Texan-born Emily first considered a diplomacy career. But several twists of fate and her innate openness to every opportunity crossing her path resulted in an eight-year sojourn in Italy and an international Marketing & Communications role spanning four continents. “I discovered that Marketing is a lot like diplomacy. You need to bring people together to create something good.”
Have you always been internationally minded?
Maybe it’s in my genes! My surname reveals my father’s Eastern European/German roots. Somewhere along the line we must have been bakers (Pfiester or Pfister meaning baker in old German). My mother can trace her ancestry back to the Mayflower. However, my passion for travel started at the age of 13 when I spent two summers in Singapore due to my father’s work. We visited many countries in Asia, also China and this opened my eyes to the world beyond the US.
What happened to the diplomacy dream?
It started out well by studying International Affairs at the University of Colorado. But my minor in Italian turned out to be the decider. I never planned to learn Italian with a view to living in Italy. Nevertheless, I travelled to Catania, Sicily during my gap year to do some internships and improve my fluency. That’s where I fell in love with everything Italian. I immersed myself in the country, the culture, people, food… not as a tourist, but as a local. After my internship, I returned to the US but life there seemed far too easy compared to adapting to Italy. I went back to Europe without any specific plans and enrolled in an International Management Masters at the Universita’ di Bologna, ending with four months in Moscow learning Russian.
When did advertising come on your radar?
With an MA under my belt, what next? Italy still beckoned. An internship at the advertising agency Leo Burnett in Turin turned into a full-time job and I was launched. I spent one year as Account manager organizing their campaigns for Chrysler Jeep before being sent to Detroit to work directly with the client on its international campaigns. Around that time, Fiat completed the acquisition of Chrysler and I was offered a job on the other side of the table. In this role, I worked on shaping our go-to-market strategy, guiding markets outside the US on how to communicate locally. After four years, I returned to Italy as an International Jeep Brand Marketing Manager in Turin. Meanwhile I had met my Italian husband, who funnily enough had followed exactly the same path as me, just in the opposite direction…
What do you love most about your job?
Strategic thinking, problem solving and working with people. I know how to manage different teams, people with very different roles and backgrounds, from across the world. This links back to diplomacy. You need to bring people together to create something good.
After seven years of marketing automobiles, I was looking for something new. In 2018, we moved to Brussels. I took a Sommelier course (wine being another of my passions) and considered joining smaller advertising agencies. Then I discovered Namahn. I really like what Namahn stands for. Our business decisions are led by our core values. And also, our unique culture: the nice vibe in the office, the fact that people enjoy working here, the openness. The cherry on the cake is that Namahn did not have a dedicated Marketing & Communications person before I arrived. So, I’m a self-starter, creating our marketing strategy from scratch together with all the team.
Are there specific challenges in communicating what Namahn does?
Unlike a tangible product, it’s not always easy to explain. Namahn is a team of highly skilled designers. We work on unique and special projects for a rich variety of clients, from the private sector, over public services to NGOs. It’s high time this fascinating work is communicated to a wider audience. Because Namahn designs experiences that touch all of us in ways we do not know. For example, the thought that goes into designing a control room for a critical service or security measures in an airport, or how we check-in to hospital…
How would you describe Namahn’s USP?
Innovation and knowledge sharing. Our designers are constantly innovating and sharing this knowledge with clients. They are not locked in an ivory tower. We want to tell these stories, explain the process and how we involve everyone. Because that is what makes good design. And we offer an amazingly wide breadth of services for clients willing to step out of their comfort zone. We have the tools and capabilities to go very far.
Any passions outside work?
I spent a lot of my childhood in Colorado and this made me an outdoors person, hiking, camping, snowboarding in winter… I’m still exploring where I can find the equivalent in Belgium! I also love food and cooking. The great thing about food is that it can be shared. My mother is a great cook who used locally sourced ingredients long before it became a hype. We were brought up to eat well and make our food from scratch and I continue doing this, including making my own bread. When I lived in Sicily, I would sit at the kitchen table with my roommates and take notes as they cooked: how to make risotto, tomato sauce, you name it. In Italy, the cuisine and recipes change per region. I even recorded my husband’s aunt telling all her kitchen secrets. None had been written down. Now they are safe for posterity.
Your life motto?
When I left for Italy at the age of 22, I told myself, “I’m going to hand my keys over to the universe”. This allowed me to be open to all the opportunities that came my way. It’s still true today.