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#BehindtheMask: Clare Trafankowska-Neal, MD at iProspect South Africa

This week, we go behind the mask with Clare Trafankowska-Neal, MD at iProspect South Africa...
Clare Trafankowska-Neal
Clare Trafankowska-Neal

So tell us, what’s really behind your mask (literally and/or figuratively speaking)?

A curious, imaginative and ‘always-on’ mind. Someone who is always smiling and who finds a way to laugh in the face of challenge and failure. I’m exceptionally good at laughing at myself as well!

Where are you locked down?

I’ve been locked down in Paulshof, Sandton. Originally working from my kitchen breakfast bar and why it took me three months to convert my spare room into an office, I’ll never know!

How are you finding working from home or physical distancing at the office / how has your way of working changed?

WFH is something that I have always done as there has always been a need for a little after-hours work here and there. I’m slightly OCD/ADHD and what I have enjoyed most about being at home, is the ability to ‘get so much done’! Being able to fly around the house, chuck in a load of washing and still be on a conference call has realty satisfied my need to always do as much as possible, in the shortest space of time. That being said, what WFH has done; is create longer days and with me having a lesser ability to create boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘home’. I didn’t have them before lockdown and I certainly haven’t managed to put them in place since.

One of my greatest challenges is not being able to see people’s faces as up until Lockdown, I was never really aware that when I ‘listened’ to people talking, what I was actually doing is reading their lips. With the necessity of wearing masks in and out of the office, I find I have to concentrate more and listen harder.

Describe a typical workday, if such a thing exists.

I do love this question as I think we can all agree that there is nothing typical about 2020, in any way! I’m an early-bird and whether I was getting up at 5am to spin on our patio (we bought a 2nd hand spinning bike that is the most fabulous clothes-horse) or getting up to work; I was still getting up at that time. The spinning bike really did become decorative / functional, so it inadvertently led to me starting to work a lot earlier which was brilliant because it gave me time to do whatever was on my list.

A typical lockdown workday has become early to rise (and work) and late to ‘get-home’; but still managing to have contributed to keeping the house in order. If you were to ask my husband this question, he would tell you that I spent a number of days going from one call to another; telling my team that it was ‘okay to not be okay’; and to please remember ‘that they are a person and to take some time to appreciate the small things such as a coffee in the sunshine’; but that I was never very good at taking any of my own advice!

How do you maintain a good rapport with your teammates/clients?

What lock down has taught us, is that technology truly is an enabler. I have made a substantial amount of time available to my team, particularly earlier on in lockdown – not only was the 100% virtual way of working new to all of us, but I commenced this role on 1 May, so I took on a new team, digitally. I made an effort to have regular check-ins, getting to know each of them as best I could and have tried to extend the same courtesy to all of my client. I decided quite early on that whenever on a VC, I would have my camera on, both for internal and external sessions; to maintain some sense of personal connection. Anyone who has met me will know that I speak with hands and I wanted to ensure that I was as authentic as I could be in such strange circumstances.

How do you socialise these days?

In much smaller circles and quite selectively. This has been a great time to re-evaluate all of the people in my life and be more decisive about who we were going to be spending precious time with.

What do you do to keep fit/healthy and/or sane (physically/mentally)?

Well the spinning bike really didn’t work. At the time, I truly believed I would use it, but I was always making-up a (work) excuse - something was always pressing. I realised that I needed to leave the house to actually create different spaces for myself and once the gyms were permitted to re-open; I joined MissFit Boxing in Fourways. I wish that I had been able to join sooner in lockdown as it was only once I had started, that I realised how much of a toll the last few months had taken on me. I adore every session; filled with vibrant music, moves and me… Just me. It is the one place that I manage to switch everything else off in.

What new apps would we find if we scrolled through your phone?

I have always had a crazy number of apps and I’m sure that the last time I checked; it was over 100. I did, however, still manage to find a few new ones during lockdown. My favourite (and least used as its not relevant for me at the moment) is ClipDrop, which is a brilliant little app that using AR technology, allows you to ‘clip’ elements such as furniture (by taking a photo) and ‘drop’ or placing it in another environment. The interior designers would love it!

Share your favourite Covid-19/lockdown-related meme/gif with us.

We do a lot of burpees in our classes…

#BehindtheMask: Clare Trafankowska-Neal, MD at iProspect South Africa

What is the first thing you plan to do when the lockdown lifts?

Head off to the UK to see my family; I miss them desperately. My parents, both of my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my nieces. My feels, all the time:

#BehindtheMask: Clare Trafankowska-Neal, MD at iProspect South Africa

Describe your career and if/how the pandemic/lockdown has affected its course.

2020 truly changed and shaped me. I kicked off 2020 having started interviewing for the MD role and we were well into lock-down (end-April) when I was told that I was successful. Having been in Dentsu for the last two years already, I was lucky to not be starting somewhere completely fresh – and whilst I didn’t know all of my new team, there were some familiar faces at least.

Taking on a Managing Director role of a new team and during a global pandemic, is to-date, the most challenging (yet invigorating) experiences in my career. I have had to onboard myself into a new and very big role; whilst taking a team of 20+ wonderfully talented people (any myself of course) through what would be to some, the most challenging months of their lives. It hasn’t necessarily impacted my career, but it has impacted my professional development as I believe 2020 has shaped me into the kind of leader that I now know I want to be.

Any companies/brands that you feel have responded particularly well to the crisis and/or Covid-19-related campaigns that stand out to you, and why?

There are so many brands that have either pivoted to remain relevant, or have redirected marketing investment into supportive causes – but to be honest, I was incredibly impressed and just so proud of how our company, Dentsu, responded to the events. The response included regional collab sessions as well as a series of wellness segments which went a long way in terms of practical coping mechanisms. What was truly amazing, given that most segments were developed and driven by staff members; is that we discovered new things about people we’d worked with for years!

What are you working on right now?

Everything! I cannot believe how busy we still are, and I will not be complaining. We have so many new business pitches in the pipeline and are finalising 2021 growth plans, which is always a really exciting time for me. In between, client and iProspect strategies, I am attempting to propagate succulents so now really is a time for re-birth.

#BehindtheMask: Clare Trafankowska-Neal, MD at iProspect South Africa

What does the ‘new normal’ look like to you?

A new normal is more thoughtful and more deliberate. It is continuing to find ‘balance’ and prioritisation of what is important. It is living a more conscientious life where we think beyond ourselves.

What are some of the buzzwords floating around at the moment, and some of the catchphrases you utter yourself?

All the words I am about to mention, give me pause when I hear myself say them: ‘circle back’; ‘new normal’; ‘pivot strategy’…

What advice would you give to other industry folk during this time?

I know this year has been hard, but when reflecting on the impact that you have made; don’t forget to appreciate and celebrate the small steps – as its those small steps that carry us towards the greater victories. It may not be today, nor tomorrow; but you will soon look back and see how far you have actually come.

About Jessica Tennant

Jess is Senior Editor: Marketing & Media at She is also a contributing writer. moc.ytinummoczib@swengnitekram
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