Wireless Wipes’ Women: how to succeed in the digital marketing business?

Desere Orrill is the group CMO for Ole! Media Group. While she is a marketing maven, after reading her interview you’ll likely have a far better insight into how to succeed in the digital marketing business. In fact, we think her thoughts apply to all aspects of the tech industry and business in general.

It’s funny, we write these pieces for you and yet, I took so much away from this interview personally. I do hope our latest Wireless Wipes’ Women feature offers you the same reward:

Your educational background is primarily marketing based. I can only presume the incorporation of digital and tech into your business spec was clever foresight in how the market was moving. Did you always have an interest in technology and the digital landscape or was the move into it more a required one?

I didn’t consciously move into the technology and the digital landscape – I think it is more a case of the marketing landscape expanding to include digital channels. A natural osmosis, if you will. In the 90’s, when the www was born, I was marketing director of an international hotel group and – in addition to advertising in print, on television and in other media – we also launched our first website. It was an exciting new space to explore and as a marketer the huge potential of the digital arena was a fascinating draw card. Progressive marketers of the time realised the value of the search ability of the web and I started specialising in copy writing for websites as well as focusing on the user journey. We did this instinctively, born of a native logic that this was the way to enhance the communication process. Terms such as SEO, SEM, UX, UI came later, to describe what the marketers of the early 2000s were doing, really, and to define and refine those practices.

How hard did you find the transition from traditional marketing practices to digital – or are they much the same?

The purpose of marketing is to communicate, and like all communication it serves to inform, to persuade, to influence, to present a range of choices or a specific point of view – to convey a message. And it is the message which remains the key element in the equation. The communication channels available to marketers to convey their message(s) have undergone rapid change in the past two decades, and – largely thanks to the inclusive nature of digital – the marketing communication model has gone from monologue (broadcast) to dialogue (quick response mechanisms) to conversation (social media). This transition moved marketers from being the dispensers of information to becoming the custodians, charged with seeding and guiding conversations to ensure that the marketing message is still communicated.

Desere's daughter, Jemma Rose and Desere at the company Christmas party – where they were Santa’s little helpers
Desere’s daughter, Jemma Rose and Desere at the company Christmas party – where they were Santa’s little helpers

We read a lot of articles about women in technology and higher management positions having to go over and above in order to be considered on par with their male counterparts. Do you find this is the case?

 Personally, I have never found my gender to be a career inhibiting factor. In fact, I’ve found it quite useful being a female because the combination of ability with sensitivity – IQ with EQ – has frequently given me a better understanding of how to present my case when lobbying a cause or to meet a client’s needs when doing a pitch. I prefer to think of myself as going ‘over and above’ (in your words) because I can as a person, not because I have to as a woman. However, I have been in business situations where I have been either patronised or simply ignored by the males in the group. The first stems from old fashioned attitudes and an innate sense of ‘gentlemanliness’ – it is forgivable. The second stems from insecurity and an inability to acknowledge that women, too, are contenders around the corporate table – this is much more dangerous.

 The obvious question in articles like these is how do you balance your work and family life – yet it isn’t a question asked to males in similar positions to you. Why do you think that is?

It’s true – males are rarely if ever asked this question. As a female, you could choose to be annoyed by this. However, far from being censorious, this is actually a compliment to women. It is an acknowledgement that not only are women playing an important role in the corporate world, but also that females are the heartbeat, the very core of the family – that we are needed in the home as much as in the office. Men, on the other hand, are more dispensable.

DJ is a keen footballer and the girls enjoy going to watch his games and support his team. From left to right: Jemma Rose (11), Desmond John known as “DJ”(15), Georgia Maeleine (16)
DJ is a keen footballer and the girls enjoy going to watch his games and support his team.
From left to right: Jemma Rose (11), Desmond John known as “DJ”(15), Georgia Maeleine (16)

With that in mind, how do you find balance between your work and family life? Do you think it is harder for women because of the demands made on them in the home as well?

 I am fortunate to be in a partnership where we share the responsibility of raising our children, and I don’t have to tackle home life on my own, so we enjoy a relatively well-balanced life-style. Traditionally as well as instinctively (with some exceptions, of course), women have a stronger sense of nurturing than males do and we naturally gravitate to home and childcare, especially in the early years of our children’s lives. These are the ‘difficult’ years when finding a work-home balance is quite a mine field for career women. So, yes, I do think it is harder for women. Having said that, I must emphasize that it is about partnership. For single parents raising their children at home and working in full time employment outside the home – be they male or female – work-home balance will always pose challenges, especially when children are of school going age.

There is a drive in South Africa to increase the number of women in tech. Do you think drives like these that exclude males and focus so strongly on gender help or hinder the cause?

I think it is a double edged sword. On the one hand, by focusing on the shortage of females in tech we are highlighting an issue and by doing so we encourage redress and ultimately inclusion. On the other hand, by excluding males from the drive and specifically seeking to encourage women to follow careers in technology, it becomes an unnatural process, and women in tech run the risk of being rarefied instead of ratified.

How do you think we increase the number of women in tech in South Africa?

Pay them double what we pay their male counterparts! Ha ha. Only joking! But seriously, I don’t think that we can artificially stimulate interest in a specific field by a specific gender. By making technology (and the means to study technology) more accessible to all people in society, those who have a natural affinity for the subject or the career choice will naturally move towards it. What may naturally increase the number of women in tech in SA, is if at high school or tertiary education level, people are encouraged to recognise how much technology touches our lives today, and that working in “tech” is not confined to being an engineer or programmer.

I'd love to chat to you some more.


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