Karen Morales on The Love of Marketing to Fight Disease

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Karen Morales, Founder of Marketing Magnet and Board Member of Cure Rare Disease.

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

I never knew I would be a marketing agency owner. I never dreamed I would be self-employed.  In my early days, I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist to bring hope to sick kids. In later years, I wanted to fight oppression as an ACLU lawyer. 

Karen Morales
Karen Morales, Founder of Marketing Magnet and Board Member of Cure Rare Disease, discusses her path to success.

Neither dream materialized, as the path to get there – medical school and law school, seemed like too high a hill to climb. 

One beautiful thing about life is that sometimes your greatest dreams work out in different ways. Today, I make great use of my interest in medicine and my personal journey with the rare disease of adult onset muscular dystrophy. That inner calling to fight systems that aren’t fair that could have led me to law school? That comes out in my work with disruption engines like Cure Rare Disease. 

Marketing is the perfect profession I never knew I’d love. It involves all of my natural gifts: seeing the possibility, never giving up, making strong connections, reinventing things, yet gives me the path I like most: a flexible and changing one. My day to day job description is what I do best: help others make positive change.  I’ve never met a problem I didn’t want to solve, so marketing is my perfect match. 

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Before founding my own agency, I spent 20 years working in large global consulting firms helping big companies solve brand and marketing challenges.  What haven’t I seen? The best part of being a consultant for so long is I have seen it all: hard personalities, expensive errors, website crashes, PR nightmares, product recalls and even a phone line mistakenly rerouted to a personal home in upstate New York instead of to American Express in New York. 

Broad experience, many mistakes, and endless challenges give you perspective. I don’t get scared by anything, as I almost always can say, it’s been worse. 

As we age we deepen our resilience and all those challenges add up to experience that helps us find our way, no matter how challenging the circumstances. 

3. What inspires you most about your work?

I’m an eternal optimist. I love nothing more than seeing people and businesses shine. My favorite stories are the comeback ones so it makes sense that I run toward problems versus away from them. 

There is something so satisfying about seeing your efforts help someone else succeed. It is the greatest joy I find in life, even more rewarding than hitting your own benchmarks. 

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

It’s a very interesting question to consider, as I don’t often look at my gender alone.  As a woman, and a working mom, I found that corporate America was not always supportive to us.  I believe the current pandemic will forever solve some of the embedded bias I faced as a new mom.  

I was a senior leader at a large ad agency when I had children. My first pregnancy was tough and my son had some health challenges along the way. It was always a hard balance all the work with the need for time off to tend to my family. People were supportive, but there was always a nervous energy around needing accommodations. 

With my muscular dystrophy, I didn’t want people to think I was limited in doing my job, so I hid my physical challenges.  It took a long while for the hiding to become impossible, but I did it under the guise that I had never seen a successful person in my office with any limitations. 

When I think about my gender, I believe it is my role to help other women see the possibilities in life and business. I want to be a role model of what IS possible, versus what isn’t.  

5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?

I think that my personal challenges with both a rare disease and a mom parenting a child with needs allows me to be confident enough to fight for change.  I feel that there is really nothing as forceful as a woman with her mind made up, especially if the driving force is to care for her children. 

I stepped into entrepreneurship when I was struggling with a divorce, single parenting and health issues. It was not possible to work more or travel, and we could not move from our home. 

My only option was to work less and earn more, so entrepreneurship was my option.  I was brave enough because I was more concerned with my children and helping them thrive, than with the challenges of business ownership.

And that is where gender plays a role. I have found that many times, women leaders can be more focused on motivations outside themselves. And when those motivations are around caring for people or ideas we love, we are able to move mountains. 

6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?

When I started my business, I wanted to donate at least 10% of our time or profits. I was also focused on showing other women that you can be a successful business owner. I found that many women believed startup life was going to be too challenging for them, but I found the exact opposite to be true. 

The freedom of a startup gave me balance never possible in a corporate setting.  It was a freedom that I knew more women needed to find and be open to creating. 

I love being part of movements that bring together all genders to create change. Working with Cure Rare Disease is that type of organization. We have a male CEO and a board full of moms who are fighting to save other families from the challenges of an incurable diagnosis. Telling a mom it can’t be done is actually a battle cry. In my experience the most motivating words for most women is “No, you can’t.”  The response I hear most often is: watch me try.

7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

Gender is part of who we all are, on our own scales. I see gender being even more personal in years to come. We will not be defined by one label, but the sum of all of our parts, with our labels being more open and fluid to include all levels of gender identity, not just male and female.

Read more about Marketing Magnet here.

Read more about Cure Rare Disease here.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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