JANE MURIITHI-THOMAS Rewriting the rules of marketing

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Jane Muriithi-Thomas is a seasoned professional who has cut a niche for herself in the marketing and communications field. The go-getter and bubbly mother of two is the head of marketing and communications at the United States International University Africa. She talks to ESTHER KIRAGU about discovering and nurturing her marketing and communications passion, embracing trends in marketing and finding that elusive work-life balance.

In May 2016, under the stewardship of Jane Muriithi-Thomas, United States International University Africa (USIU-Africa) won the 2015 African Excellence Awards in the field of public relations and communications. When I first walk into Jane’s office in the

department of marketing and communication at the institution, I couldn’t help but notice the recently won trophy sitting on one of the shelves.

“This is a great source of pride to USIU-Africa as we are the first university in Africa to win it,” the head of marketing and communication at USIU-Africa tells me, adding that she feels very privileged to be part of a team that is dedicated to achieving global excellence. This award has gained USIU-Africa international recognition for their PR and Communication work and celebrate with Africa’s communication community, it has enhanced their reputation as leading communicators and built their brand. The trophy was won from a campaign dubbed Experience USIU-Africa, which was termed as one of the most strategic campaigns as the message stood out clearly over a sustained period and on a limited budget.

Discovering her passion…

Jane has always been a high achiever. “My parents always imparted on me that my education is my inheritance and no one can take it away from me. I have lived true to these words,” says the Kianda High School alumnus.

Up until the very end of her high school education, Jane was inclined to join the legal profession. Most of her peers often told her that she would make a good lawyer based on her personality – smart, knowledgeable, highly competitive and factual. However, the constraints of the practice discouraged her from the profession. But it took her to volunteer at a law firm just after completing high school to realise that law was not the path she wanted to pursue. Now a firm believer in job shadowing, Jane advises young people to spend a day in the life of someone in a field they are interested in as this helps one decide for or against a potential career option before settling for what course to pursue in college.

In her case, Jane found her footing in the field of business and settled for a business administration and marketing degree at Daystar University in 1998. “I really enjoyed the marketing classes I attended as part of my business course. So keen was my interest in marketing that by the time I was in my third year, I was the university’s representative at the Marketing Students Association,” she says.

As she awaited graduation, she took up an internship at Dale and Carnegie; a training company that emphasises on programmes that offer people the knowledge, skills and practices they need to add value to businesses by connecting proven solutions with real-world challenges.

She says participating in the professional development and career advancement training offered at Dale and Carnegie in addition to networking with movers and shakers in the industry helped her gain valuable experience and stand out from the crowd.

An expansive education and career experience…

Constantly thirsty for growth, Jane enrolled for a Masters degree in international marketing management at Leeds University in the UK. According to her, studying abroad built her leadership acumen. She had to learn to be responsible and stand by herself being away from home and her parents. “One of the most important things I gained from studying abroad was a wider education experience as their system of learning is on a much broader spectrum and gives you a competitive edge in contrast to locally where learning tends to be very linear, a gap that institutions like USIU have now identified and are bridging,” she explains.

In her 15 years of work experience, her career has span from customer care, sales and advertising to marketing and communications in various sectors including energy, telecommunications, education and advertising. She first began her career in the UK, as a senior customer service advisor at Centrica Energy – British Gas for two years. During her stay there, she was in charge of managing the organisation’s brand image and perception through dealing with clients. “I learnt the ropes on the need for excellence and by the time I left the company, I had received several letters of appreciation for my exceptional service. This built my confidence,” she says.

Satisfied with the career footing she had got in the UK, Jane returned to Kenya in 2005 and did the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) course, a professional marketing course designed to help marketers meet the increasing demands at every stage in their career. This propelled her into advertising agency jobs first working as an advertising accountant director at ZK Advertising and later at TAC Advertising.

