Take the Next Step with Carla Williams Johnson

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Carla Williams Johnson, founder of Carli Communications, talks about how to take a company from good to great

Carla Williams Johnson knows she is the marketing industry’s best kept secret. She has worked behind the scenes to devise strategies and launching projects for several companies, including Unilever, Burger King, Nestlé, and Coca Cola. From her abode in the twin island paradise of Trinidad & Tobago, Carla Williams Johnson continues to service clients worldwide.

As a Global Marketing Influencer & Public Relations Expert, Carla Williams Johnson has built a reputation for herself in the international marketing sphere. She has been named to lists such as the 99 Limit Breaking Female Founders, Meet the Female Disruptors Series, and the 2020 List of 150 Marketers to Follow. Also, she has been featured in media outlets like Forbes, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Thrive Global, as well as other online and offline outlets.

Despite all the accolades, though, Carla Williams Johnson understands clearly that the only recognition that matters should come from happy and satisfied clients. If she improves her clients’ businesses and their bottom line, she will have earned her keep. For her work, Carla advises business owners in crafting and implementing their original ideas, and in putting together innovative marketing campaigns to attract customers and take their companies to the next level.

Before starting her own firm, called Carli Communications, Carla Williams Johnson has worked as communications manager, marketing officer, media planner, and senior marketing officer for different companies. She also gives lectures on marketing techniques you can apply for your business.

Read more interviews with brilliant business strategists here. You can also watch Carla Williams Johnson talk about being a woman in business here.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Carla Williams Johnson: I just always knew that I wanted to get into the field. I think I was the only person in the world who would get excited when commercials would come on during a program or rush to get the latest magazine to see all the creative ways print ads were displayed. Even at a young age I was always in awe of creative executions and how absolutely brilliant one must be to convince someone to purchase from just a few words and an image.

As time went on, my passion grew and it landed me to work with some of the most prestigious advertising companies with global brands. It was there I learned that there was so much that went into the final product and I was finally part of the strategic process.

I realized that there was so much brainstorming and creativity that went into a single campaign and, working in media, I had the single most important job of getting that creativity out to the right people. Plus I noticed that the more innovative the approach, the more of an impact the campaign made, which resulted in increased sales.

Fast forward, now I have my own company where I help entrepreneurs and business owners increase their visibility through the creative and strategic uses of media.

In my years, the one thing I saw regularly that really upset me was businessmen and women being ill-advised by greedy coaches and consultants looking to make a quick buck. These ‘so called’ gurus would use the client’s lack of knowledge against them to sell them a product or service that made no sense and gave absolutely no returns on investment. That’s when my business was born.

I feel like a superhero sometimes, to be honest. Like I’m saving the day (and the dollar) of people who are in danger of wasting their money. On the surface, I help clients with promoting their business, but what I do is assist my people with finding the best and quickest ways to truly connect with their ideal clients so that they can serve them and, of course, make some money in the process.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Carla Williams Johnson: I think we all as business owners have been put down or told that we wouldn’t make it at some point in our journey. What sets apart the successful entrepreneurs from the rest is what we do with that information.

When I first started on my journey, I was outright old my numerous people that I should

  • Forget my ‘stupid business venture’ because no one would take me seriously anyway
  • Why even bother, the industry is dominated by a certain type (aka white males)
  • Get someone ‘lighter skinned’ to be the face of my company if I’m ever going to succeed.

To get specific, I remember this one time that I was working with a group of entrepreneurs to produce what was supposed to be an event that would take all our businesses ‘to the next level’. The speaker of the event who happened to be a business coach started making demands of us which initially were fine but when she insisted that she AND HER HUSBAND (who was not a speaker but his expenses to attend the event needed to be paid as well) needed to be featured prominently to the top of the landing page, I pushed back. I stated that firstly, we compromised to place her at the top of the page granted she was not as well known to our target, and it was not her event but that she was a guest but I was totally against her husband being up there when he’s not even a featured speaker. Her response was a condescending “Well if you want to have a sold out event, you’ll need to have someone white featured………it’s just how things are……if you want to make it and be successful.” Then she added “I’m just telling you what worked for me…you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to…but this is what made me successful so if you want to sell tickets you should do it.

