Great to hear from Holly Govey who is a research and insight executive at Wavemaker, a media agency which aims to provoke growth for the world’s leading brands and businesses.
Having started out in a PR agency, Holly moved into research and insights last year and is now part of the ‘Audience Science’ department, Wavemaker’s research and insight consultancy team, providing clients with insight and evaluation solutions to steer their strategic direction.
She is also a keen runner and cyclist, plays hockey for a local London club, and volunteers as a business consultant for Sported, a charity which supports grassroots sports clubs to improve social outcomes such as health and wellbeing, reducing crime and anti-social behaviour and inequality in sports participation.
So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?
I’d been working in a PR agency called Red Consultancy for two years – in a role which involved managing campaigns and proactively pitching to journalists, to running the press office, managing crises, and responding to requests for statements. I realised that the part of my job which excited me the most was really understanding a brand’s audience and designing communications which responded to real consumer challenges.
With my interest ignited, I started to read and watch everything I could about brand strategy, from listening to podcasts, reading books on behavioural science and branding, and watching online courses on research methods and brand management.
I asked my company if I could spend time in the strategy department at my PR agency and was granted permission to spend one day a week working on insights for current clients and helping shape the strategy for new business pitching.
After 6 months of learning on the job in this hybrid role, I knew that I wanted to work in research and insights full time, and to get some formal training in research methodology, so that’s when I applied to Wavemaker and secured a role in its Audience Science team.
Career paths are rarely without challenges. Can you share an honest moment from your career when things didn’t go quite according to plan, but the lessons remain with you to this day?
When I first decided to leave my PR agency, I didn’t really know how to go about moving industries and the idea of starting from scratch in a new sector was pretty daunting.
I first applied for an innovation consultancy, and I managed to get through to the final stage of the application process, following two interviews and presenting a 30-minute deck on a new product idea. However, I was then told after the final interview that I “didn’t have the right type of research experience for the role”.
I was pretty upset about the rejection as I felt that I had proved myself capable of learning new things in the process and felt that being judged on my lack of previous experience was unfair. It seemed as though getting more than an entry-level role (and salary) in the research industry without prior research experience was a near impossible task.
I continued applying for research and innovation roles and was rejected by a number of other companies on the same basis, but I learned more and more from each interview/application about how to demonstrate my skills and knowledge.
By the time I came to apply for my current role at Wavemaker, I knew that I had to clearly show my transferable research skills from PR, as well as my capacity and motivation to learn new things quickly. I think that the process of applying for jobs and being rejected allowed me to understand what I wanted from my next role and helped me to develop my skills and learn how to articulate them effectively to an interviewer.
So, I would say to anyone else applying to a role who doesn’t necessarily have the requisite experience – don’t give up and trust the process. If a company can’t recognise your capacity to grow and develop and only wants to hire someone who won’t need any training or guidance, then it’s probably not the right fit for you either!
What two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?
Always be curious and have a ‘growth mindset’. For me it’s been all about gaining exposure to as wide a range of experiences and research methodologies as possible. I’ve tried to help on projects which are outside of my clients just to learn as much as possible about different ways to approach a client’s brief or research challenge and I try to attend industry events and webinars in my spare time.
I would also recommend focusing on the “so what” aspect of a research project. Rather than simply understanding the data and highlighting any trends or changes, think about the narrative and what this means for the client. Telling a powerful story with data is something I’m constantly working to improve.
How do we ensure that students and those leaving school aspire to join our sector?
When I left university, having studied English and French, I had absolutely no clue what to do with my career. The only reason I ended up in PR was because I had a friend who worked at the company and said I’d be good at it (although I suspect she was mainly after the recruitment bonus).
So many people leave school or university in this position and it’s only through trying something that you learn what you like and don’t like about ways of working, which sectors interest you, whether you want to work on one client/project at a time or have the variety of an agency structure.
So with this in mind, I think the research sector should do more to highlight the benefits of starting out in this sector and the access it gives you to a broad range of clients, industries, ways of working and thinking and really showcase the variety of learning opportunities which can help students to understand what they’re really interested in.
Do you have any advice for our sector?
I think the research industry continues to work in an echo chamber, so improving diversity and including a varied range of voices and perspectives is so important to ensure that others see our sector as innovative, inspiring, and insightful.
I’d also advise our sector to continue to embrace new methodologies and to encourage clients to do more different and interesting research projects. Only by taking a risk and straying away from traditional methods – such as surveys and focus groups – can our industry adapt to new technologies and keep pace with the digital transformation of other sectors.
Finally, I think we need to think about how market research can be more sustainable – everything from how we store and send data to encouraging clients to explore how they can make real change happen and use things like behavioural nudging to help consumers and businesses act.
And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?
I’d like to say thank you to Sam Bowen and Kristina Kairyte, who were both great mentors and teachers to me when I joined the strategy department at Red Consultancy. Kristina taught me about the world of insight for paid media and comms and generally inspired me to always continue learning and developing my skills. Despite how busy our strategy team was, with only three people, they always made sure that I understood how to use the research tools and took the time to share their knowledge and experience with me.