marketing expert series


Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, many companies have struggled to adapt to the changing circumstances. Digital transformation has often been a forced effort, born out of necessity rather than a driving desire. Some industries took the opportunity to take hold of their own futures and address the challenges head-on.

One of the digital marketers who drove through digital transformation early on, is Rena Tan, Regional Head of Marketing and Communications for Randstad Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China. The world of recruitment and human resources has been impacted by COVID-19, requiring adaptation to new working practices and flexibilities, as well as the strain companies have had to deal with in light of hiring freezes and dips in revenue. 

Join us for this remarkable issue of the Marketing Expert Series with Rena Tan as she takes us through her personal journey and professional digital transformation.  

Hi, Rena, thank you for taking part in the Marketing Expert Series! Let’s start with some background, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to where you are now? 

I like to think I’ve always had a creative side. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to write, doodle and draw, create poetry, and was a voracious reader. In fact, my dream is to publish my own book one day. 

I was interning at MTV Asia back in my poly days, and was offered a full-time position on the very day I completed my final exams (yes – they liked me that much!). Pursuing my creative dreams, I went on to become a TV and radio producer at MTV, and later moved to the licensing and merchandising division where I helped launch various consumer products under the MTV and Nickelodeon brands. That stint truly honed my skills in marketing, branding, and communications. 

Subsequently, I was drawn to the bigger idea of marketing my home country. I took on a marketing role in the Singapore Tourism Board and was working on major projects such as the Singapore Fashion Festival, Singapore JewelFest and the MTV Asia Awards. My job took me on a study trip to Disneyland in California where my mission was to research theme parks and their accompanying amenities to build a business case for having big-brand theme parks in Singapore (and this was before Universal Studios came to town!)

Afterwards, I was offered a Head of Marketing role in a recruitment company. Now, including my current role at Randstad, I have been in the recruitment industry for 15 years.

Was there something that drew you to this line of work? Were there any specific experiences that attracted you to it?

The recruitment industry is where I felt I’ve finally found my groove as a marketer. The role allows me to express my creative flair while giving me exposure to all types of people, companies, and industries. 

When I first joined the industry 15 years ago, recruitment marketing was not as prominent. In fact, it was pretty traditional. Companies typically ran newspaper ads, participated in career fairs, and posted advertisements on job boards to attract job seekers.

Over the years, the industry has been constantly changing and disrupted – yet it remained resilient and agile. Since the recruitment industry is constantly evolving, it is extremely challenging and exciting to be working in marketing. You are always running on adrenaline, and forever looking 10 steps ahead to see how you can stay competitive and relevant. The industry, although traditional, has also gradually opened up to new and emerging technologies, especially over the last five years. 

Randstad in particular, was on a digital transformation journey when I joined the company, which gave me a blank canvas to pilot new marketing technologies and ideas. We are also very open to experimenting and although not all initiatives are successful, our leadership believes that failing is also about knowing what works and what doesn’t. This level of trust is really empowering for me, especially in Asia where failure is often frowned upon. The experience is exhilarating, to say the least, because having that autonomy to try new things has opened up so many new opportunities not just for the company, but also for myself and my team. I feel like I am learning something new every day.

Currently, you are the Regional Head of Marketing and Communications for Randstad Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China. Can you tell us more about what Randstad does and how you fit in?

Randstad is a global leader in the HR services industry, and our mission is to support people and organisations in realising their true potential. We help connect companies with the best permanent and contracting talent in accounting & finance, banking & financial services, corporate & secretarial support, engineering, human resources, legal, life science, technology, sales, marketing & communications, and supply chain & procurement. Our ultimate goal is to touch the work lives of 500 million people worldwide by 2030.

As the Head of Marketing for Randstad Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China, I’m responsible for the evaluation and implementation of Marketing and HR technology, with a particular focus on regional digital transformation projects for the business. I work with both internal and external stakeholders and partners to develop, trial and roll out initiatives involving marketing automation, demand generation, artificial intelligence, big data, predictive marketing analytics, social selling, design thinking, employer branding, talent communities and customer experience (CX).

I also oversee a dynamic team of 13 marketing and CX staff across Singapore, Malaysia and Greater China – and they look after strategic marketing, communications and branding campaigns, public relations and customer experience management.

I understand you cover Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China – that’s a broad area indeed, what sort of challenges do you face dealing with such a large region?