So basically, the color of my skin was directly related to my success or failure rather? What’s worse there were others who agreed with her……like this is some kind of unspoken rule that just needed to be accepted.

Well I washed my hands of that event, needless to say it never materialized, but I was determined to prove that the very thing people said would cause me to fail would be the very thing that will make me succeed!

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Carla Williams Johnson: Funniest…..well at the time it wasn’t funny but now I laugh because I definitely learned my lesson. When I first started my business, I would meet with potential clients at their offices regularly. Not a fan of driving, most times I would take my significant other with me……(and I would tell persons he was my driver).

Anyways while at a meeting with a gentleman, we got into a discussion about what was best for him and how he should proceed. He had gotten some bad advice before and I really didn’t want him to keep wasting money on promotional packages that weren’t working.

Now, I’m not saying that he pushed back and argued with me because I was female but he gave off this ‘know it all’ vibe and literally challenged everything I was saying……..to which my boyfriend said “Listen, Carla knows her stuff and whatever she says to do, just do it! You won’t regret!” Eventually I did book the client, but unfortunately his misogyny started to show and just couldn’t work with him anymore.

I learned pretty quickly that just because someone can pay for my services doesn’t mean they’re my ideal client. Sometimes I have to say no for sanity sake. I saw the signs and I still pursued thinking that my knowledge and expertise would win him over, but all it did was encourage him to comment on how my legs looked every time I had to pick up the cheque.

From then on, I always understood that it’s a relationship I’m building with clients so I have to ensure that our values are aligned.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Carla Williams Johnson:

  1. Leadership — This is a must because good leadership trumps all….and not just leadership of others but leadership of self. Are you willing to take the risks and do what you need to do? Are you willing to invest in the things that most people will see as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unimportant’ Are you willing to listen and not let your ego get in the way? Are you willing to get down in the trenches and get stuff done instead of just ordering people about. Great leadership is the pillar of a great business.

  2. Values — Staying in alignment with you values will definitely help you make better decisions that work best for your brand and, by extension, help you attract the right clients and the best business opportunities.

  3. Giving back — I’m all about promotions but true staying power comes from what happens when you’re not in ‘launch mode’. Business is about helping people, even if it’s not for monetary gain. Giving back makes you feel good, puts your business in the best light.

  4. Technology — Utilizing the right technology effectively will help you be much more efficient but don’t forget to also use it to form deeper connections with your audience as well. Especially now, I believe this is a time to use technology for its intended purpose…..to connect with and serve our communities.

  5. The right team — Surrounding yourself with the right people and by extension the right energy will help your business soar higher much faster. People who are passionate, can respect your vision, with similar values and are willing to work with you to achieve those goals are a sure way to take your business from good to great

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Carla Williams Johnson: I’ve been learning this as well….being in alignment and more purpose driven is the way to truly build a successful brand. I have found that working in this way has allowed me to attract the best employees, the most lucrative business deals and has really allowed me to show up and connect deeper with my audience. It’s a work in progress but the more aligned you feel, the easier it is to make decisions that are best for you and your business.

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Carla Williams Johnson: Consumers want to trust the businesses they give their hard earned money to which includes you and the best way to build trust and have that deep connection with your audience is through the use of the media. Using the press and traditional media is really the best way to show up authentically as well as give your business the credibility you need to stand out. I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to convert a potential client to a sale.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Carla Williams Johnson: Branding is the emotional connection that your business makes with your customers before they even do business with you. More than just a fancy slogan, many of the big brands have embodied the very essence of what they stand for and evoke a particular feeling whenever you see, hear or purchase from them.

Building a brand isn’t just about what you do but how you are viewed by others so you have to do things to truly connect with your audience. Show them you care and it’s not just about the money. Using PR and the media is a great way to do just that.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Carla Williams Johnson: Find me on my website at www.carlimedia.com

I’m also on social media:

Facebook: carlicommunications

Instagram: carlicommunications

LinkedIn: carlicommunications

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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