Remain Curious

07 Jun
Remain Curious

Karim Kanji, CM, VP of Digital and Emerging Media at Active International Canada, recounts the pivotal role storytelling played in his attraction to marketing, the tools of the trade he wished he knew about, who the future belongs to, and why we must remain curious.

The Highest Standards

When the Chartered Marketer (CM) program first launched, the designation for marketing professionals, I was intrigued. Now, CM designation holders are advisors trusted to uphold and maintain the highest standards in the marketing profession.

Winning Hearts

What inspired and attracted me to the marketing profession was the art of storytelling and all the channels where one could tell stories. Whether through short plays at school or hosting podcasts as an adult, I’ve always loved stories and telling them. When Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth called a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game on the radio while it was still dark and cold outside, it warmed my body. It didn’t matter that the Jays were not winning, but it always felt like summer when they were on the radio. When presenting to clients or training our team, I remember how Tom and Jerry made me feel. There’s a saying that marketers must win the hearts and minds of the audience before winning their business. Marketers win hearts with storytelling because numbers and data alone do not sway people.

Tools of the Trade

When I was young, I didn’t realize that marketing was an actual profession. I learned that knowledge wouldn’t all come from our vendors. There were tools of the trade a young marketer could learn to advance their career. I wish I had known about the CMA and courses like Digital Marketing Strategy or Digital Analytics because they would have been an invaluable source of knowledge. I also would have benefitted from opportunities to learn and network with peers and industry leaders through the CMA. At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing. I am keenly aware that not understanding customer profiles has slowed my development as a marketer.

The Future

If marketing is magic, it is because the science of data and research backs up the art of storytelling. My parents instilled a constant pursuit of knowledge in me, which I impart to my team. My advice is to go beyond your title and always be valuable to your employer. One of the biggest challenges I face is staying on top of the constant change in the advertising industry. I am taking an 8-week, 10-part course on Generative AI to do this. I believe that the future belongs not to “the robots” but those who understand how to “prompt” them.

Hopefully Optimistic

This industry never stops changing and challenging us to stay up to date. When I started marketing, social media was all the rage. Now, we’re learning about generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and understanding how it can increase our efficiency. While many may be cautious and fearful of the enormous change AI will bring to our lives, I am hopeful and optimistic about its benefits.

Subscribe and Attend

I stay current by investing time in networking, reading, and learning. The CMA and organizations like it offer opportunities to learn and network through their articles, webinars, round table discussions and events. Two Humber College graduates recently asked how they could stay up to date and what they should be doing to land a job in this profession. Here’s what I told them:

While attending virtual sessions is good, nothing beats face-to-face meetings.

• Subscribe to these newsletters and read their publications:

  • Media In Canada
  • Strategy Daily


• Attend events:

  • Anything the CMA offers that you can attend.
  • Anything the IAB Canada offers if you’re interested in digital marketing.

Remain Curious

Initially, I never studied anything related to marketing or advertising. I learned how to think creatively and critically from a mentor I admired. I started a consulting business without being formally trained to teach brands how to reach and engage with their current and potential customers. At the time, I didn’t understand the implications of marketing fundamentals. After three years of pounding the pavement, I went to work for a large advertising agency. I learned the fundamentals I needed to know, like marketing and promotion. It’s important to realize that we will never know everything, so it’s vital to remain curious.

An Opportunity

One of my earliest achievements was hosting a panel with Toronto’s professional sports teams at the TMU’s Digital Media Zone, discussing using social media to engage with fans. Although I didn’t know much about it at the time, I oversaw marketing alone at a small real estate financing start-up. Creating and hosting this event opened my eyes to the potential of marketing in this new digital/social age. I became confident in bringing people together and engaging with online communities. This early win started my current journey, which now sees me as a VP of an independent and international advertising agency.

Elevate Work

I’m very excited to learn how to use new tools like Gen (AI) and Copilot to be more efficient and effective. Copilot is a large language model (LLM) GenAI chatbot developed by Microsoft. The promise is that Copilot will help increase productivity, but I hope it will also help elevate our work.

Karim Kanji, CM
VP of Digital and Emerging Media 
Active International Canada