Caralene Robinson

Caralene Robinson, Senior Vice President of Creative Group and Consumer Marketing at VH1, is the force behind the marketing machine that promotes your favorite shows like, Hit the Floor, Hindsight, Mob Wives, K. Michelle and Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. After earning a BBA in Marketing from Howard University and an MBA in Marketing and Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business, Caralene went on to work for companies like Colgate-Palmolive, The Coca-Cola Company and Cox Enterprises. Prior to her current position, she was Vice President, Brand Strategy and Marketing Communications at Sprint Nextel, where she led all marketing efforts for the brands under the company’s umbrella. And though her path to the top was non-traditional, you’ll learn in this COCOBelle interview that she is in love with where the journey has taken her. Caralene shares from a professional perspective, including how she deals with the challenges of being a female corporate executive; and she spills on her beauty secrets—including, of course, what’s in her Ultimate Beauty Arsenal.

What does a typical day in the life look like for the Senior Vice President of Creative Group and Consumer Marketing at VH1?

I love what I do. LOVE. There’s no such thing as a typical day in marketing. One day I’m working on brand or music strategy. Another day I’m planning the marketing launch of a new or returning series, documentary or live special. We do a lot of production of marketing assets, including on-air, advertising and social content. So I review lots of ideas and when I can participate in the actual production, I do so. We work a lot with talent, many of whom want to be actively involved in our ideas. We do a lot of events such as SXSW, Essence Music Festival or Lollapalooza. This is a relationship driven industry, so I often have lunch or dinner dates (planning on switching to coffee dates, which are less fattening!). I work a lot with my boss and my peers to stay in the loop on matters pertaining to scheduling, programming and developing projects. And today, I’m happy to say that we just finished our Black History Month campaign. It’s never boring, and it’s great to have such diversity because I’m always learning something new.

Did you always know that you would pursue a career in Marketing and Brand Strategy? If so, what steps did you take to bring your goal to fruition?
Every stage in my career path has taught me a valuable lesson. For example, when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I picked a college major based on what I like: commercials. That’s how I chose Marketing as a major. I remembered this recently while on a production set. As a result, I unknowingly subscribed to an important personal philosophy--do what you love. In college, I had a bit too much fun and neglected to pursue internships in my field. So when I graduated, I struggled to get the marketing job I wanted in entertainment. I spoke to people I trusted in the field, and was told to go to business school. Now, B-School graduates usually end up in more formal, packaged goods environments, but my mentor insisted this was the holy grail of marketing training and would set the stage for what I really wanted. So I started in packaged goods, and then gravitated to companies with significant investments or sponsorships in entertainment like Coca-Cola and Sprint. I still ended up working with labels and networks, and on events such as the Superbowl, Indy 500 or the Soul Train Awards. Eventually, I landed my entertainment job at VH1. My path was a bit unorthodox, but I always stayed focused on my dream.

What is your favorite part of what you do?
The best part of what I do is seeing the fruits of my labor in the marketplace. Over the course of my career I’ve worked on amazing campaigns and products. I love to create content that has an impact. I also love the people part of it; I’m fascinated with the human experience and love to meet and learn from new acquaintances.


What are some of the challenges you've faced as a female executive, and how did you overcome them?

I’ve had a lot of interesting situations (occur) over the course of my career. I was once mistaken for an administrative assistant and asked to make copies by a consultant who didn’t realize his pitch meeting was with me. Once, when I visited an agency for a meeting, the agency lead walked up to one of my employees (a blonde woman), and greeted her by my name, automatically assuming she was the boss. At another company, my HR lead told me that I would have challenges in the culture because I was “black, a woman, and looked young for my age”. And more than once I’ve observed (and experienced) male counterparts promoted with less experience, education and results.

If I let these kinds of experiences hold me back I wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t know how to do anything else but push forward, because I’m not particularly interested in going back to where I came from. I’ve tried to let my work and results do the talking, and never stay long in environments where I don’t feel like I’m valued. In the spirit of self-love, I don’t want to be anyone else but me and I know I’m good at what I do. In my mind there’s always another option. While it’s gotten a bit better, it’s important to understand that this is the world we live in, but don’t let it derail you because you have choices.

What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
First, I used to be a professional people pleaser. It was very important for people to like me, and I used to get very upset when I couldn’t make everyone happy. The best piece of professional advice I received was that you just can’t make everyone happy, so stop giving a f*k, but make sure everyone respects you. And another mentor once told me that when you reach executive level the bullet has left the chamber and you’ll spend every day trying not to get hit. Too true.

The standards for how women dress in the office and the boardroom is, in many industries, evolving and allowing for more self-expression. What does “power dressing” mean to you?
I’ve worked in a range of corporate cultures, from business to super casual (think flip flops). In retrospect, even when I worked in formal environments I was always a little creative. I used to wear leather skirts in the 90s in a super corporate environment. I found traditional business gear creatively limiting and didn’t feel like I was being true to myself. So I welcomed the evolution to business casual and casual. But that presented a different issue: in casual clothing I often didn’t look the part of the executive. So I do something called “power me” dressing. I like being creative but always strive to have at least one power piece on—it could be a piece of jewelry, or a great dress, shoe or bag--but I always stay in the creative zone that I like. I always look at my meetings in the morning and this tells me how to dress for the day.

How do you balance the demands of your career with those of your personal life?
It’s a spectrum and sometimes it doesn’t work. Last year, someone pointedly told me that if I invested as much time in my personal life as I did my career, I would get everything I want and more. I took that to heart and have spent a lot of time recently focusing on spiritual growth, personal development and the pursuit of dreams. This means things like vacation, focusing on hobbies, writing, spending time with good people, or even 5 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. Staying grounded is key. I work in a superficial industry and it’s easy for your self-identity to get caught up in the glitz and glamour. But whenever I feel myself floating, I take a moment to feel my feet planted firmly on the ground.

Do you have a regular diet and fitness routine?
I don’t feel right unless I exercise regularly. I try to get in workouts 4-5x per week. In order to do so, I have to schedule workouts just as I would a business meeting. I’ve been boxing since 2000 and I absolutely love it, but I also incorporate other types of exercise such as cardio and weights. I’m good for a 5 mile run, but slooowly lol. In order to make this all work I schedule 6:30am training sessions twice a week.

As for diet, that’s a work in progress. I try to start my morning with a glass of warm water with lemon. The goal is six small, high protein, low carb meals a day. I just watched a documentary called Fat Sick and Nearly Dead and that got me into juicing. I’ve significantly reduced my intake of processed foods, alcohol and sugar, and am spending a lot of time learning how my body reacts to various foods. I’m getting really good at making vegetables tasty-–ever try cauliflower mash? I try hard not to eat after 8pm. What I eat is actually more important than exercise, and I’m trying to do better.

What is the best piece of beauty advice you've ever received?
The best piece of advice I received is to exfoliate. That is all.

What 3 items are in your Ultimate Beauty Arsenal--those Holy Grail products you can't live without?
In the spirit of exfoliation, I swear by my Clarisonic, recommended by none other than Ms. Dana Hill, as well as Crème de la Mer and TNS Essential Serum. Finally, thanks to COCOTIQUE, I’m learning about and loving new products such as Miss Jessie’s Coily Custard and Su-Kari body butter. Go COCOTIQUE!!

Keep in touch with Caralene on social media by following her on Twitter, @MarketingGem.