Susan Gunelius, President & CEO, KeySplash Creative Inc.

April 16, 2016 • Female Leadership In Our Time, Women in Leadership

I’ve found that the best way to deal with gender bias is with a strong offense, meaning you need to be smart and not be afraid to confidently show just how smart you are. Don’t be afraid to show what you know.
Susan Gunelius is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications and strategic branding company. She spent the first half of her 20-year marketing career in Corporate America directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Susan has written 10 marketing-related books, including Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, and Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps.


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I opened KeySplash Creative after my triplets were born and I realized returning to the corporate world was no longer the right career path for me. I still wanted to work in marketing though, so I began offering copywriting services as a freelancer. As my client base grew, I decided to form KeySplash Creative. Since I was a solopreneur and offered services – primarily writing and strategic consulting – I really only needed me, a computer, and an internet connection to be productive. I was fortunate that the startup costs were very minimal and I covered them myself.

In terms of the gender bias against female entrepreneurs, I didn’t experience it a lot personally in terms of initially building my business, but I did see it on a daily basis. I built my business through content marketing. I wrote content about marketing, copywriting, social media, and branding on a variety of websites (including my own), and I wrote books about these subjects as well. By spreading my expertise across the web, I attracted new clients. Of course, it helped that I have such a deep background in marketing based on my education and corporate career with AT&T and HSBC. It never hurts to tell a potential client that I directed marketing programs for what were two of the biggest companies in the world at the time. If those companies trusted me to do their marketing, many clients feel confident that they can trust me, too.

Back to the gender bias question – I saw it online every day. It would be me and a bunch of men writing about business on a variety of websites. Big business conferences would be filled with speakers who were primarily men. I’ve found that the best way to deal with gender bias is with a strong offense, meaning you need to be smart and not be afraid to confidently show just how smart you are. Don’t be afraid to show what you know.



I think in the past women have been attracted to the marketing field because it’s a field that social cues make women (and men) think is an appropriate place for women to be in business. Fortunately, that’s changing. We see women like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Indra Nooyi of Pepsi paving the way.

This is actually a subject that I’ve written about a lot on my blog, Women on Business ( There are many reasons why women pursue careers in STEM fields less than careers like marketing. Some of the reason is based on how girls are (often unintentionally) conditioned to view themselves from a very early age. Some of the reason is based on the “boy’s club” mentality that hasn’t completely gone away in many of these fields. We’ve made a lot of progress towards achieving diversity in all capacities in business, but we still have a long way to go.

I was attracted to the marketing industry when I was in high school. I often joke that I was the only teenager with a collection of print ads. I still love print! I wanted to be involved in creating those ads. I wasn’t an artist (and this was the 1980s before graphic design software existed), so I pursued the business side instead. I am a writer, so marketing communications and branding became a natural focus for me.



I’d say I’m risk averse most of the time. I’m the first person to poke holes in an opportunity and look at it from every angle to figure out what could go wrong and make sure problems are avoided. I had a boss once who told me I was too negative. I told him he was missing my value. I wanted every project to have the greatest chance to succeed, and I wouldn’t nod my head and agree that everything was perfect when I saw possible challenges that could be addressed now rather than later when they became huge and expensive problems. I told him he should be thrilled to have me around because I was probably saving him a ton of money when he’d have to fix things later. I wasn’t being negative. I was being thorough. To this day, I’m not sure what he thought of that response, but it was honest.

I think the biggest risk I’ve taken is starting my own business. Once you leave the corporate world for many years, it’s hard to get back in at the same level. This is particularly true for a woman whose absence is often viewed negatively while for a man, an absence doesn’t carry the same negativity. When you start a business, you don’t know if it’s going to be successful or not, so knowing I’d have a more difficult time going back to a corporate job if my own company didn’t succeed was a big risk.



I stay current on what’s happening in marketing, advertising, and the creative industry by staying involved. I read a lot of publications, follow a lot of conversations and content on social media, and subscribe to a lot of newsletters. I’m always reading! I also belong to a few associations and LinkedIn groups where members are always talking about the latest and greatest marketing tools and trends.

I think one of the biggest changes in social media marketing over the next year will be the need to pay to play. With social networks like Facebook making it harder for businesses to get views on their Page content, “paid social” will become a requirement. I also think we’ll see a bigger focus than ever on personalized content, and I’m not talking about content that has a person’s name on it. I’m talking about content that is so highly targeted that it speaks to consumers based on their location, their position in the marketing funnel, their most recent behaviors, and their needs at a given moment in time. We’ll see this in online advertising, social media engagement, email marketing, and more. It’s not easy to create this type of content, and it will be hard for brands to keep up.



I’m extremely interested in the startup world right now and helping startups build brands that will not only enable them to launch and gain investors and sales traction, but also enable them to scale and grow well into the future. I’m helping a few clients do exactly that right now and it’s so much fun!

In terms of what I want to accomplish, that’s constantly evolving. I absolutely love to teach people how to leverage their brands and marketing to build businesses and lives that they love. I’d love to have more opportunities to speak to and coach business owners and to teach college students about marketing and branding. Now that my triplets are eleven, I should have more time to start pursuing that part of my career.



I think the secret is working for myself. I get to make the decisions and pursue the types of projects and clients that make me happy. I choose my own hours, and while I work some really crazy hours, it works for me. I can take my kids to school and pick them up in the afternoon. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I still worked in Corporate America. The flexibility enables me to do it all.

I think a lot of women leave the marketing industry (and many business fields) for similar reasons. They see the glass ceiling. They have no work-life balance, and something has to change. In fact, that’s one of the reasons women are starting their own businesses at a faster rate than men.



My biggest challenge is finding time to take better care of myself and spend more time with my kids. Yes, I have more flexibility as a business owner, but I also work far more than 40 hours per week. There are positives and negatives to every situation.

In five or 10 years, my kids will be 16 or 21. I think I’ll be looking for a nice beach to work on with my laptop because I won’t have to be home to make sure the kids do their homework in between conference calls!



I don’t like to carry a lot of stuff. It’s a result of having triplets. When they were younger, I had to take the bare essentials with me when I left the house because I had to try to hold three kids’ hands at the same time. Today, if I’m just leaving home for a few hours or for the day, I don’t leave without my keys, wallet, and phone. If it can’t fit in my pocket, I’m not taking it. And the pockets on women’s clothes are very small!


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