The key challenge, I think, is understanding the cultural nuances and socio-political landscapes in each country. As much as you would like to bring some level of consistency and scale for certain marketing initiatives across the region, it might not be possible as there are different rules and regulations governing each market. I personally have to download a number of different apps so that I can communicate more effectively with my team members in the local market.

You need to navigate the local markets with a high level of sensitivity and be acutely aware of the lines you can or cannot cross. This is on top of the cultural and language differences you need to be mindful of when interacting with people from different markets – which I feel requires a strong sense of diplomacy, humility, EQ, and the ability to switch your state of mind quickly from one to another whenever you are interacting with people from the different markets. There is always something new to learn from local colleagues so you will continue to gain new knowledge, insights, and perspectives.

Are there any advantages to dealing with a region that large?

I love learning new things and having a large remit across multiple countries feeds my insatiable curiosity – where I am constantly exposed to new things, industries, organisations, cultures, people and ideas. I’ve learned to work with different types of people, gained stronger problem-solving skills through managing various difficult situations and conflicts, developed better cross-cultural communication skills as well as significantly enhanced my local market knowledge beyond Singapore’s shores. I get the opportunity to improve my Mandarin too when I interact with my stakeholders and teams in China. I would also say this experience has vastly expanded my horizon and perspectives, and made me a more consultative, strategic, and well-informed business partner and leader.

You have a bit of experience in the marketing sector in Asia; before Randstad you worked with Robert Walters.  Have you noticed any changing trends and marketing strategy changes in the region over the last decade or so?

I recently published a trends report on the new skill sets a future marketer would need in the next normal. Future marketers are responsible for championing data-led innovation within the organisation to drive business or better customer experience. They leverage technology and emerging trends in marketing to enhance the end-to-end customer journey. Marketers are not only increasingly looked upon as sales enablers, but also act as strategic business partners and drivers of change. 

We are also shifting to deploy more digital strategies not just as a response to the pandemic, but also to better engage the new generation of digitally-savvy consumers. This explains why there is also a stronger focus on areas such as social selling, social listening, marketing analytics, SEO, online reputation management, storytelling, hyper-personalisation, gamification, voice search and customer experience (just to name a few!). 

I am hopeful that as more companies go through their digital transformation journey, the marketing function will be regarded as a growth driver. The future marketer will be expected to harness the power of data, automation, customer insights, machine learning and artificial intelligence to better attract, retain and engage their organisation’s customers. 

Given the work you are involved in with Randstad, I imagine that COVID-19 has had a big impact. Have your marketing and communications strategies had to change because of the pandemic?

At the onset of COVID-19, I convinced my team that we had to pivot, and pivot early. Globalisation and technology have created a borderless world, and we could never be truly immune to whatever is happening in other parts of the world. If we had waited till the virus became a pandemic, we would not have been able to reap the success we did. We literally threw our 2020 marketing and content plans out the window and started fresh – creating a series of employer guides, market research on hiring appetite and employees’ expectations, employment outlooks, as well as a whole suite of business technology tools and COVID-19 related resources to help organisations navigate the complexities of operating in the midst of a pandemic. Subsequently, we continued to produce content to help organisations engage and manage the well-being of their staff and provide information they need to accelerate business recovery in the new normal.

We have definitely learned to be more agile in these unusual and uncertain times, and constantly try to anticipate what challenges lie ahead and how we can add more value to our recruiters, clients, and candidates.

As a result, we saw phenomenal growth in terms of web traffic and social media engagement levels, and continue to generate a high number of quality leads despite a really difficult year where we saw many businesses come to a halt.

How lasting do you think the impact of the pandemic will be to marketing – and indeed to Randstad – in the coming years?

I think the pandemic has made a permanent positive impact on marketing and hopefully, the way businesses now view the value of marketing. 

In this new world, organisations need to learn how to better engage their talent and customers in a virtual environment, and design new digital processes to attract, engage and retain them. Company leaders are increasingly looking to their marketing teams to help build and amplify their brands online; drive constant sales through new e-commerce models; explore new channels and partners; leverage data to predict customers’ propensity to buy or leave, as well as automate time-consuming and manual processes to drive greater efficiencies. 

We have definitely experienced this in Randstad, and this trend will only grow as more and more business leaders stepped up their organisation’s digital transformation efforts to stay relevant and as a business sustainability and growth strategy. At Randstad we are already experimenting with ML/AI and blockchain and building our own tech platforms and apps through our global Digital Factory so that we can be future-ready.

