upBethany Hill
Bethany is the Marketing Manager at bespoke Cape Town hotel, The Westin. With a passion for storytelling, she lets us in her world for this segment of Women In Marketing
THE JOURNEY TAKEN
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR CAREER IN MARKETING? HOW’D YOU END UP AT THE WESTIN CAPE TOWN?
To be honest, it’s still a marvel that The Westin hired me; it’s such a privilege to work at a company with a global footprint and long-standing reputation that comes with the Marriott brand. I had almost given up on the idea of a big corporate company being interested in me.
My career path has been a series of unexpected twists and turns. After my undergrad, I decided to continue my studies by pursuing a Master’s Degree.
In the beginning, I had planned to get student jobs and focus on my thesis, but life happens, and three months into a 2-year degree I decided it was time to grow up and get a real job. For some reason, I thought I could manage my time well. As is it turns out, your first job usually pays about the same as your rent, a bit more if you’re lucky. I was running around with multiple side hustles, a full-time job and that nagging feeling that I need to be progressing on my thesis in any spare time I could find.
Suffice to say, I was exhausted and unfulfilled, personally or financially in my day job. I put all of my efforts into finding a new job, something more relevant to the topic of my thesis, and that is where ESET East Africa came along. ESET EA gave me a lot of exposure into tech, cybersecurity and the market in East Africa, which all tied in nicely to my thesis. The working hours were a bit more relaxed, allowing more time for thesis focus.
After about a year and promotion, I was able to give up the side hustles and focus on my career and finishing that seemingly never-ending thesis.
Never truly satisfied without a side hustle, In April 2019 my fiance and I decided it was time to start something of our own. The result of this birthed the next and current side hustle, which is our online pet accessories shop – www.pet-culture.com which is an online store for people who love their pets more than life – like we do! Moving on, at the age of 25, two years in the same company felt like a lifetime, and I knew I was ready for my next move, the tech space is not the most straightforward job for a marketer, and I was just looking for something more … fun.
Bring on The Westin! Possibly the fastest interview experience I’ve ever had, I think it was a week from 1st interview to 2nd interview to offer. And that’s how things are at The Westin; efficiency is everything there which I love, there’s no messing around. I guess I must have made an impression, and I am so grateful that my path brought me here.
You have accumulated an envious amount of experience having worked for top-tier companies such as Recruit Digital as well as Eset East Africa. What did you learn from these roles, and how do you apply experiences in your current position at Westin Hotels & Resorts?
Without being too salty,…Recruit Digital was not a pleasant experience for me; it made me realise that I didn’t want to work in such an environment.
I met a lot of great people who I am very fond of, but it just wasn’t a match, swipe left. Everyone was young and hardworking, but the whole company lacked structure and leadership, and for me, the pressure to have after-work drinks every Friday was just too much. I don’t drink much, and in your 20s people always want to question you on that (come on only one drink) and to be honest after a whole week of 8-5 work 5-9 side hustles and thesis writing, I just wanted to go home, chill in my PJs and watch Netflix.
ESET East Africa was a huge step up from this and my first experience with a female boss which was inspirational in so many ways. ESET having a global footprint and HQ in Europe taught me a lot about policies and procedures of a more corporate environment. From a marketing perspective, one of the things we had to report on to ESET HQ was the planning execution and outcome of every single marketing activity we did.
This was a good exercise for me to structure my thinking around what are we doing, why are we doing it and what are the results we expect, then why did we or why did we not realise these expectations. I find that marketing can be a bit “fluffy” sometimes, and I much prefer this structured approach where you need to be accountable for your spend at all times.
What have you learned at Westin Hotels & Resorts that you had not learned at previous companies?
I mean, where do I even start, so much. The Westin is part of The Marriott brand and is a corporate entity, with so many policies, procedures, training and so forth. I’m still learning every day. My first week at The Westin I spent +- an hour with each department teaching what they do, and sometimes in this scenario, people would kind of slack off and not show you anything but not at The Westin.
Every single person was so professional, had so much to teach me and took the task on board, which was my first realisation of “we’re not in Kansas anymore” this was the real deal. I’m also lucky enough to have another female boss who I love, and I am working in a team with a lot of women and a couple of great guys. It is the first time in my career that I have felt like my colleagues are my family. The work environment is so positive and productive, everyone is efficient and on top of their game and I love it.
You obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Science at the University of Cape Town (girl you fancy!). In an article written by Glassdoor, it has become seemingly easier to apply for work at companies such as Google, Apple and Starbucks as they do not require applicants to have a degree. How can young women utilise the internet to upskill themselves mainly if they cannot afford to obtain a formal education?
I have to say, I am privileged to have had the opportunities I had for my education, and if those opportunities are not available to you, it requires a considerable amount of strength, effort and motivation to self educate. One of the viable career options, which is quickly becoming a necessary part of a marketers skill set is coding. And luckily for young women, if you have access to the internet, there are so many free or inexpensive online courses, I’ve even signed up myself.
Websites such as Udemy as well as CodeAcademy have these available. For a broader set of learning, sites such as FutureLearn have so many free online courses in many disciplines. To be honest, I’m not sure how much this statement from glassdoor applies to South Africa; in my experience, a degree is often a requirement.
As a woman in the marketing and communications environment, what challenges do you face within and outside the organisation? What message do you have for other female professionals in the fraternity?
I think it’s self-inflicted, but being young and female, I often have an insecurity that older male colleagues don’t take me seriously or don’t think I am capable of much. Then, on the flip side of this, I always feel the need to be extra tough, sturdy and perhaps a bit harsh, which then leaves you open to the B-word… It’s a constant balance between retaining your femininity and softer side while also showing your strength and professionalism.
It’s always tough in the workplace when you have to deal with inappropriate comments or looks from male colleagues, I think it happens to everyone, and you have this internal struggle of do I bring this up and cause a fuss or do I just ignore it.
In a perfect world, people would be professional enough to check that shit at the door when they step into the office, but it’s not always the case. In the past, I have either let it go or brought it up to my superior, and honestly, neither option worked. You sometimes feel like you’re a drama queen and it’s not a big deal, just let it go, but it has an impact on the way you think of yourself and your value in the workplace.
My message to other women is (well I’m still figuring this one out) but work hard and let your work shine and speak volumes. Unfortunately, women often have to work harder to gain the respect we deserve, so don’t give up. I believe that a critical thing for women is to stick together, support each other and rise together.
What made you fall in love with the world of marketing? What particular moment in time pushed you to pursue this as a career? After all, we all wanted to be Doctor’s growing up, right?
Well, I never wanted to be a doctor, maybe a badass detective like Sherlock Holmes.
To be honest, I’m not sure how it all started. I knew I wanted a business degree, and accounting seemed super dull. Marketing was the most “fun” option, I suppose. My love for marketing grows with every campaign, event and activation I do. Like I mentioned above, I am more results-orientated than the more “fluffy” marketing activities, so measurable results drive and motivate me to do more and achieve more.
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look, and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?
Oh gosh, this question! There is no typical day of work in my field. I have never had one of these. I don’t even know what they are.
And thank goodness because I am easily bored. Some of the more routine activities I suppose would be social media calendars, monthly promotions, email newsletters, paid advertising contracts .. stuff like that. But usually, I walk into a new challenge every day/week. I love the chaos and the last minute achievements.
Other things on my list, planning events, working with our PR company, working with influencers, developing new strategies for each department, in house vs external marketing campaigns. And always in the back of my mind trying to think of that thing that’s going to go viral (I believe every marketer has this pressure!!)
Forbes has an annual ‘The World’s Most Influential CMOs’ report. For the year 2019, one of the key highlights from the report was that 31 of the 50 CMOs were women while there were 19 men. In your opinion, is this a positive representation of gender equality?
I think this is encouraging for all women out there in marketing, for young girls getting into marketing. I’m not sure what you mean by a positive representation of gender equality … but it is positive!
