Money, Power, Respect: Karen Civil’s Unique Career Path
If you ever met Karen Civil you probably would never guess that she is an introvert. In fact, you would probably think that she is the opposite of that. But the social media and digital marketing strategist, who has spent the last 12 years building her brand, once lost out on an opportunity because she didn’t own her voice.
“I tried out for an internship with Angie Martinez on Hot 97, and it didn’t go the way I wanted; I didn’t win,” says Civil. “She told me she liked me but that I was too quiet, that she didn’t even know that I was in the room.”
At that moment and through that experience, Civil decided that she would never again be that quiet. She would do what she needed to do in order to own her voice. And she has.
In 2008, she launched KarenCivil.com, a site that gives an industry insider’s look inside the glitzy and over-the-top world of hip-hop and then two years later, Always Civil Enterprise, a branding and social media marketing company was born. Her work as a brand ambassador has been used to help clients such as YG, Teyana Taylor. Then in 2015, Civil was hired by Sen. Hillary Clinton’s team to help make the then presidential candidate look cooler.
If you haven’t watched her 2019 TED Talk, you probably should because in only 7 minutes and 49 seconds, she will tell you how to turn your hobby into a career that you love. But maybe even more important than that, she will teach you that you don’t need to be rescued in life or in business because you should always be your own or Superhero even on the days where you just want to be Wonder Woman’s Diane Prince or Superman’s Clark Kent.
“I grew up in a West Indian household, and marketing and branding wasn’t something that was considered a career choice. My options were to become a lawyer, a doctor, or a nurse or a cop,” says Civil. But none of those things appealed to her, and she knew she had to forge her own unique path.
“I didn’t want to arrest people, work on bodies or put people behind bars, but I knew that I loved the computer, and I had a vision about turning that hobby into a career.”
Except, her vision wasn’t small, and she didn’t have all the answers, but with trial and error, she started to figure it all out. After she lost out on the Hot 97 gig, she regrouped and reached out to famed New York City DJ and producer Funk Master Flex, who gave her her first internship.
“I just needed somebody to give me a chance to crack that door a little bit open, so I could bust right through,” she says. And on the days when she felt unsure, it was at those times she would draw inspiration from Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
In her teen years, Civil loved dressing Goth and listening to the Backstreet Boys, which was starkly different from her brothers who were totally into b-ball. “I didn’t have a choice, so I watched,” she says. And during those games, she learned valuable lessons from two of the best who ever played the game; Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
“They continuously showed up for themselves, their teams, and for the fans. They had such a love for the game of basketball. Even when Jordan’s dad died, he would still show up.”
As a deep and thoughtful thinker, Civil realized that she had to be the same; she had to be willing to show up for herself. She knew she had to learn how to flip the switch so that no one would know when she’s feeling uncomfortable or intimidated. She had to own the room. She couldn’t allow another Hot 97 situation to occur.
“Being a person of color, especially a woman of color and having someone tell you ‘I don’t want you to be quiet. I wanna hear your voice. I want to hear your opinion.’ Angie Martinez didn’t have to say that to me. I thought to win in that moment, I had to be quiet. But I realized I could be an introverted person at home, but when it’s time to turn it up, I gotta turn it up.”
And she has. Though she likes to start her day by lowkey heading to the beach to surf, reciting her daily prayers and then checking out what’s trending online, Civil never misses an opportunity to stay close to what’s on and popping. She has always been invested in educating herself and would often head to the library as a kid. But now, to stay ahead of the curve, she heads online.
“I tell people I have a Master’s degree in Google University; everything is right there at the tip of your fingers,” says Civil. She also follows the blogs of all the companies and social media platforms that she is interested in, so she knows what they are up to and can easily contact them. “When I know they’re getting ready to launch something, I will reach out to have a conversation about it.”
Her tenacity has allowed her to create and grow great partnerships, and one of her latest is with Martell Cognac. Together, they inspired a project that, as someone who pushes for women’s empowerment, felt like an excellent way to elevate women entrepreneurs throughout Black History Month and into Women’s History Month.
“I was so excited because they wanted to not only partner with me but also wanted to amplify and highlight Black businesses,” says Civil.
The overall goal was to open up opportunities not just to influencers who have a large following but also to women who were making a difference. They wanted women who were making an impact in their companies and who were helping to move the culture forward.
The women and products included featured The Crayon Case founder and CEO Supa Scent, The Mane Choice CEO and Founder Courtney Adeleye highlighting her Cool Coffee Clique, the inventor of the CultureTags card game Eunique Jones Gibson, co-founders of Brown Girl Jane Tai Beauchamp, Malaika Jones–Kebede and Nia Jones, founder Ronne Brown with HERlistic, founder Annagjid Kee Taylor with Shear Genius Collection and founder Nayamka Roberts-Smith with LA Beautyologist.
“I sometimes call them invisible giants because they are working so much, and sometimes people don’t know who they are. This partnership was a great way to showcase Black businesses and also incredible Black women.”
Martell Cognac and Civil joined forces to create actual trunks that highlighted all of these products created by Black women filled with some of her favorite brands and sent them to some of her favorite social media mavens and influencers. Civil also hosted a conversation series on Clubhouse Make HER Statement, Bold Conversations Hosted by Karen Civil.
“They said yes to the businesses I wanted to amplify,” she says. Civil is quick to point out that Martell Cognac wanted to make sure that the focus was on bringing awareness to other women and not on the brand.
“They didn’t do this last year at the time of the social uprising when companies were rushing to do something with Black people. It wasn’t. ‘Let me hurry up and put up a black square.’ This was perfectly timed and organic.”
“She made my life easier through COVID because of all of her products like her cookbooks, airfryer and seasonings. PremaDonna made me gain weight but that doesn’t matter,” Civil says laughing.