What about for you, personally, when this pandemic is over, what’s next for you?

As a marketing leader, I feel we have an obligation to stay ahead of the curve. We need to constantly find ways to disrupt our own industry because others will do it for us if we don’t. 

Hence, I will be expecting my team and I to remain open-minded and agile in our marketing approach, embrace the fact that the market will remain unpredictable and be prepared for change as it will be a constant, whether we like it or not. I will be looking out for new ways in which marketing can evolve further – for example, explore non-traditional marketing channels, tools and partnerships; adopt a data-driven mindset; and continue to benchmark our work with the best in other industries and countries. 

I also hope my team continues to receive the recognition for the amazing work they are doing everyday, not just from me but also the business. They are the real masters in their craft and they deserve all the credit for the successes we see in Randstad across the region today.

Most importantly, I would need to strive to achieve a better balance between work, family, and personal life. My boss told me in a recent performance review that he has no negative feedback for me at all but if he has to pick one, it would be that I’d need to maintain a better work-life balance as I tend to be an incorrigible workaholic, and the pandemic has kind of amplified that trait. I recognise that is not a healthy example for myself, my family nor my team, and this is something I am working on. For instance, I have tried to not check my emails or work during the weekends, and take time out to do things I really enjoy like drawing and gaming together with my family.

Now, I just want to touch on something you mentioned during our correspondence ahead of this feature interview: you’re a working mother with two children, a gamer in a previous life, and I understand that you like to draw in your spare time to destress? Could you tell us a little about that? How did you start and where can we see your work?

As mentioned, I have always had a creative streak and loved drawing and doodling since I was young. However, I never had the chance to pursue my passion for art further because you know, real life gets in the way. I picked it back up again in recent years because my daughter, who like me, has developed a real passion for art. Hence I used drawing as a reason for us to bond and spend time together. Recently we even went for a manga drawing workshop together – and we loved it!

You can check out my humble works on Instagram @sheerdoodles.

I also used to be quite an avid gamer before I got married – and at one time I was really into the MMORPG game World of Warcraft. I was literally “going on dates” with my husband (then boyfriend) – questing and raiding in the virtual gaming world every weekend. I stopped playing when I became a mom (time is such a luxury I don’t have!) and got back into playing casually only recently due to the lockdown. 

Any advice you’d give to aspiring or upcoming marketers? 

For a start, I would perhaps encourage aspiring marketers to keep pace with the trends not just within the marketing function, but also the industry that you work in. Understand your skills gaps in the next normal and take initiative to find out how you can upskill to close that gap. It’s also important to take an outside-in approach and network with your peers to find out where they are at and how they got there. It could help you map your career path. 

However, when I am looking to hire, I tend to look out for talent with a good set of soft skills. I am a strong believer that technical skills can always be taught, but soft skills – or essential personality traits as some might call them – have to be developed. For many people, you either have it or you don’t.

Examples of soft skills that many CMOs like myself look for in marketers would include having a high level of emotional quotient, adaptability, drive, an open and positive mindset, as well as strong work ethics and commercial acumen. Marketers are also increasingly expected to be a collaborative team player, great communicator and champion for change.

Some key advice for aspiring or upcoming marketers:

  • Continuous learning is key. Cultivate an insatiable appetite for knowledge and understanding in the disciplines or areas that are beyond your current role. Learn from the best outside of your function or industry to gain a new perspective on your work.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. You won’t know if an idea will be a success unless you move it to reality. Be prepared to fail and try again.
  • Always strive to add value and position yourself as a business partner. If you act like an order taker, you will be treated as one. Integrate yourself into the heart of the business and identify challenges/issues you can solve as a marketer.

Thank you, Rena, for sharing your experiences with us. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?

LinkedIn would be the best place as everything you want to know about me is right on my profile page:

If you’re wondering, sheerlock is my avatar’s name in World of Warcraft when I was playing a warlock. 🙂

The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

If you are interested in building your own company’s digital advertising, get in touch with us today, and find out how you can optimize your digital marketing strategies.

A lot of digital marketers seem to find their way into their specialties because of some discovered passion for the field, either early on in their education or later in their careers. As we’ve seen throughout the Marketing Expert Series so far, digital marketers come in all shapes, sizes, and many different backgrounds. It takes all kinds of experiences and approaches to make a difference in the world of digital these days, and it’s that variety and passion for innovation that makes digital marketers such fascinating individuals.

