From shorthand to trucking, events to advertising, I have certainly had a fairly colourful and interesting career path so far. Although I’ve had no clear direction from the start (clearly!) I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learnt so much and enjoyed every facet of my journey in the working world. I was invited to Yellow Door last week to share my story and hopefully some valuable insights into big agency life and how to succeed in a client-facing role.
Having graduated from Rhodes University with a BCom Honours Degree, I knew I wanted to be involved in the creative industry. I just wasn’t quite sure how given my business qualification and skill set. It later became apparent that client service in a creative agency would be the perfect fit, a balance of business and creative thinking.
Before this epiphany I spent four years in London where I managed to secure a job working for the CEO of one of the largest communications and marketing companies in the world, WPP. My shorthand skills got me the job as a supporting PA in the CEO’s office, where I gleaned invaluable knowledge about the advertising industry (from a top down perspective) and the importance of relationships in business.
Oddly enough, WPP stands for Wire and Plastic Products, a shelf-bought entity used to strategically acquire a plethora of advertising and specialist agencies, growing it into the monster network that it is today.
Five years later it was time to bid farewell to grey London and return to sunny Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the scope for a promising role in advertising was limited and I ended up working in transport and logistics where I ran a fleet of cargo trucks from Beira to Zambia. Organization and project management skills came into play as well as people management, and a whole lot of patience.
After two years, it was on to the next adventure with Cape Town calling. After a brief stint learning about agency life with Yellow Door, I got a job as an Account Executive at the ‘Big Red’. Here I discovered the intense role of client service, a relationship-management-focused role ensuring clients are happy and that the agency is delivering work that meets or exceeds the brief. The pressure was on with long hours and stressful deadlines. You really have to be on top of your game, highly disciplined and organized.
After another two years and solid grounding at what they deem ‘the university of advertising’ I was offered a position as an Account Manager at Publicis Machine. It meant stepping out of my comfort zone and after much deliberation I made the move and took on one of the toughest but most rewarding clients I’ve worked with.
The smaller agency experience really worked for me. I went from a team of nine client service members on one account to managing a client on my own. I took sole ownership of my work and full accountability. As scary as it was it was also extremely liberating with less bureaucracy and red tape. Machine fostered an incredible culture and colleagues soon became friends. I was soon promoted to Account Director and took on some exciting new clients, broadening my exposure and portfolio.
And now, after nearly three years it is on to the next adventure – Hong Kong – to join my soon-to-be husband. And who knows what I’ll tackle next, but a good dose of travel and possibly teaching English is at the top of my list!
These are some of the values and skills that have helped me navigate and succeed throughout my career journey thus far:
- Impressions count. Take pride in your work and how you present yourself– from presentations to emails and your personal manner. It says a lot about you as an individual. With a new client, first impressions count. Accuracy, spelling – check everything and then check it again.
- Add value where you can and go above and beyond. For example, supply data and insights to back an idea, keep clients updated on competitor activity, give your personal opinion and supply timing plans.
- Find your voice – you don’t have to be loud to be heard.
- Learn to accept rejection, feedback and criticism graciously – don’t take it personally but be grateful that you can learn from it.
- Ask questions – never fear your client or team. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can’t brief your team properly if you don’t understand the brief and you can’t deliver great work if you don’t understand the concept. Pick up the phone to your client or chat to your creative team. I’ve never had a client annoyed with me for asking questions or clarifying the brief, but they are annoyed when you miss the mark.
- Back your work – be 100% confident that what you are delivering meets the brief. You have to believe in the work to sell it.
- Keep on top of the mundane tasks (remain disciplined and be organized) – billing instructions, filing and e-filing, managing emails, finances etc.
- Forge strong relationships with your partners – you never know when you might need them – you have their back and they’ll have yours. This includes media partners, PR partners, events organizers – work as a team and don’t throw each other under the bus.
- Win your client’s trust. Don’t over-promise. Manage client expectations and always keep them in the loop, even when things go wrong. They like to be informed and updated all the time. Don’t ever wait for them to check up on you.
- KPIs – keep your line manager accountable for setting and measuring your KPIs together for your own growth.
- Culture is hugely important. The people and culture really make a place – participate, join groups and societies, when there’s a party, attend; find your inner child. But conduct yourself in a professional manner – don’t go overboard and make decisions you may regret later.
- Have balance, all the time. We live in Cape Town, who needs more reason. Go for that surf or hike, it will help you perform at your best.
- Most important. Be Nice! In the wise words of Adrian Hewlett, former MD of Machine: “Greet each other every morning, be respectful of people around you, celebrate and encourage each other’s successes, return phone calls. It’s really simple…life is better if you are nice”.