Skip to content

GLAMOUR Women in Charge: Meet Natalia Celani

Italian born and bred Marketing and Innovations Director at Diageo South Africa, Natalia Celani boasts over 20 years of marketing experience. Here, she opens up about her career journey which began with a leap of faith.

Spanning a career of over 20 years in marketing, Natalia has positioned herself a trusted voice in the alcohol industry, globally. About her career trajectory, she says “the marketing bug bit me during an intense marketing course I attended in Milan. Prior to attending this course, I was working in the insurance sector and realised that I needed to spread my wings if I wanted to learn and grow as a marketer. I quit my job in the insurance industry and accepted a marketing trainee position offered by Birra Peroni in Rome.” As fate would have it, SABMiller bought Birra Peroni shortly after she joined the team, “this opened doors for me and catapulted by career and gave me the opportunity to work on of the most amazing brands beyond Italian borders.”

Natlia Celani

Glamour: Let’s delve into your impressive resume?

Natalia: The early years of my career saw me moving to London and working as a Global Brand Manager for Peroni. In 2010, I moved to Tanzania as a Marketing Manager, and this is where my love for the continent of Africa was ignited and I haven’t left the continent since! Following my stint in Tanzania I moved to beautiful South Africa where I had a regional role with SABMiller which allowed me to work across different countries and brands. This was an incredible experience for me because being a marketer having an understanding and an appreciation for people and culture goes hand in hand. , Working across different markets gave me the opportunity to travel and meet incredible people and colleagues across the continent.

After an incredible 15 years with SABMiller I took a much-deserved break and travelled with my husband for almost a year. In 2018 I joined Diageo in Ethiopia as a Marketing Director. Joining the Diageo family was a no brainer for me – working on brand such Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Guinness, Captain Morgan and many more is any marketer dream particularly those in the alcohol industry. Ethiopia was another incredible one of a kind experience thanks to its amazing the people and its rich the culture. I have been extremely blessed to have been presented with some of the most empowering opportunities that have allowed not only to do what I love and enjoy but to also explore and experience the many wonders, people and culture that the world has to offer. I am beyond excited to be part of Diageo South Africa as Marketing Director working on some of the most iconic brands in the market across various categories.

Glamour: What’s your take on the role of technology in the marketing space?

Natalia: I believe that there is a science to everything, and this is no different in marketing. It is important to continuously balance creativity and analysis, intuition and data, emotions and logic - It is the perfect combination of art and science. You might ask “What does technology have to do with this?” Technology is the facilitator and multiplier for the science part. Globally, Diageo has made a significant investment into technology to drive marketing effectiveness. Access and the use of technology allows us to have real time insight which helps us in understanding our consumers. We see the role of technology with tools such as Creative X to optimise creative effectiveness, the adoption of technology contributes to making our work more successful and will only enhance the creative process. A term coined as “Creativity with Precision” at Diageo, this enables us to pursue more efficient and effective investment and supports our brand's growth.

Glamour: What do you enjoy most about your role?

Natalia: There so much I enjoy about my role. I love the challenges and possibilities brought on each day. I enjoy working with and leading a team of incredible marketers, but mostly working on brands that are so strong and iconic not only in shaping culture in South Africa but brand that drive the right conversation challenges bias. The most enjoyable aspect of my role is working on brands that are at the heart of celebrating the South African consumer.

Glamour: What would you attribute your success to?

Natalia: Consistent hard work, determination and passion for what I do has been the core ingredients for many of my wins. Having lived in Africa, the spirit of Ubuntu has also made me grateful for people who have walked this journey with me, people who believe in me and who give me that extra charge to keep challenging myself and keep moving forward. Through them and my experiences I am a firm believer in the fact that grit can take you far!

Glamour: What are some of the challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

Natalia: Probably one of my biggest challenges has been working in a male dominated industry for a long time. I must say that things are slowly changing and we can see the shift, albeit small, across all businesses and industry. Back in the day, I found it often challenging for me to get my voice heard where most of the leadership team was male. At first, I thought changing who I was and being someone else to fit in would work. Needless to say it didn’t work because I still felt unheard and to add insult to injury, I was losing my authenticity! I reached out to a professional coach who helped me in the process, she helped me realize that as a woman and as someone culturally different, I was actually adding value to the entire team. And secondly, she helped me to find my voice and believe in myself as someone who earned her place at the table. I overcame this by believing in what I have to offer and kicking the imposter syndrome to the curb while remaining true to who I am and my values. I keep working on myself every day, and probably this is what is helping me to overcome whatever challenges come my way and helps me to continuously learn and grow.

Glamour: What’s your approach to being an effective leader?

Natalia: Being authentic and always living my values. A leader has to have a team they can trust and through that trust allow everyone to play their part. Most importantly I believe that it is very important for me as a leader to create a sense of belief and ignite the possibilities and what we can become as a unit.

Glamour: What’s your approach to wellness?

Natalia: Every day, I start my day with some exercise – I play tennis or run before going to work. I love the discipline that goes into it and the feeling afterwards. It’s a mood booster and although it might seem counter-intuitive, it boosts my energy for the day ahead. I am a big fan of The 5am Club book by Robin Sharma, and I try to implement those routines from the book every morning as part of my routine. So, on any given day I exercise, meditate and grow/learn, even if for few minutes because this helps my energy and overall wellness. Over the weekend I recharge, spending time outdoor with my dogs and husband, going for long runs, listening to audio books or podcasts and having some great meals and my favourite drinks, Tanqueray and tonic or a Don Margarita.

Glamour: What informs your approach to impact?

Natalia: I am a very result-oriented person. I tend not to measure input but prefer to focus on output. In doing so I ensure we are very clear on what impact we look for when generating a campaign or spending our budgets, ensuring we learn from the past and from our failures. And most importantly, it is critical to understand who your key stakeholders are, who can help you to maximise impact, and bring them along the journey by always aligning and communicating the vision as the best results are never achieve alone.

Glamour: Which women are on your radar at the moment and why?

Natalia: I can’t name women I look up to as I would give you a never-ending list! I am inspired every day by those brilliant and courageous women around me driving impact and inspiring women and the people in general to challenge bias and create a change. I also have tremendous respect for all the mothers that are giving 150% of themselves to create the future leaders of tomorrow.

Glamour What’s your message to the women of SA?

Natalia: Believe in yourself and the endless possibilities that lie ahead, find a sponsor or ally to help you navigate this journey and be the inspiration and support for other women to succeed and be the best version of yourself. Every battle, small or big that we win today on the gender equality front will help those that are coming after us to win the war.

Share this article: