“Don’t accept poor behaviour, being belittled or minimized. Stand up for yourself and for your fellow female colleagues“Natalie Toner
Natalie is the National Marketing Manager at Mazars South Africa which has a stellar representation of female leadership in its structures. She takes us through her awesome journey in this segment of Women In Marketing
THE JOURNEY TAKEN
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Mazars South Africa?
I started off as an entrepreneur straight out of completing a BComm at Bond University Australia. Whilst running my business people would comment that my marketing was great and “could I help?”. This turned into a side-hustle (alongside the main hustle!) freelancing, assisting other entrepreneurs with their marketing. When digital came along (revealing my age here), I dove in and actively encouraged my clients to make sure they had a Facebook page (“a what?”) and an updated website (“why?”).
I continued on this dual-business path for many years, clients coming and going and businesses starting and failing. Sadly in 2013, my marriage collapsed and I found myself in high-risk pregnancy, alone and now financially responsible for myself and another little person. I threw myself headfirst into the challenge.
Sold my business, began working for a medium-sized company that enabled me to work flexi-hours, studied further (a number of diplomas from Red&Yellow Creative school of business) and graduated with honours, Post Grad in Advanced Digital Strategy from Red&Yellow.
If you’re ambitious, or want to secure career prospects, you know that a key determinant is the ability to offer more value (and more relevance) than your peers.— Red & Yellow School (@RedAndYellowEd) July 1, 2020
To this end, we’re happy to tell you that we now have 4 online national certifications!https://t.co/xiLskTI61p
Prior to graduating, I spotted a position for a Digital Strategist at Mazars and applied as I wanted to expand my skillset into Corporate and relocate to Cape Town. They responded almost immediately and I flew to Cape Town for the interview. Within a few days, the job was mine. I worked as a Digital Strategist for just under 2 years and was promoted to National Marketing Manager in September 2019.
What have you learned at Mazars South Africa that you had not learned at previous companies?
Having been an entrepreneur and freelancer, being a salaried employee in a Corporate was a major learning curve. The odd thing is, despite all the usual “you will hate corporate” from my fellow Digital Marketing friends, I actually really love it. I enjoy the stability and have built lasting relationships within the freedom of the Mazars environment. This has a lot to do with the Mazars culture which is not the average audit firm “creative black hole”.
Mazars is run as a family and feels like a small firm even though there are well over 1000 local employees and over 40 000 internationally. My happiness at Mazars has a lot to do with having a fantastic (female) boss who is completely supportive of family-first.
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 show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change?
The advertising industry is still traditionally male-dominated and therefore it is not a surprise that women are not understood or considered IRO purchasing decisions. It is changing as agencies (such as Fort) transform the industry from the inside out. But it does seem an awfully slow transition in SA.
What does the word feminist mean to you?
The freedom to be authentically female without judgement, intolerance or ignorance.
Who are some of your female heroes?
Ayn Rand, Michelle Obama, Jane Fonda, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Marie Stopes, Marie Curie.
What steps can companies take to make their businesses more equal in terms of pay and employees with regards to gender?
It starts with actively promoting women into positions of influence in order that they become decision-makers. Mazars has over 60% female employees and a large percentage of Partners, Directors and Senior Managers are female. This is 100% due to the leadership stance on actively promoting women.
As a woman in the marketing and communications environment, what challenges do you face within and outside the organisation?
Within a corporate environment, there is a fair amount of education involved in ensuring colleagues understand the true value of marketing. An added challenge is many believe you don’t need qualifications in order to be a marketer. Many are surprised that I have a BComm and can happily follow a balance sheet or discuss a PE ratio as well as explain what an algorithm is and justify with data why an email to 15 000 should not be sent via Outlook.
What message do you have for other female professionals in the fraternity?
Don’t accept poor behaviour, being belittled or minimized. Stand up for yourself and for your fellow female colleagues.
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?
I wanted to be a dancer! (and alongside my BComm I did a technical diploma in dance, and taught dance for many years.) The pull to marketing happened organically. I grew up in the ’80s and 90’s when big brands where everything and all you wanted to do was dive in and either own one, be part of one or create one.
I was in awe of the power of brands like Nike, Michael Jordan, Apple etc I was immediately attracted to all aspects of brand building (which I learnt through an extremely forward-thinking art teacher in high school!).
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?
I’m a single mom of a 5-year-old so that job starts early!
Commuting to school first, followed by a commute to the office. In the car I make phone calls or send voice notes to my team. Once in the office, I hit the ground running as I work a compressed, Flexi hour day from 9-15:00. I answer emails for an hour then have tea. After which, either status meeting with the team or other meetings. My team runs marketing and communications for the brand Nationally and (as is usually the case) we are at present under-resourced and underfunded.
