Our Comms Spotlight for the week, Terena Chetty, has mastered the art of strategy creation and she tells us all about it in this interview. Currently the Head of Strategy at 1Africa Consulting South Africa, Terena shares how she was able to break into the communications field and tips upcoming professionals will find useful.
Tell us what you do as the Head of Strategy at 1Africa Consulting.
Well, firstly its quite a diverse role, which makes it both challenging and exciting. As you can imagine, I do a lot of strategy development and implementation – this entails anything from conceptualising brand ideas and campaigns, to rolling them out to market. I’m quite hands-on when it comes to content development, project management and campaign execution, so things tend to get quite busy. The other thing I do is lots and lots of meetings – those come standard.
How did you begin your career in communications?
I had always wanted to work within the marketing and advertising field. While studying towards my degree in Communication Science, though, I found myself working in project management and operations types of roles.
Once qualified, I still found it difficult to get into a mid-level position within the communications field as I lacked direct industry experience. To bridge the gap, I took on freelance strategic and marketing copywriting work. This then helped me transition to a digital marketing agency, and thereafter my current career path in brand communications and public relations.
What deliberate steps have you taken to grow in your career?
Definitely constantly upskilling to gain a better understanding of the industry and effective communication methodologies, as well as overall business trends as these change a lot over time.
I’ve always been attracted to roles that challenge me and help me grow my knowledge and experience. I believe in learning from both leaders who have more experience than me, as well as colleagues who have different skill sets from mine.
I also strongly believe that my work ethic has helped with my professional growth – in the long run, qualities such as showing respect, having commitment and being passionate about what you do will far outlive the skills that appear on your résumé.
What essential skills do professionals need to plan and execute an effective strategy?
First and foremost, understand the brief – understand the client, understand the brand, be cognisant of barriers to success and be very clear on what the key goals are. Research is an underrated skill – both this internal brand research, as well as broader market and industry research should be done before commencing with actual strategy development.
A strategist needs to be open to the advice of others. It is essential to work with team members who are knowledgeable on the different elements required per project. This should start from brainstorming level as it impacts the structure and direction of strategies.
The ability to improvise is also valuable – often things don’t go as planned, and strategists need to be able to adapt to changing scenarios.
Can you share some challenges you’ve faced in the course of your career and how you overcame them?
I have faced some difficult clients, who at first seemed quite unreasonable and not open to the advice of the communications team. Dealing with different personality types can be quite daunting. However, what I found helps is putting emotion aside (and yes, this is easier said than done) and taking the time and effort to understand where the client is coming from.
More often than not, you will find that they are under pressure themselves to deliver results, and this frustration filters down to the supplier. Showing patience and listening to what their key needs are has helped me better communicate with the client, diffuse tricky situations and move forward more productively.
What career advice do you have for upcoming professionals in the field?
Persevere. The communications field can be difficult to enter, and demanding to work within. Don’t give up, focus on your goals and put in the time and effort to get there. It’s worth it.
I would also say don’t be too inflexible in terms of the type of job roles you consider. The communication industry is very versatile, so be open to pursuing other paths when opportunities avail. This does not mean giving up on your dream, but rather, considering alternate versions of what that dream could look like. You will find that diverse work experience will serve you well throughout your journey to the place you ultimately want to arrive at.
The Comms Spotlight is a weekly segment where we feature communications professionals across Africa doing amazing work. Want to be featured or know someone we should feature? Send an email to email@example.com.