To emphasize that very point and joining us for this week’s issue of the Marketing Expert Series, is Shun Di Lim, Content Manager for Hewlett Packard Asia Pacific. Join us as Shun Di talks about how her digital marketer’s journey came when someone took a leap of faith, and take a peek into the world of digital marketing for a high-flying brand like HP.

Hi, Shun Di! I’m very excited to have you join us for this issue of the Marketing Expert Series! Thank you! Let’s get warmed up. Can you tell us a bit about who you are and how you got to where you are now? 

Having been an avid gamer since young, an IT degree was a natural choice for me to pursue; I was fantasizing about a career in the gaming industry! In my final semester at Monash University, I met my first boss, Datuk Tim Garland, Director of TBWA Malaysia. Datuk Tim was on the judging panel for a business case presentation competition in which I took second place. That’s when I took a leap of faith into the world of advertising and marketing for the next 5 years. 

Currently, I am with Hewlett Packard (HP) as a Content Manager, Asia Pacific based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

You’ve been in and around the world of digital for many years – really since the start of your career. What drew you to this line of work? 

I was extremely fortunate to have a boss who took a chance on me. He believed in me and gave me freedom and opportunity to pitch ideas. He let me dabble in digital marketing on my own, strategising, branding, and analytics for various clients. To upskill my knowledge, I completed Facebook and Google certifications. 

After three and a half years with TBWA, I was head-hunted to join other agencies, where I was presented with opportunities to gain an understanding of a holistic approach to digital marketing, adding performance marketing to my portfolio. 

Clearly, you have a passion for digital – marketing, websites, performance, advertising – you have experienced the full scope of what the digital world has to offer. Is there any facet you are more passionate about over others?

This is a hard question to answer! Can I say all of them? 

Having experienced multiple facets of digital marketing, I am able to understand the intricacies and insights that connect one facet to another, resulting in a more polished outcome.

With the ever changing and evolving world of technology and social media, one has to be constantly kept abreast of the latest, especially with performance marketing and SEO, to get the best bang-for-buck or pivot to ensure impactful campaigns.

Currently, you are the Content Manager, Asia Pacific at HP. What is it like to manage content for such a widely recognized brand?

I joined HP at a very exciting time, growing our online store – HP Store – and establishing our brand throughout Asia. My role is to develop content strategies with a team of designers, writers, and developers, aimed at creating user-friendly gateways to our online stores. 

I really enjoy the process of analysing competitor positioning and laying out content on a landing page to increase traffic and average time on site. The most satisfying part is when all our hard work is rewarded through conversions for the store. 

I like the challenge in producing positive results for an already recognised brand, and strategising for multiple customer segments.

You landed this role at HP in 2020, when COVID-19 interfered with many lives and companies. What is it like, to enter a brand new job during a pandemic? 

I was enjoying my stint as a Digital Marketing and Performance Manager with a Muslim travel and tours agency for a year when COVID-19 hit and I lost my job. 

Fortunately, digital marketing is even more relevant during the pandemic and I am  grateful to have landed a job with HP in a short span of time. Like a duck to water, I quickly eased into the Content Manager role and am currently enjoying both job satisfaction and the great company culture. 

Do you have any suggestions or advice for other job seekers who might be having a hard time finding employment during these uncertain times?

Stay hungry and curious. Every interview is an opportunity to learn how to sell yourself, your experience to a prospective employer. Upskill yourself and get certified. Learn something outside your job scope, outside your comfort zone.

Lastly, always remember: When one door closes, another opens. 

Has COVID-19 impacted your work and the strategies you’ve had to use to overcome the challenges?

The nature of my work with a global computer organisation and its ePlatform had no negative impact. The team is constantly in touch via Teams, Zoom, and email. Working from home is a plus, no need to wake up early and rush through heavy traffic to and from work.

Are there any digital trends that have come out during the pandemic that you think we need to think about for the future?

Companies could get used to the idea of a remote workforce, especially those with a digital-centric business model. Good thing Zoom existed well before the pandemic, hence working from home and communication was made almost seamless. 

What about when, finally, this pandemic is over  – any big plans for you?

Travel, travel, and travel! I can’t wait to embrace the wanderlust and explore different countries and cultures. Also, to reconnect with friends socially in person.

Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring marketers or entrepreneurs? 

