In Conversation with Edna Ayme-Yahil

RT: You have worked across multiple countries in Europe and in diverse sectors ranging from tobacco, technology, logistics, automobile and now travel. Which sector is the most challenging and why?
EAY: If you look at this question purely from the sector perspective, then tobacco is by far the most complex sector for a communications professional. Communicating about a company that makes a product that kills people is an incredible challenge and I learned a lot from working with the professionals at PMI.

RT: Tell us more about the book – Women in PR that you co-authored earlier this year?
EAY: It was great to collaborate with Professor Ana Adi who is not only a titan in the field of communications research but is also my good friend. I am passionate about the topic of diversity and inclusion and now in my current role, where I am responsible for sustainability, I am able to influence how my company addresses this key topic. I am a mom, a wife, and a “woman in PR” and it was great to be in contact with so many practitioners and academicians, who are engaging in this field.

RT: What is the one achievement in your glorious career in corporate communications that stands out for you?
EAY: I can’t answer with just one achievement! In the past 18 months, I have been faced with two huge challenges that are unparalleled in my career. The first was when I was leading marketing and communications at Panalpina, a top five global Freight Forwarder. In 2019, the company was unexpectedly purchased by DSV, a competitor. I was at the time responsible for Investor Relations as well as Corporate Communications and needed to manage the initial defense with an activist investor. Then, once the purchase was announced, I managed the transition communications including the internal communications for the period between April and August 2019. After the deal was completed, I helped the new CEO with the integration communications until I left the organisation along with most of the management team. The second big challenge for me—as well as for most communications professionals—has been managing the COVID crisis. I began my new role at SITA the day that the company went into quarantine and work-from-home mode. The speed of change and the intense need for a new internal communications framework to support the company added to the stress of a totally new job and new team! Both of these experiences—M&A and COVID —have forever shaped me as a communications professional and a team leader.

RT: Having taught at various universities in the early part of your career, which would you prefer if you had to start all over again – academia or the corporate world, and why?
EAY: I loved studying at university. I went to Stanford in the 1990s at a time when people were dropping out to start companies like Google … yet I stayed and got not only a BA but also continued to do my MA and PhD in medieval history at UCLA. My graduate research had me travel to Paris where I worked in the archives nationales looking at legal documents (mostly trial transcripts) from the 15th century. I would never give up the intellectual challenge of getting a proper “humanistic” education that included reading Latin, history, philosophy and literature. However, towards the end of my degree, I realised that whilst I loved research, I didn’t want to limit myself to one topic for the rest of my life and I was not terribly keen on teaching—I yearned for more breadth in my intellectual pursuits. I also realised that I wanted to have a career where I interacted with people and worked in teams, rather than be alone in the library all day. This is why, towards the end of my PhD, I took an internship at UNESCO, which eventually turned into a job in communications and set me on the path that I am today. I hope one day soon to go back to teach as an adjunct professor in addition to my “day job” because I love the mix of intellectual pursuits and practical ones.

RT: What should the communication professional look forward to in 2021?
EAY: I am usually an “Energiser Bunny” type of person… I just keep going, and going, and going … I hope for my sake and that of my colleagues that we find a vaccine early in 2021 and that things begin to get back to normal a bit.

Dr Edna Ayme-Yahil is Senior Director & Head of Communications, Brand & Sustainability at SITA. She is a Keynote Speaker at SPECTRA.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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