In February 2020, I had the opportunity to interview Maria Mihaylova, the Marketing & PR Manager of Heineken Experience. Maria is originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, and at the age of 19, she went to the UK where she studied “International Media and Communications”. After her studies, Maria came to Amsterdam for her Master’s, and decided to stay. She started as an intern at Heineken, the world’s second largest brewery. Only four years later, Maria is one of the communicative heads of Heineken Experience, the biggest attraction of the Heineken brewery concern. Not only is she a very inspiring person and quite successful at such a young age, but Maria is also a really fun person to talk to.
What does your typical office day look like?
“Here in Amsterdam, we are a very young team. So it’s quite entertaining. It’s very lively, a lot of noise is going around in the office and I personally have a lot of meetings. I don’t think it’s your typical corporate office with a lot of serious people working around. In the team we have a few Dutchies, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Bulgarian, and German people. This is one of the things I like about working in an international company: you get so much more out of working in a country-diverse team.”
Listening is important, as well as being human.
What values do you consider as important for working as a Marketing & PR Manager?
“I think listening is very important if you want to actually do good marketing. We are focusing more and more on digital marketing, on collecting data and insights. It is crucial that when you talk to someone, you talk to that person at the right time, at the right moment and that you also talk to people that actually want to be spoken to. So, listening is important, as well as being human, I guess. Working for a big brand like Heineken, you sometimes try to be perfect all the time and you want to have these flashy cool slogans. But at the Heineken Experience, maybe because we interact a lot more with people, the human side of our brand is more important than being perfect all the time. And you can see that people engage with that a lot more.”
Focus on the things you are really good at.
Do you have any advice for future Marketing & PR Managers?
“Don’t let that little voice in your head bring you down. I guess the main takeout is: nobody is ever doing you a favor, especially not in this position. So you must be there for a reason and you have to find out ‘what is it, what am I really good at’. And also for me, it was very important to realize: ‘Don’t try to look at the other things you are not good at, trying to fix them, but rather focus on the things you are really good at and use them to advance yourself’. You may not be good in some areas but you can be great in another field, so focus on that and use it to your advantage. And then for those parts that you are not very good at, you can find someone else to do that.”
Did you have this particular job at Heineken in mind when you studied International Media and Communication Studies and later Corporate Communication?
“No, not at all. I actually had no idea what I wanted to do. I was looking for an internship just because at that time I was starting to stress out as I haven’t had enough work experience. And I thought no one was going to hire me. So, I started looking and once I got dipped into the world of Heineken, they say they “heinekenize” you. It is very serious, even though you are an intern you do a pretty serious job. So, you feel very responsible; you get to do a lot of projects and you get attached to the company. So here I am, 4 years later.”
And which of your internships would you say was the most interesting?
“The one at Heineken for sure. I think the level of responsibility that I mentioned earlier is just very different. Because it really felt like a job. I guess I was working much harder than I did at any of the other internships. I had a team and this team depended on me. It completely changes the quality of the work and the hours you put into something when you feel responsible, rather than an internship where you are there for six months and then just leave.”
I remember when I did my internships, I was always the one making coffee.
“I mean I get that it’s part of the internship, I also had to take stuff to the mailbox, and I had to arrange things that maybe weren’t so fun. However, my manager gave me a lot of challenging tasks at Heineken. During my internship, I actually had to organize a huge trade event in France which lasted a whole week. Which was a huge responsibility for an intern. Of course, I had the support of the team, but it felt like “this is a big event for my department and if it goes wrong, then it is my fault”. And of course, if you do a good job, you know that you create a good network which will help you in the future. It is not just a one-time thing.”
Where do you think are the greatest development opportunities for University graduates within Heineken? For example, if I would like to work for Heineken, what should I do?
“There are different routes and it is quite difficult to get into the company because there are not many junior entry-level positions. There are graduate schemes which are very selective, and very few people get in. So, I would say the best thing to do is an internship, even though you are never guaranteed a job after the internship. Actually, a lot of very qualified interns had to move on because there was no job for them. But it is the best way to make connections within the company. It helps you so much to know people. And, most of the time if someone really wants to hire you, they will find a way to do that.”
Thank you Maria for taking the time for this interview!
Cover: Hope Baessler