From Specialist to CEO, Shaping Reputation and Empowering Impactful Communications!
The definition of success varies from person to person and can be subjective. While some define success as a high-paying job with a prestigious title, others measure it by its impact on the world or personal happiness. With several paths to success, finding the right one can be overwhelming. Some choose to follow traditional routes, while others create their own unique path.
Karena Crerar’s remarkable rise to success is a testament to the power of following an unconventional path. Unbeknownst to her, she possessed the qualities of a natural leader despite not initially aspiring to become a Chief Executive Officer as she delved deeper into the business aspects of her work and discovered a passion that propelled her towards unexpected heights.
Breaking the mold of traditional career trajectories, Karena’s journey was filled with surprises and pivotal choices. When choosing what to study, Karena faced a crucial decision between two compelling career paths: teaching and journalism. Ultimately, Karena decided to pursue a degree in Business Administration, specializing in Marketing Management. This turned out to be the ideal qualification for her current role and it has laid the foundation for her success as a leader in business.
However, Karena’s ascent was not without its fair share of challenges. She openly acknowledges the challenge of gender bias and the presence of imposter syndrome – obstacles regularly faced by senior-level females in the workforce. Yet, through determination and resilience, Karena has learned to navigate these hurdles, find her voice, and maintain unwavering confidence in her abilities.
Karena’s journey to CEO serves as an inspiration to those who discover their leadership talents and strengths as they move up the ranks. Her story highlights the importance of embracing unexpected opportunities, discovering hidden talents, and remaining true to oneself. As the CEO of Edelman Africa, Karena has not only shattered glass ceilings but also redefined the notion of leadership, proving that success can be achieved through diverse and unconventional paths.
Let us delve deeper into the marvelous journey of Karena Crerar!
The Inspiring Journey
Karena initially considered herself to be a specialist in her industry but as she started leading teams, she found she really enjoyed the commercial and leadership aspect of her work. Karena discovered a passion for running a business and leading and mentoring staff. Interestingly, despite being in agency most of her career, Karena’s first interaction with Edelman was as a client, and she was so impressed by their work and level of support that, when an opportunity arose to join Edelman to head up their Advisory Practice, she eagerly accepted the opportunity. Karena was promoted to Managing Director of Edelman South Africa in 2021 and then later to CEO of Edelman Africa in 2022.
Conquering Career Obstacles
In addition to the typical challenges that women in leadership face, the other challenge Karena has observed is having the courage to take ethical decisions regardless of the consequences to the bottom line. “Sometimes making the decision to do what is right doesn’t always benefit the bottom line and I’m ok with that”, says Karena. Choosing the ethical path is also important to Edelman, which is known for its research into and application of Trust. The agency prides itself on using ethics and trust to guide all their decision-making.
Power of Reputation Management
As someone who has had the privilege of working on some exceptional clients’ reputation management programs, Karena understands the importance of trust in building successful programs. While she cannot disclose specific details about her clients, she can say that trust is always at the core of their programs. Her clients recognize that trusted companies enjoy more loyal customers, more engaged employees, and better overall performance, as evidenced by insights gleaned from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer. Karena and her team work with their clients to transform these insights into trust-building programs with stakeholders, and they have been successful in measuring the impact of these programs on engagement and ROI.
Ensuring Tailored Solutions
Having been on the client side herself, Karena possesses a deep comprehension of clients’ internal challenges, demands, and concerns, which facilitates collaboration. Additionally, knowing the industry they operate in proves advantageous. Understanding the industry landscape and how it affects clients and stakeholders is crucial in guiding communication efforts. Above all, Karena ensures that her team has consistently sound levels of understanding of the industry in which their clients’ operate and that they offer them the same high standards of support and advice regardless of the client’s sector. Edelman’s approach entails thorough research, insightful analysis, and top-notch quality, responsiveness, and partnership.
Key Skills for Success
Problem-solving: Always ask the proper questions, and if you’re not sure you understand the response, ask it again. You’ll need to interpret this in order to address your clients’ problems.
Strategic thinking: Consider both the broad view and the small picture. If you are too preoccupied with the horizon, you may miss the crucial, smaller details.