Advertising is a great place to build your experience but brace yourselves, working hours could be long and the work is hard. 

Always follow your heart. If you have a passion, make that your career then your job won’t feel like just a job. 

Thanks for taking part in this Series, Shun Di, and for sharing your experiences with us! How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?

Hit me up at LinkedIn or by email!

The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

If you are interested in building your own company’s digital advertising, get in touch with us today, and find out how you can optimize your digital marketing strategies.

 Happy 2021! Welcome to this year’s first issue of the Marketing Expert Series. This week we take a step back from the world of corporate marketing and branding and take an insightful stroll through the world of marketing academia. This week we talk to Dr. Mansur Khamitov, who, up until the end of 2020, was Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Nanyang Business School (NTU), and has now joined the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. A prolific thought leader and influencer, Dr. Mansur’s work has been featured in Forbes, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, and many other publications.

Like all things, marketing has many facets both positive and negative. When we look at the world of business, we sometimes forget that there is a dark side to it all. Ethical marketing and branding is the focal point of much of Dr. Mansur’s work, shedding light on the darker underbelly of marketing practices. The global COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably impacted these practices as well. Join us as we dip into the world of marketing academia with one of the world’s leading experts and explore the experiences and motivations behind Dr. Mansur’s life and work.

Welcome, Dr. Mansur, and thank you for joining us in our Marketing Expert Series. To get the ball rolling, can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get to where you are now? 

Thank you for thinking of me and for your kind invite. Sure, I’d be happy to tell you more. In a nutshell, I’m inherently a marketing guy. I view myself as a thought leader in the domains of marketing in general and branding in particular. 

I started out in the industry before transitioning full-time to academia back in 2013. While my passion has always been in the practice of marketing, I came to realize back that the corporate world – while incredibly stimulating – was not something that I wanted to do long-term, which led me to pursue my PhD. 

Aside from my career, I’m an avid sports fan, traveler, poet, book lover, and musical enthusiast.

You’ve lived, studied, and worked in different countries across the world – Kazakhstan, Canada, Singapore. What’s it like to study and work in those locations with differing cultures? 

The cross-country and cross-cultural perspectives are definitely the ones I cherish. Those experiences have been truly invaluable. It’s always a little bit of a steep learning curve and it takes time to adjust and fit in, but once you figure it out and find a way to navigate your cultural surroundings, you actually start to see and enjoy its beauty. Ultimately, these diverse cultural experiences contribute to your self-concept and form a big part of who you are, enabling you to embrace the cosmopolitan identity of a truly global citizen.

You also spent several years in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry working for some very well known names like Procter & Gamble and Polpharma. How did those experiences influence your path as a researcher and academic?

A lot of the stuff I do presently has been shaped and inspired by my past industry experiences in branding and marketing management at P&G and Polpharma. Even my original interest to pursue a marketing PhD has been driven by my passion for branding, and this intrinsic interest in brands and branding has stayed with me ever since. I take pride in grounding my academic research in real-world, cutting-edge marketing problems. Not to sound critical but a lot of my fellow academics have a tendency to sit in their ivory towers, work on very abstract theoretical problems, teach decades-old outdated insights, and completely lose touch with what’s happening in the industry. This is not my path and as a business school professor I would very much want to avoid it and instead strongly prefer to keep my finger on the pulse of latest industry developments and trends.   

Unlike other interviewees of this Series, you’re now a professor, with research focuses like ethical branding and brand transgressions. Why this particular focus? What was it that first drew you to these areas of research? 

A lot of my early research has focused on what I call the positive or “light” side of branding including consumer-brand relationships and brand loyalty. While these phenomena are quite common and prevalent, we’re seeing a huge increase of widely publicized cases of brand transgressions, corporate misconduct, and firm wrongdoings as of late. I’m finding myself increasingly fascinated with this “dark” side of branding and its ethical (or rather unethical) implications. The two key reasons that drew me to this area of research are:

  1. The sheer prevalence and magnitude of such high-profile brand transgressions (think Luckin Coffee misconduct, HSBC money laundering controversy, Foxconn scandal, etc.) 
  2. Comparative lack of research on the dark side of branding compared to the positive or light side of branding.   

Has your research been influenced at all by the different places you’ve lived and worked over the years?

It sure has. As a case in point, I’m currently working on a research project where I and my co-authors compare the relative effectiveness of different brand relationship strategies (e.g., brand love, attachment, identification, trust, etc.) across different countries and geographical regions, including the ones where I myself got a chance to live. 

