This is where I went to uni, and this is what I studied Term 1 of year 2 was a work placement As I live at home throughout university, the first agency I went to was Clarity PR – and I was probably given a bit too much responsibility
Week 2 at Clarity we pitch for a web design agency called Bluhalo Since sold to Gyro and is still ranked as a top 20 digital agency in the UK I was asked to do some research, and at the time, nobody was really thinking as ‘social’ being part of marketing mix.
The brief was to stand out from the crowd At the time, very few were considering social as part of their web build Our idea was to start a ‘behind the scenes’ blog with clients who were starting to think in this way, and start positioning bluhalo’s execs as being the first to talk about this an emerging space We won the pitch, and I started helping the team prepare to work on the account.
Second half of my placement I spent at a fashion agency in Ladbroke Grove First day, they hadn’t even realised I was coming They got me to alphabetise the magazine collection, fetch lunch for the team, and then I spent the afternoon dusting the office plants out on the street Stopped so many times by local residents asking if I provided ‘at home’ gardening services that I could have started a whole new career altogether
I’m not saying that it’s not worth sticking with jobs that start with a certain amount of admin, or basic tasks But, I had the opportunity to dive headfirst into practical learning. Something didn’t feel right about the second agency I’d gone to. I phoned my course tutor, and they agreed to let me switch back.
Clarity, the first agency (led by Sean Fleming, a former managing editor of notoriously hard-to-pitch technology magazine The Register) took me back I played the rest of the placement out working almost solely on bluhalo – and was client facing throughout. At the end of the period, Sean asked me if I’d stay on to work on the account, and my tutor – who had recognisied that I wasn’t really interested in a career in fashion – allowed me to work at the agency three days a week, and attend classes the other two.
I worked out the rest of the year like that, went full time over summer, and then all throughout year three. By the time I’d left, we’d won four other ‘new media’ accounts It was the right thing for me to have done, but I’d never have found the right balance if I hadn’t asked for what I wanted, and trusted my gut.
That forms the first of my takeaways today, which are listed here and I’ll go on to cover in a bit more detail
Point two is that it doesn’t matter what you studied. Think back to what my degree was; I thought I was going to a fashion stylist when I went in to it. I was lucky to get a great tutor, but I had to push hard to get her to agree to that working split. When I left Clarity, six months after I graduated, I went straight into a Senior AE role at a tech-specialist agency called Six Degrees, who was looking for people who knew how to pitch, and could help them shape their social offering. I remember in my interview having them chuckle at the fact I’d studied fashion, but because I was open about why, and talked through what I’d be doing for the past few years – it didn’t matter. My passion for social shone over and above what was written on my CV.
Be proactive - Back in 2006 when I started at Six Degrees, clients weren’t really interested in social. Progressive, larger brands were starting to work out its value, but it was so incredibly immature back then. My hunger for that was ferocious, and so any event, networking group, blog post or Twitter chat that happened, I was either watching, involved in, or listening to. The ‘crowd’ was very young as well, because Twitter was only founded in March of that year, it was only really the early adopters who were using it – and for London, that meant the start-up crowd. There was a small crowd made up of entrepreneurs, forward-thinking marketers, journalists and brands who you’d see at the same events, and form very strong connections with it.
Over time, as this crowd became bigger, it’s now fragmented into individual disciplines and there’s not such an overlap – but back then it was far tighter and there was much more cross-industry opportunity. The real point here, is that just by the nature of going, meeting people face-to-face, and then following up proactively on leads or offers, meant that I was able to become known with a very valuable crowd to me professionally. This is a snowball effect, the more proactive you are, and the more you (while being selective), the better known you become. And if your work is good, people start to trust you. But all that doesn’t get handed to you on a plate, you have to be the one to initiate it.
Be flexible. After a good few years of working in that space, I started become frustrated that the clients I was working with at the time were keen for us to explore social, but were still too afraid to test things out. As I’d started writing a column for a female lifestyle publication about tech, and had attended both G20 Voice London & Pittsburgh for them, my network of exciting new tech companies, start-ups, and brands doing really great work, had started to grow. I realised that the writing bit of my day to day was the bit I really loved, and eventually discovered that that could be a way to flex my muscles. At the time, clients were too nervous to be progressive, and if I couldn’t focus on social strategy by implementing my ideas, I could write about them. One of the first people I’d met in the industry, a lady called Katy Howell, who runs immediate future, knew I’d gone freelance – and introduced my to the publishers of new media age as they were looking to launch a new site that united PR and social. I interviewed and was appointed the next day.
Reputation Online was a turnaround job for me. It was a hard thing to change people’s perception of me from a ‘PR’ to a journalist; and it took a good year to happen. Sadly it became a victim to mass cuts at Centaur, and while they sold off several magazines and closed the print edition of nma, we were closed down. #reponline trended in the UK that day, and I was proud of the community I’d built. Our crescendo was the awards we ran; which was one of the first to introduce social metrics as a submission requisite – and the Rep Online Top 100, which charted work in social.
‘Who you know’ is a real thing. While the closure of Rep Online could have significantly affected my career path, because I’d done enough good work in this space, my reputation remained in tact Once again, my next step was again driven by someone I’d met years earlier. This time it was Chris Lake, now director of content at Econsultancy. We’d kept in touch (another absolute must) over the years, and when I left Centaur, he was one of the first people I spoke to about a role there. I went, and had a great year helping them set up a multi-continent news team.
Remember the people you’ve trusted The final piece of the puzzle is Chris Buckley. A guy I’d met back in my nma days. He was the only one I spoke to at the time who put social strategy into everyday words people could properly understand, and again, we’d kept in touch when I’d moved. Through a sixth sense, he’d worked out that I was getting the urge to ‘do’ again. We’d moved beyond clients being nervous, and UK brands were really starting to invest in social – and doing some truly interesting things. A quick lunch later, and I was at TMW interviewing.
And don’t forget, it’s a small world. You never know when connections will be made online. Treat everyone the same, you never know who you’ll meet on the way up, or down.
The perfect example of this is when I went to find a photo of Sean, my first boss Went to his blog, and clicked through to the about to see if I could find a bigger version of the photo he uses
When I got there, I saw the credit A girl write this blog And just so happens to sit in my current team…
My final takeaway is that practical trumps academic. There’s no way I’d be running an agency at 29 if I hadn’t learned through practical experience. I would urge you all to look at what the thing is that you really want to do; and proactively go after it. There’s an insane amount of opportunity available. But be warned, because of that, competition is fierce – and you have to back up your CV with real things. When you talk to people or interview about a passion, nine times out of ten these days, they will be looking for real examples of things you done – not stuff you’ve learned. Those who hire are looking for doers, not just thinkers.
My checklist for hiring
Make a career of what you love; from the DMA's Young Marketers Rising event
• Trust your gut
• It doesn’t matter what you studied
• Be proactive (and learn from what works)
• Be flexible; take opportunities when they
come – but don’t be impatient
• ‘Who you know’ is a real thing
• Remember the people who’ve done you
• It’s a small world
• Practical experience trumps academic
• An understanding of what good
content is and isn’t
• A proactive, ‘problem solving’ mindset
• Passion for the subject or brand – you
can’t fake it
• Organisation and flexibility
• Open to collaboration
• Aware of analytics and what they