Closely linked to the previous question, several studies reveal that women account for the majority of purchase decisions, including traditional male products such as automobiles, consumer electronics as well as home improvement products. Despite this, surveys further show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change if research says that 50 of the most influential CMOs are in fact, women?
Well, I think there’s a clear distinguishment to be made between marketing and advertising.
In my personal experience, they are two different worlds, and I have never been tempted to jump ship to advertising … is that too spicy? Welcome the haters.
So I can’t comment on what’s happening in the advertising world, perhaps it’s male-dominated, or maybe we are still stuck in a male as the breadwinner type of thinking. I think the world has changed and while my fiance is bringing home a lot more bacon than me, and I’m not ashamed to say it, we actually can’t have the life we want on one person’s salary, we both have to work.
We make significant purchasing decisions together, regardless of whose bank account it comes out of. So they can advertise to him all they like (he’s a sucker for a good advert), I will be checking the facts before any money is spent. Perhaps men are just easier targets for advertisements …..
COVID-19 has been a disruption to several organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. On the same token, however, several organisations have used this time to regroup and use this as an opportunity for change in structure and processes. How has your organisation and individually, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?
Well, it’s a hotel, so basically, COVID-19 is the actual worst thing for business. We are going to have to change the way we do a lot of things, but being part of the Marriott Group, I’m not allowed to divulge too much! You’ll have to wait and see.
Systems around remote work and video conferencing are increasingly becoming a staple to most organisations. To illustrate this, according to the infographic created by Visual Capitalist, Zoom is now worth more than the seven biggest airlines in the world at a large market capitalisation of just over $40bn. Working from home/remote working is an aspect of modern-day work that has been long overdue. Why do you think most organisations who are seemingly able to convert to this way of work have struggled to convert? Furthermore, how have you and your organisation structured your work since the COVID-19 pandemic? Any key lessons?
Well, there are a few challenges we can’t ignore about working from home.
Firstly, the security of your organisation has the potential to be compromised with people on all different WiFi’s sharing company data, etc.; most corporates have resisted because of this, which is a legitimate concern. Secondly, you just don’t know if people are working or checking their instafeed. If you have a company culture built on trust, respect and transparency, this shouldn’t be an issue, but everyone is different, and there are enough people out there who won’t be accountable for their hours.
Another thing that is difficult virtually is those gritty brainstorm sessions where you grind it out; I don’t know, it’s just not the same on zoom, you don’t get the full picture. And for those who are super social beings, they love going into work and being around people all day and working from home takes that experience away.
That said, I am a huge advocate for working from home because there are fewer distractions for me (I don’t have kids yet – just furbabies), and I get really in the zone. Also, I love the convenience of ordering everything I need online and never having to step a foot outside.
For the Westin, those who can are currently working from home (sales, marketing, directors etc.), but it’s a hotel, so it’s not super applicable because most of our staff are guest-facing and on property.
Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the Westin Hotels & Resorts story? How are you telling it excitingly?
I love this question because the brand is EVERYTHING.
The Westin experience is all about wellness. We want our guests to leave feeling more refreshed and revitalised than they arrived. The focus of our brand is centred around the pillars, Eat Well, Sleep Well, Move Well, Work Well and Feel Well. Since joining The Westin, I have put my heart and soul into these pillars from our food and beverage offering, to our brand events, social media, in-house activities.
I have so much more planned and in progress which has of course been put on pause by COVID-19 but watch this space because wellness is my passion and I’m making moves!
What have been some of Westin Hotels & Resorts biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
We have great brand events throughout the year; the big one I worked on this year was World Sleep Day, check out our Instagram. You’ll see I managed to get maintenance to agree to let us put a bed on the roof! Never before done at The Westin.
BCG published its innovation report for 2019 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? How do you define innovation at Westin Hotels & Resorts?