“I was often tasked with developing brand and marketing strategies for various companies in a variety of sectors. I ended up handling big brands such as Virgin Atlantic, Mabati Rolling Mills, British Council, Sameer Africa and Toyota among many others. Although the agency jobs stretched me, they also allowed me to gain invaluable insight into how different industries shape the country’s economy. We were often a small team with high levels of responsibility and multiple tasks hence challenging,” she says.

One of her biggest achievements at the agencies was the successful launch of the Celtel/Zain Africa Challenge; the first ever televised academic competition among students at African universities, which was aired in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Ironically, after four years at the agencies some of which involved working on the Zain product now Airtel, she took up a job offer with Zain as the advertising and senior media coordinator in charge of developing and implementing advertising activities for the organisation for various products and services. “They were very big about data and analytics and this built the true analytical aspect of me as a marketer,” she says of the experience that has come in handy to date.

In 2012, Jane joined USIU-Africa as the head of marketing and communication. In her current role at the institution, she has established the department from a public relations unit to a fully functioning marketing and communications department.

But it hasn’t been a breeze for Jane. She recalls that in her first week at work, she had to deal with a crisis when they lost one of their students. “It was rough but I loved how the organisation came in as a team to support each other,” she says of the great teamwork they enjoy at USIU-Africa.

She is constantly seeking to develop herself and in 2013, she graduated with her second Masters degree at USIU-Africa, an executive Masters in organizational development (EMOD). Perhaps as a testament to her passion for branding, her thesis project was on effects of rebranding on organisational culture. And she is glad it has paid off because under her leadership, the university was the first to qualify for nomination for the Marketing Society of Kenya Gala Awards in 2014 and got first runners-up position for the university’s re-branding campaign. Thereafter, USIU-Africa won the 2015 African Excellence Awards in the field of public relations and communications.

A game changer, Jane proudly says, “I can confidently say that since I joined the education sector as a marketer and communications expert, marketing & communication practitioners in other universities have stopped doing business as usual. Today university advertisements convey a message unlike before where they would just list the degrees offered by the institution, and for me that fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I believe marketing and communication activities needs to be of value to the audience and that your brand is the right one for them.”

Jane attributes her success to a great support system both at work and at home. She is happy that the university recently went through a smooth transition with the change of the university’s vice chancellor. “Ours is a constant strive for global excellence as we aim to give students a holistic learning experience,” she says and adds that the university is currently in the process of transitioning from a taught to a research-aligned university.

On love and parenting…

Jane has been married for the last eight years to Alvin Thomas from Sierra Leone. The two met through a mutual friend when Thomas had come to Kenya on job training. Together they have two children: seven-year-old Marissa Wanjiru and four-year-old Maynard Macharia. “My husband travels a lot and therefore communication is very key to making our relationship work. Marriage is not for joy riders and so you need to be committed and determined to make it work,” she says of the institution she upholds highly.

With her busy schedule in addition to parenting and marriage, Jane has had to greatly prioritise her time to find a good work-life balance. “The way to make it work,” she says, “lies simply in good time management. I try to get my work done within the hours I have during the day and when I get home, I know that is family time. If there’s homework to be done, for example, I will do that.” She adds that it is very important to find time for oneself so as not to grow out of touch with your friends and family.

Mentorship is close to Jane’s heart and she enjoys mentoring the youth to manage various aspects of their lives from career to personal life. “The mistake that most girls make is not realising that certain people are good for them and thus utilise them as mentors and influencers while cutting ties with those who have a negative impact on them. As women, we often like hearing what we want to hear and not what we need to hear hence we need to be deliberate on the people who surround us,” she says.

During her free time, Jane enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading books as well as travelling.

As we conclude this interview, Jane’s word of advice to young professionals is: “You need to first believe in yourself and then strive to remain resilient and focussed on your goals. And it pays to surround yourself with a great support system of people who inspire you to succeed.” esther@parents.co.ke

Published in July 2016

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