Friday, 30 October 2015

At another crossroads

I daren't start this blog by saying I'm at a some kind of a crossroads.

I've seemingly been at more crossroads in recent years than Benny and his wooly hat (a cryptic reference unless you are of a certain age).

Anyhow, I'm at a reflection point let's put it that way.

(As a quick aside, as I write this I'm currently sat in Dragon's Den playcentre in Keighley. The incessant pop drivel blaring out of the cheap crackly speakers is hard to ignore. But ignore I must as this blog is itching to get out.)

My dad once told me if you find a job you love son, you'll never work another day in your life.

I thought he was very clever.

And his wise words stayed with me for more than twenty years helping guide many of the career decisions I made.

When he officially retired from Queen's University I got the chance to address him and his fellow boffins.

In a hall reminiscent of something out of Harry Potter I recounted how proud I was of my father and what a privilege it was to do a speech to him and his contemporaries in such prestigious surroundings.

When growing up I'd always judged his cleverness by how much facial hair he and his colleagues had.

All academics back then had beards. Proper wild beards. Not the trendy Shoreditch type you see on the hipsters these days.

I recounted that on one of my dad's work trips to China I'd stumbled across quotes from Confucius.

He'd been telling me how his over enthusiastic hosts had entertained him all day, and he was completely shattered. He'd visited the home of Confucius.

Prompting me to Google said philosopher.

Lo and behold, as we exchanged emails this popped up on Google.

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

Confucius Born: 551 BC, died: 479 BC

My dad, a professor of chemical catalysis, who had always jokingly said I'd done a degree in bullshit (public relations) was a professional blagger himself.

Anyway, I digress. Whether it was Confucius or Prof Robbie Burch, the idea of enjoying what you do in your working life is such an important aspect of being happy.

What's more if you are passionate about it, your job can become a vocation in life.

As someone who is not particularly motivated by money, or status, or title, being passionate about what I do is key.

I love to be creative. To try new things out. To take chances on stuff.

A conversation on Twitter this morning reminded me of how I describe innovation

"Spotting an opportunity or a problem that needs solving, having an idea, giving it a try, measuring if it worked, if it did crack on, if it didn't what did you learn. Repeat."

I love doing that.

So as I look forward and consider what I should do next, I am determined to ensure the path I choose has plenty of fun on either side of it.

BTW, if one of my team is reading this and is wondering where I'm off to, don't worry. I'm not going anywhere in a rush.

But as a 41 year old, mid way between starting out at Prudential at 18 all those years ago and retirement at 65 (hopefully) it seems a good moment to pause for thought.

And if all else fails I guess I can go back to my former life as a professional bullshitter eh dad?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

My top tips for a successful career in PR or marketing

It's scary to think about it, but I started my degree 21 years ago.

I was trained in PR, seems a bit funny saying it like that, but it's true.

I went to a former polytechnic, Leeds Metropolitan University, now renamed Leeds Beckett I think. The course as a result was deliberately vocational.

Anyway since graduating in 1998 I've spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Green Flag, Direct Line and Asda.

The land of the pocket tappers has never been dull.

Having started there back in 2002 initially looking after food and farming, I was lucky enough to take up roles including head of PR and head of social media.

More recently I've overseen marketing innovation, helping explore new revenue opportunities for Asda. That's included leading a team that has built a pipeline of new digital assets to unlock investment from FMCG brands who value having access to Asda's 18m households.

I've also overseen the transformation of's adserving capability, which in the coming months will enable Asda to become a credible media publisher.

And I've built Mum's Eye View on YouTube, capturing 11m views since launch in under 18 months.

I was asked by The Drum recently what keeps me awake at night. Truth is very little (other than my six year old), but the work thing I ponder about most in those quiet moments is how brands are going to make the transition from mass market, broadcast media, to targeted, content driven comms, but at the scale they need and crave.  No-one has cracked the nut yet.

In fact for many brands they are yet to embrace digital, let alone understand how to harness it.

The abyss is just round the corner, but by the time they wake up and realise they need to change it could be too late.

It's an old adage but you no longer need a digital strategy, your strategy needs to be fit for the digital age.

If you're reading this and just starting out on your career in PR or marketing, these are my top tips:

1. Never stop being inquisitive.

2. Network, network and network some more.

3. Be healthily paranoid that your assumptions could be wrong.

4. Take a chance once in a while, but be humble when it goes wrong.

5. Learn from your set backs.

6. Find a good mentor.

7. And then coach others in return.

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