Another recent example comes from a consulting, advisory, and thought leadership engagement I had with Eastspring Investments (part of Prudential Group) and Duxton Consulting Group. As part of that large-scale project, we surveyed thousands of Singaporean consumers as well as consumers from other parts of Asia which I’m quite familiar with.    

Ethical marketing practices are a big part of the modern landscape. Do you think the 2020 pandemic is going to change that landscape, or impact the importance of these practices?

If anything, my prediction is that we will be seeing an increase in the importance and significance of ethical branding and marketing practices, doing the right thing, and brand purpose for that matter. Decades of research on the topic clearly indicates a substantial financial, reputational, and loyalty upside for brands and companies that have embraced ethical marketing practices as part of their DNA. 

In the current tough landscape where people are particularly sensitive to value-based violations, performance-based violations, safety and security crises and failures as well as other types of corporate breaches of trust, brand teams that are able to pull it off are likely to be disproportionately rewarded. Having said that, any such efforts have to come across as authentic, genuine, and credible. It’s all about actually walking the talk as opposed to simply jumping on the bandwagon.      

Do you see your own work changing due to the impact of COVID-19?

As business school professors, we’ve been truly fortunate and privileged in many different respects both in the pre-pandemic period and the current pandemic period. Having said that, like many of my colleagues, I had to make a number of adjustments to my regular routines. These range from switching many of my undergraduate and graduate classes entirely online in an extremely short period of time, changing my data collection methods from in-person to remote, to no longer interacting with my co-authors and colleagues in person for an extended period of time. Research-wise, I’m seeing a number of my branding projects naturally evolving to have more of a prosocial, societal, and well-being angle to them.  

What about for you, personally, when this pandemic is past, what would you like to do next?

I’m very much looking forward to this pandemic being finally over, sooner rather than later. I am starting a bunch of new and exciting projects including, but not limited to studying the dark and negative side of brand personality and corporate arrogance on one end and the upside of brand trust and perceived competence on the other end. I can’t wait to fully dive deep and make more progress on these projects in the coming months. Personally, I’m very eager to resume travelling and get a chance to visit my and my wife’s parents and friends which has been long overdue.   

Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring marketers or communication students? 

Be agile. Be daring and brave but don’t cut corners. Develop a habit of regularly stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something new and useful. Engage in continuous learning and personal and professional development whether via your mentors, peers, thought leaders or via free cool platforms like Coursera or edX. 

Thank you, Dr. Mansur, for sharing. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?

I’m typically very open to any collaboration and cooperation opportunities and prospects. Hence, I’d love to keep in touch with all fellow marketing enthusiasts. The easiest and most straightforward way to connect and keep in touch is either on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Alternatively, I do have my personal webpage, which contains more information about my background, interests, and projects.

Thank you, hang in there, and please stay well & safe! 

The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

If you are interested in building your own company’s marketing presence, get in touch with us today, and find out how you can optimize your digital marketing strategies.

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” When Anthony J. D’Angelo said these words, he impacted many individuals and industries alike – especially those in the marketing and communications sector.  Creativity, passion, and learning all go hand in hand with a marketer’s ability to deliver relevant and insightful information to our readers. The way in which marketers harness creativity leads directly to some of the massive innovations that they are able to put to use. 

From the cradle to a whirlwind of a life that traverses the world, Marta Grutka has never let go of her passion for learning, a passion that has allowed her to empower the marketing industry for more nearly two decades. With experiences spanning AOL, Hollywood, corporates, and personal businesses,  Marta’s expertise ranges from setting up company communication departments from scratch to stepping into full leadership roles. She has advised corporations, mentored individuals, and now she shares her story with us. Join us now in the second issue of our Marketing Expert Series, and be inspired by Marta’s passion, and her drive to share that enthusiasm with the world.

Hello, Marta, and thank you for joining us in our Marketing Expert Series. You’ve done so many amazing things in your life, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to where you are now? 

Thank you for the kind words, I feel very blessed to have lived such an adventurous life and often ask myself that exact question: How DID I get to where I am now? It’s been a bit of a windy path that has taken me all around the world, and admittedly not all of it has been “by design,” as I have tended to follow my heart more than a “step-by-step” plan. 