Understand audiences and people’s behavior: If you don’t know who you’re talking to, they won’t hear you.
Agility: Always think on your feet and be ready to pivot to respond to market and client needs.
Always operate from a position of sound ethics: If you always focus on doing the right thing, you can’t go wrong.
Surviving the Storm
As per Karena’s advice, it’s imperative for clients to have a risk and crisis management plan in place. It’s crucial to safeguard one’s reputation both offline and online, as any unforeseen event can catch them off guard and affect their response time. It’s recommended to keep a constant check on media coverage and use other listening tools to monitor whether the reputation is building positively or negatively. If a crisis arises, it’s important to activate the plans with transparency and accountability and, ideally, have a leadership team tackle the situation. Bringing in experts early can help prepare and manage the situation better. Edelman’s global presence, with 65 offices worldwide, is a significant advantage as it can provide round-the-clock support to clients irrespective of their operating market.
Mastering Industry Trends
Staying updated with the happenings in the industry can be a challenge, but Karena puts in the effort to do so. She subscribes to several publications that provide general news and updates related to the industry. Networking is another crucial aspect, and Karena understands the significance of building relationships with partners across Africa and the Edelman network. This helps in sharing best practices, trends, and insights. Being a member of PRCA and APRA further enables Karena to connect with industry peers regularly, and together they address the emerging trends and challenges in the industry.
A Success Story
Karena has achieved many accomplishments in her career, some of which may be unexpected. She takes as much pride in accomplishing a key priority for a client’s business as she does in bringing a full-fledged campaign to life in the market. One example of this is Edelman South Africa’s successful social media campaign with KFC in 2019. Karena was particularly proud of the team’s efforts, as they identified an opportunity to participate in a social event and generated so much buzz around it that other companies joined in on the action. Additionally, Karena feels fulfilled working with clients who are invested in the growth and prosperity of Africa. As part of Edelman Africa, it is a shared goal to work with clients who are either innovating on the continent or using their size and influence to identify investment and growth opportunities that will have a sustainable social impact.
Essential Qualities Leader Must Possess
Karena says, as a leader, the road you tread is never an easy one. Being a good leader is even more challenging. Imagine taking up a new role amidst the COVID pandemic and having to lead with empathy. The world is constantly changing, and as a leader, you not only have to steer your business, but you also have to be mindful of the impact the environment has on people. It’s empowering to let your teams take the reins of their growth and development while knowing they can lean on you for guidance. A shared vision that unites and excites the team is crucial. You must always be innovating, surprising, and delighting the team to keep them motivated and energized. Work should be a place where you realize your purpose and connect with things that give you energy. The world is tough enough; let work be a source of motivation and inspiration.
Expert Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs
Karena advises that in the world of communications and public relations, professionals often underestimate their skills and advice to clients. This may stem from feeling like a lesser priority compared to their big-budget counterparts in advertising. However, this mindset is no longer sustainable. It is crucial to offer guidance and counsel on how companies and brands can establish trust with their stakeholders, as well as to uphold the responsibility of providing accurate and clear information. In the realm of communications, there is nothing more vital than these aspects. It is essential to differentiate yourself from others in the field and to always maintain your ethical standards without compromise.
Below are some of the awards that Edelman Africa has won in recent years:
2021 SABRE Africa Awards:
Winner: Cause-Related Marketing
Brut Elevator Pitch — Unilever with Edelman Africa
Winner: Travel & Leisure
Rebuilding stakeholders’ Trust in Kenya Airways — Kenya Airways with Edelman Africa
2022 SABRE Africa Awards:
Winner: Corporate Social Responsibility
Mastercard: Vaccine Equity in Africa – Saving Lives and Livelihoods — Mastercard Foundation with Edelman Africa
Winner: Social Media
Javett-UP — Javett-UP with Edelman Africa
Winner: Fashion & Beauty
LUX – #IStandWithCaster — Unilever – LUX with Edelman Africa
2023 SABRE Africa Awards:
Winner: Marketing to Consumers (New Product)
Qashqai Launch for Nissan — Nissan with Edelman Africa – South Africa
Winner: Public Sector / Government
Kenya Airways with Edelman Africa