I think the core of innovation is anticipating customer needs before they have them, and in the current climate of constant change, consumer needs change almost daily. AI is a broad term for a vast suite of different technology but a lot of what AI software does is predicting consumer behaviour which can allow you to preempt your consumer needs. For the Westin, innovation is having all of our guests’ needs met before they need to ask for anything.
At the time of publishing, an article from The Digital Marketing Institute estimated that the influencer marketing industry would hit the $10bn mark by 2020. Whether it is B2B or B2C, it is evident that brands and organisations have had their success with this model of marketing. How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect this industry going forward, and do you believe there is still a place for influencer marketing?
Honestly, I think COVID-19 has been a big drive for influencers. Everyone is at home scrolling through the gram all day; influencers have eyes on them right now more than ever. Before this, I felt like they may be becoming a thing of the past and starting to be kind of demanding, so many DMs just asking/expecting free everything.
Companies are getting tired of handing out free stuff/paying for posts, only to receive average content with their brand messaging ignored. However, there is an emerging stream of more authentic and professional influencers who only take on work that fits their brand and ensure to have the messaging, etc. agreed upon and this is a space that is still very valuable to companies.
My advice is that if you are looking to utilise influencer marketing, don’t just go for the most famous person of the moment. Take your time to find someone who truly compliments your brand. The quality of their content and engagement rate is far more critical than the number of followers.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Social media schedulers, you can’t be doing that yourself #somuchwork
Are there any recent/upcoming influencer marketing campaigns you would like to share from Westin Hotels & Resorts?
Yes, and you’ll have to wait and see!
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
There is always an app or program that automates what you are trying to do; automation is the key to balancing your workload.
What are your thoughts on Marketing and Sales alignment? How do you align your Marketing and Sales team at Westin Hotels & Resorts?
Sales and marketing have to work together and complement each other. At The Westin, sales and marketing are one department, led by our highly respected and cherished leader, Stacey Hopkins, Director of Sales and Marketing.
Sales and marketing need to work hand in hand towards a shared goal; marketing is the support structure to the sales team to ensure they reach their goals. I love working in collaboration with the sales team; they are a fantastic bunch of people and also pretty great at bringing in the sales, an absolute dream to work alongside. Stacey is the driver of this function, and she is doing an incredible job.
2020 AND BEYOND
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)
*Crickets* – my eyes needed a break after reading 1000000000 research papers and journal articles over the last few years.
What is on your Netflix watchlist/How do you relax?
Like .. the whole of Netflix. I love anything detective-y, currently watching Border Town.
A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry
Never settle for mediocre, always strive to produce high-quality work with measurable outcomes. Digital is your friend, upskill yourself on every digital platform, and you will stand out from the crowd.
What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?
How do people with kids do all of this?!!!? I feel like I have 5 mins in a day to myself. A challenge for the future, should be fun.
Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read
Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?
One day, I want to work for myself, be responsible for my income. I don’t yet know how it will play out, but it’s a massive goal of mine.
Who are some of your female heroes?
Is it too cliche to say Beyonce and Michelle Obama? I am just obsessed with everything they do and say and wear.
What does the word feminist mean to you?
The word feminist has so many negative connotations it seems to be so hard for the world to find that balance between uplifting women and not trashing men. I don’t believe that men need to be brought down for women to be brought up. It’s a hard one for me, I have an influential father figure in my life who I love and respect so much, and I have a fantastic partner who supports, uplifts me and always encourages me to be better.
In my personal experience, the men in my life have helped me to believe in myself, elevate myself and become the woman I am today and I understand that I am lucky for this and that this is not the case for a lot of women out there. I also have an amazing mother and sister who have played their part in my growth and development by always supporting and encouraging me. For me, feminism is all about helping each other without bringing others down. Women need to stick together, protect and promote each other positively and productively.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
From my mother “you need to learn to let things go, it’s affecting your health.”
From my fiance and love of my life “Don’t doubt yourself, they will love you, they always do.”
From my father “ask for forgiveness, not permission.”
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I have an unwavering drive to do more, be better and achieve more. I’m very motivated by not being broke all the time.