I’ve moved cities, countries and continents in six weeks or less eight times now: three times primarily for love, and the rest primarily for work. I’ve been a “career learner” more than a “career ladder climber,” so many of my decisions have been based on the opportunity I saw to stretch and enjoy myself while making a meaningful contribution. I’ve also started three companies/side businesses since 2002, again, based on the opportunity I saw in the market and my confidence that I could deliver something better. 

At the moment, I am working to make some quantum leaps and am committed to being more intentional with the career and life choices I make next. Hopefully the rest of the interview will give you a bit more insight into the types of experiences I’ve had, and that they will inspire! 

What was it that first drew you to this work? Was it something you were always going to do?

My father used to talk about me “reading my linen book” when I was in my crib as a baby – he swore I could understand what I was looking at. Whether he was right or not, storytelling was a big part of my foundation. I grew up doing musical theatre and playing violin, and was drawn to foreign languages, studying French and German in both high school and college. When I was young I journaled a lot, did public speaking and improv and was the Editor-in-Chief of my high school yearbook. So I guess it was a theme throughout my life, though I never thought of working in communications or marketing per se. As it turned out, it’s been the perfect path to bring my love of learning, languages and travel together with some of my natural gifts.  

When we look at your website and your CV there’s a list of some serious achievements, for example, you describe yourself as ‘one of the original digital storytellers at AOL’, what was that like?

It was one of the most incredible work experiences I have ever had, actually, and is a good example of the types of career journeys that the best companies can take people on to retain them. It was the late 90’s and America Online (AOL) was leading the way in terms of bringing the Internet to the U.S. My second day on the job, we celebrated reaching five million members nationwide – a very exciting moment! 

Back then we were mailing floppy disks to people’s homes so they could load AOL software onto their computers. Email, instant messaging, and participating in online communities were brand new concepts to most people, and a big part of the jobs I had over six years at AOL was to educate the general public about the possibilities getting online could bring to their lives. 

I started in the AOL Greenhouse, which operated like a VC firm for entrepreneurs who had great ideas for online businesses that they wanted to bring to market. If we liked the concept and felt it had legs, we invested some seed funding and gave them a full launch team providing tech development, content/creative services, and PR and marketing support. I was an account executive driving the teams to pull everything together, and also did quite a bit of execution on every front – it was a great way to learn what it takes to create a successful digital brand from start to finish!

Six months later, I moved to the International Channel, one of the content areas on AOL targeting a US-based audience interested in global affairs – a dream come true for me at the time because I’d just finished my Masters in International Relations in Belgium and loved the idea of being able to bring people from all around the world together in an instant! 

In this role, I was the head of content strategy and programming and led a team of 300 remote staff/volunteers who received free AOL accounts and other perks in exchange for creating or curating and cross-linking to the “best of the Web” and helping me to come up with fresh topics and fun ways to engage people. We developed very niche communities – like Tagalog chat rooms or Royal Family fan clubs – with regularly scheduled activities and special events – it was very dynamic and incredibly creative work. 

In that position, I was also responsible for business development and built an advertising model that today people are calling “programmatic.” Back then, it was just common sense: sell a banner ad to the BBC or Financial Times on our global news page, for example – but the intention was a bit different than it is today. Today, it’s about “getting eyeballs.” But then, the intention was about making it easy for people to find the very best quality content available anywhere. 

It was well before Google, so the AOL pages were a gateway to the content that was out there, and we had strict editorial standards about what we promoted and exposed people to. Before leaving this role and moving to the new product marketing team, I helped to support the launch of AOL into the UK, Australia, and, finally, Hong Kong during the handover from British rule – it’s incredible to see the state of things in Hong Kong today as I remember this! 

My last role as comms director in the new product marketing group involved even more complex education and engagement, as we were talking about things that were very futuristic at the time. I traveled the world attending trade shows promoting our “AOL Anywhere” strategy and vision of a world where “You can watch a movie on your phone.” You could literally see people’s eyes glaze over – they simply couldn’t comprehend what we were talking about – so we did a lot of work with early adopters and REAL influencers and media who were not paid, but received early demos and tester samples of the AOL service on some of the first mobile phones, internet appliances, and interactive televisions, and in exchange they could help write or talk about the experience. 

By this time, the inherent issues associated with the Internet started to emerge, too, and so my job became as much about customer service and crisis comms as it was about generating positive consumer press. Before I left, AOL was big enough to buy Time Warner – it was the largest corporate merger in history and a case study of what happens when such an integration is done too quickly and the culture clash is mismanaged. 

