Inspired by Amy and her team’s recent thought leadership into how the pandemic is affecting women’s lives, her enthusiastic posts on LinkedIn championing a host of causes we share, and wanting to unlock any advice she might have for working Mums, I thought I’d catch up with her and unlock the secrets to her success, her career journey so far and any advice she might have for the rest of us.
Morning Amy, now I know you are balancing the sheer joys of home schooling, and of course managing 600 people, so I promise to keep this one quick. Tell me, how did you get into our wonderful industry and take us through your journey so far?
I have always enjoyed studying both numbers and people. For my A levels I did Maths & Chemistry which covered my love of numbers and German which as it was a few years after reunification, covered lots of the changes affecting people in Germany at that time. In the end the people interest won and I went to do a social science degree, but at the LSE which has a very empirical bent so I still got my numbers ‘fix’.
At the end of my course I saw an advert for a Grad Trainee programme at a research company and I remember just being amazed a career such as market research existed with my magic people + numbers combination!
It sounded like my perfect fit as a career and I honestly have always been hugely positive about my decision. The company I joined as Grad trainee has since been through four different owners with many mergers of brands along the way. That has been a big positive for me as I have always enjoyed change and the business changing around me so much has facilitated a range of different roles along my career journey; client and account leadership, new business development, a 5 month secondment at GSK and more recently larger scale business leadership roles.
Love how you have stuck by your agency and team as it has gone through so much transformation. Thinking about junior researchers and the pathway they find out ahead of them, and no doubt their enthusiasm to learn from leaders such as yourself, what would you say are the secrets to your success so far?
I have always been genuinely fascinated in how businesses work and able to root research findings in that context which has served me well. I am good at making things simple for others to understand even when they are complicated. That’s a skill I don’t think people focus on enough actually – it helps whether you are explaining insights findings to client or strategic decisions to your teams.
I try to always treat other people as I would want to be treated and am very straightforward.
I always maintain a sense of perspective and ensure I have enough proper breaks from work to invest time in my family, friends and myself. I don’t work at weekends and don’t look at my emails or work on holiday. I think it is critical to have time to switch off to be your best at work.
I am guilty of that last one, I have to say. But being ‘always-on’ is just not sustainable. I promise to do better this Summer! As a senior woman in our industry balancing the demands placed on you from both work and home, do you have any advice for other working mums on how to balance everything and pursue their career ambitions?
I have three primary school aged kids and have always tried to get the balance right – sometimes better than others as I am sure most people with caring responsibilities outside work will understand. One thing that has helped me is always being clear on my ‘red lines’ i.e. the things which I know would make me and my boys really sad if I wasn’t there. So I have never missed things like assemblies, sports days or other school events and don’t miss more than 1 or 2 bedtimes in a week so I always have chance to catch up with the boys on what’s happened in their days (even if how much information I get in response to those questions is variable!). Before they started at school I didn’t work on Fridays which also helped me feel I was getting the balance right and I used to enjoy the contrast of one day being in my dress & heels in the office (remember those days?!) and the next in jeans and trainers running round the park. Since they have been at school, I do tend to spend some time working on Fridays but its always me that takes them to school and picks them up which has become a red line for me too.
The critical thing for me in the debate about how women and men build their career and balance their caring responsibilities, is we must move away from judging people on their inputs and be much more focused on their outputs.
I am fortunate that my colleagues at Kantar take this approach and so even with recent promotions I wasn’t asked to change my working patterns, my colleagues trust me that I know what’s needed to get my job done well. For anyone coming under pressure around these discussions, I recommend using that as a way of framing your discussion with an employer who is less open to considering flexible working arrangements. For me it was the key reason I stayed working after my maternity leaves and could continue to build my career.
Back to inspiring and supporting our bright junior talents, what two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers.
Never underestimate the importance of relationship building skills in our industry. If it feels forced to you at times, or even uncomfortable, find a way to do it that feels authentic.
Talk to people you see who are good at it and ask for their advice.
It matters for everything you do in our industry whether agency or client side and I honestly believe it super charges all other skills you have.
Stay open-minded to the opportunities presented to you. When I was an Associate Director I got handed a client relationship which on the face of it was a hospital pass – they had just given our main piece of business away to a competitor of ours! I grumbled before taking it, but it turned out to be a total high-point of my career. We won back that main piece of business through the parallel run period and enormously expanded our reach in the client, almost doubling our revenues with them. It got me a promotion and taught me a lot about developing a large-scale client relationship.
OK, big moment – if you could offer one piece of advice, or say something to the whole industry as we launch into 2021, the podium and the mic are yours!
I feel like there is real groundswell behind the discussion of how we improve the ethnic diversity of our industry now.
I hope 2021 is the year we start seeing things visibly changing.
For an industry that is all about understanding people, we do not draw our experiences from a wide enough pool currently. This is something I am very committed to us championing at Kantar.
I was also very struck by the post Monique Drummond of Relish wrote at Christmas, highlighting that while they had been a key part of the development of the Tesco Naughty List Christmas execution, they were not mentioned alongside the other agency partners. It’s a great example of how our industry needs to take a more assertive stance about the role we play in the wider Marketing services ecosystem. This is especially true currently when Covid has wreaked such damage on many industries and up-ended long engrained behaviours. Businesses effectively understanding the new reality of their consumers will be critical to their own recoveries. Who better than our industry to play that critical role.
Finally, do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to say thanks or give a shout out to?
I have been lucky to work with many great people during my career and feel I still learn every day from my colleagues around me which is part of the reason I love my job. It is hard therefore to pick one person, but I would say Mandy Pooler the former CMO of Kantar has been there to offer me sound advice and straight talk on several occasions that really mattered. My lovely Dad is also someone I have lent on for career and business advice on many occasions.
Thanks Amy. I just want to take this moment to thank you for imparting your advice, especially to junior researchers, and your encouragement for working Mum’s, and I want to acknowledge you and your journey so far, which is both inspiring for all of us, and incredibly impressive. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and help make our sector more inclusive.