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#BehindtheSelfie: Leanne Emery Hunter, Youth Employment Service chief marketing and client officer

This week, we caught up with the chief marketing and client officer at Youth Employment Service, Leanne Emery Hunter.
Image supplied: Leanne Emery Hunter
Image supplied: Leanne Emery Hunter

Could you briefly explain what your role entails?

As CMCO at a business-led non-profit organisation my role is quite dynamic. The Youth Employment Service (Yes) is not government funded and so, as a marketing team, we are corporate facing, trying to get more businesses on board to sponsor work opportunities for youth.

My primary responsibility is driving growth, leading the marketing strategy development and rollout, while building a client centric organisation. Basically, what this means is I’m a storyteller, a growth driver, a capacity builder and a voice of the client (or at least I try to be).

What’s really behind your mask - literally and figuratively speaking?

I’ve always been extremely invested in my work, but I also love people, travel, reading, studying, and trying to keep fit. I think the best investments you can make in yourself are education and travel as they enrich your mind and soul, and no one can ever take these away from you.

I got married recently so I am getting used to a new surname and being a wife. I am passionate about youth development and I am proudly South African.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

I wanted to be on stage – a ballet dancer or an actress. I did end up teaching dancing part-time for 10 years and, to this day, no one can keep me away from a dance floor.

How did you end up in the industry?

I wanted to study something that merged my creative background with my passion for business, which is why I studied marketing communications, followed by a post-graduate diploma in management (PDM) at Wits Business School.

As part of the PDM, we had to do an internship and I arranged to do mine at FCB advertising agency as I wanted to work in a creative environment. From there I was offered my first permanent job at the agency and my path followed on from there.

What has the journey been like?

My journey has been an adventure with lots of twists and turns. I started my career working in numerous turnkey advertising agencies, with a broad range of clients, which I think provided a solid overall marketing and communications foundation.

I then moved on to being a brand manager in professional services. I was concerned that I would be pigeonholed in that space, so embarked on a part-time MBA at GIBS which changed my trajectory. This allowed me to move into a group marketing director role for a global education company, with operations in 19 countries. This opened my eyes to marketing in a global context and was one of the fastest learning curves of my career.

I’ve worked in industries from telecoms to professional services to education. I have always been passionate about youth development (and particularly young women) and education, so I feel like I really have found my home now at Yes.

I tend to thrive in start-up type environments and I really enjoy B2B marketing. Yes provides me with the opportunity to work in a fast-paced corporate-facing environment, while tying into purposeful work that makes a true impact in society, and is something that satisfies my head and my heart.

What excites you most about your career?

I want to be a part of the solution in South Africa and I care deeply about youth empowerment. I am so fortunate to work in an organisation which challenges me as a marketer and leader daily, but also provides me with the opportunity to build things from the ground up and feeds into my purpose.

It’s much easier to get up every day when you know that what you do makes a real meaningful impact and this helps me through the tough days.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I am very fortunate to have had a varied and exciting career. A real highlight was being made acting Co-CEO of Yes last year which stretched me as a leader. While challenging, it was such a privilege and growth opportunity.

Through this, I was afforded the opportunity to present to President Cyril Ramaphosa on youth employment acceleration strategies. My career motto is that if something both scares and excites you, then you should do it.

When you're not busy working, what do you do? How do you socialise these days?

Being an extrovert and social creature, I am extremely grateful that the world is opening up again. I spend a lot of time with friends and family, I am a member of a book (and wine) club and I am an avid reader.

I enjoy trying new and exciting forms of exercise, from boxing to barre, with friends. I find it’s good stress relief. I love to travel locally and internationally and enjoy hiking or walking catch-ups with friends.

What are you watching/reading/listening to at the moment?

I’ve just finished The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller which was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years. Next on my list is Deep Work by Cal Newport, but I cracked open Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews and it sucked me in.

I am listening to my wedding playlist.

What does 2022 have in store for you?

From a career point of view, I’m happy to work in an organisation that is constantly changing – we are really focused on how to unlock more opportunities for youth through the private sector and on improving our service levels to clients.

In a start-up type environment, your role is constantly evolving and while marketing will always be my first love, I enjoy the freedom to get involved in numerous parts of the business. On a personal level, I’m very excited to be able to go to Italy in August for our honeymoon and soak up the culture, food and limoncello.

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