The work I did at AOL set me up for my next role in Hollywood, and that role brought me to Asia.  

You’ve also worked with a lot of other brands during your career, like Disney, Alibaba, Danone, and the NBN project in Australia. What do you find most rewarding about working for brands or projects like these?

The people. 

The other day a friend and former colleague and I were lamenting the fact that it’s been very hard to find a place with as many creative, fun, smart and generally talented people as the group we worked with at AOL. You can find a few here and there but it’s not the norm as much anymore to see entire companies with exceptional talent from the top to bottom and across the organization. 

I like to have fun while getting things done and to learn from the people I am working with. In that way, I’ve been lucky to work with some great individuals at every brand, and almost every one of them has been on the leading edge of their respective industry or issue. The most progressive people and companies have always been purpose-led, too, which is what makes the work truly rewarding. 

At the moment you’re not in a full-time position, instead you’re consulting and helping other companies all over the world from the comfort of your Singapore home. Is remote work something you’ve done regularly for brands or is it a result of the circumstances we find ourselves in this year?

I have been working remotely and managing remote teams since 1996 – it’s been interesting to realize that so many companies and people were still not as familiar or comfortable with that this year, and that many places weren’t even offering flexible work options! 

Over the years, though, I’ve done too much of it!! I am much more in my power when I can put on a nice outfit, go to a proper office, be organized in my own space, see other people and co-create solutions in person than I am when working from home, in cafes, or even coworking spaces all the time. So, ironically, my primary focus this year was to land a full-time, in-house leadership position, and the opportunities that came to me were in other countries, which made COVID a hindering factor in terms of making a move. I am fortunate that because I’ve done so much working from home and consulting I was able to negotiate remote working arrangements with those companies – it’s also a sign of how progressive and open they were in their thinking. 

I don’t feel it’s desirable or sustainable for us to imagine that we’ll never go back to the office again. I think it’s dangerous also, to imagine that everyone will be “doing their own thing.” It takes HUGE amounts of energy to do your own thing in a way that is sustainable and not everyone is cut out for it. I don’t see companies micro-hiring indefinitely, either. 

Where do you see your work going due to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, any big changes you’re gearing up for?

Like many, I’ve been asking lots of questions about how I can make the most impact now. And I am realizing that my diverse, global, remote, digital, marcomms, consulting, entrepreneurial, professional background, as well as some of the personal challenges and deep heartaches I have overcome and hard lessons I have learned along the way as a result of this unconventional, “leading edge lifestyle” make me uniquely qualified to help a lot of people and companies right now. 

In other words, I am starting to see how my whole life has prepared me for a time like this. I can help create conscious solutions and would love a true leadership/C-suite role where I can have a meaningful impact. 

In the meantime, I am ramping up my executive mentoring work and offering some COVID specials to help people prepare for 2021. I also have just started a three-month program that will teach me how to lay the foundation for a thought leadership practice, and am excited about that. 

What about for you, personally, when this pandemic is over, what’s next for you?

A massive trip to visit my friends in various countries – I am sure I am not alone in that – and especially London, which has been calling to me for years! 🙂 

I shared in another interview earlier this year that I have not given up on finding a loving life partner, and during COVID I received some dedicated coaching in this area that I believe has made me ready for that relationship to drop in soon. I also enjoyed virtual voice lessons twice a month since May, and would love to get back to doing some singing with other people when this is over. 

Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring marketers or communication specialists? 

  1. The words we speak and the pictures we see create our reality. In this regard, you have a very real and incredibly important responsibility to be mindful in the work you do – always look for the most meaningful story you can tell and then do so in the most positive way you can. 
  2. Treat your job like an artform, but always think like a savvy executive, ensuring it adds real value to your audience and the business. 
  3. Comms and marketing roles give you insight into entire organizations and industries, and access to some of the most influential people in the world, if you can learn to work across the marcomms mix, you will have even more choice – the world will be your oyster, playground, and your stage.
  4. For Heaven’s sake, PLEASE learn how to write!!!!
  5. Don’t buy the hype! Get a great mentor, be open minded and focus always on doing what is right for real people – make that your “bottom line.”   

Thank you, Marta, for sharing your experiences with us. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?

Thank you again for your interest! People can email me at or book a complimentary, quick-start conversation via my website:

The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.

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