This means intense pressure and a lot of juggling. Following work I collect my son from after-care and its home for a quick round of email checks, helping with school projects, making dinner, packing lunches and squeezing in a workout before bedtime stories!
COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of 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 specifically, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?
Our team was already pretty well poised to work remotely so it was a matter of transitioning the few members who were not. Our organisation is one of the lucky ones considered an essential service so we have continued uninterrupted. It was extremely heart wrenching to see many of our clients experience tremendous difficulty in trying to keep their (often well established and family run) businesses afloat whilst desperately looking for ways to keep their thousands of employees salaried and cared for.
In that way, we had to pivot to a more compassionate, less “salesy” strategy. In addition, we undertook an internal morale-boosting campaign to counter the toll of isolation as well as the long hours our fellow Mazarians were faced with.
Remote work and video conferencing have become proverbial overnight celebrities. Some say that it has been long overdue whilst others are struggling to adjust this new normal. What is your take on this and how have you structured your work accordingly?
Coming from a freelance background, remote work and video conferencing was not a difficult adjustment for me to make. In addition, my boss allowed us to work from home a few days a month pre COVID. My current challenge is homeschooling at the same time as needing to work.
However, following return to school, I would be extremely happy to adjust to a work from home scenario three days per week, with two in office for back to back meetings. As a major Cal Newport / Deep Work methodology fan, I can attest that working from home enables me to be so much more productive. Just not while a 5-year-old is trying to climb the curtains and drown the cat!!
Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the Mazars South Africa story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?
I can reveal that the way we tell the Mazars story is about to change quite drastically, just can’t tell you how. You’ll have to wait till September!
As a mother, how has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the way you work?
As a single parent it has proven impossible to balance work and homeschooling.
I have had to embrace screens and ensure we have balance in other areas (exercise, learning, bonding) at other times. I have to work in short sprints and become hyper-efficient during those to get everything done. Furthermore, should organisations be cognisant of mothers? Yes 100%, without mothers there is no humanity so it is long overdue that more respect is given.
Is enough being done to cater to new parents, specifically mothers? It highly depends on the organization but, in general, I personally do not think the current system of work takes into account the tolls of parenting and child care, especially during the early years of newborn through toddler.
What have been some of Mazars South Africa biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
Mazars is currently the underdog of audit, tax and advisory firms and yet was ranked the 5th largest firm in Africa per IAB rankings in 2019. In addition, we have a very innovative leadership consisting of dual CEO’s – Michelle Olckers in Cape Town and Anoop Ninan in Johannesburg. This is unheard of in the audit, tax and advisory space.
What makes something innovative? How do you define innovation at Mazars South Africa?
Innovation is a mindset of continuous improvement and growth for the good of people and the planet alike. Mazars defines innovation very similarly in putting people and planet at the centre of any and all improvements to its offerings.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
How do you leverage data to inform your decision-making?
I personally feel that data has been the catalyst that has transformed the impression of marketing as a whole within audit tax and advisory firms and elevated it to an on par level of other service lines. Auditors think via numbers and ROI. Data delivers this. Happiness all around!
What do you see as some of the major trends in digital in the next 12 to 18 months?
COVID has accelerated the growing Insta-backlash against super poised and posed, polished and perfected images and video. It’s now trendy to look a hot mess and not care. I hope this will stick. Virtual everything (learning, events, webinars, meetings) is exploding and I think will evolve and deepen in ways we haven’t even thought about yet.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Pick only 3 priorities for the day. ONLY 3. Work in deep work sprints.
2020 AND BEYOND
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)
I read physical books and listen to Audiobooks. Currently reading: How to change your mind – the new science of psychedelics by Michael Pollan; 21 Lessons by Yuval Noah Hariri; Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Small is Beautiful by E.F Schumacher. I’m listening to The School of Life by Alain De Button.
A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry
Don’t fall into the trap of either being too strategic or too practical. Strategy matters but not at the expense of not understanding practical application. I’ve worked with many young marketing professionals that could talk an AdWords strategy all day long but when I asked them to implement it they couldn’t tell a keyword from a key-lime pie.
As a manager, I feel it enhances my ability to lead knowing what my team is practically having to do to get the job done. I can better manage expectations and ensure their job satisfaction.
What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?
My team is too small. Within the corporate environment one is always justifying spend. Don’t we all just want a large team and an unlimited budget?
Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?
Professionally, I would love to work within Mazars offices in the UK, Australia and or France (we have great secondment programs so it could be an option). Personally, I would love to travel some more (when we can), dying to see Japan and New Zealand!
What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Data commoditization and privacy, and how it’s managed as the world realizes just how un-anonymous we all are.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Perfectionism is a disease one can recover from. Don’t spend your life suffering from it.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
I am a demon with time management.