Kick-start your agency career.
She may have had a seamless transition from studying textiles to working at LEWIS, but our account director Gill knows that this industry can be a tricky one to crack. She explains how she got to where she is today and offers her top tips for kick-starting your career.
What did you study?
I studied Textile, Fashion and Design Management at Heriot Watt University in Galashiels. I was awarded a 2:1 Honours degree and lots of knowledge about knitting!
Did you do any placements/internships whilst at uni?
I wouldn’t class the work I did while studying as a placement but the jobs I had definitely went a long way in preparing me for the ‘real world’. During every holiday I worked in a series of character and experience building temporary administration roles with different start-ups, public sector organisations, multiple Edinburgh-based solicitor firms and charities. Working across a variety of sectors in short term roles taught me to pick up new tasks quickly – a skill that every good account manager should have.
How did you get your job at LEWIS?
I applied for a junior account manager position at LEWIS just before I graduated in 2008. I was lucky to be given the job at a time when new roles had become scarce. Over my first few years at LEWIS I moved up from a junior role to account management level. As the team grew I was able to nurture and train some of the new members of the account team, pushing my role up to a senior level.
Working with new people on long and short-term contracts has shaped my personality and the way I form relationships. Not all conversations you have as an account manager are easy ones. But how you deliver that information is something that comes with experience. Over time you learn how to recognise what drives individuals and you see people as something more than the organisation that they work for. This enables me to adapt the way that I work for individuals as opposed to just applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Ultimately this job demands attention to detail, ability to multitask, and good admin skills: taking notes and writing them up for clients, costing and reporting on projects and being super organised. Having a strong background in administration goes a long way in setting firm foundations for becoming a great account manager.
What words of wisdom would you give to a fresh graduate?
Be nice to people. The agency world is a very small place and everyone knows each other. If you’re friendly, helpful and enjoyable to work with people will recommend you and give you opportunities. We folk at LEWIS like to meet students and graduates and help them forge their path so it is worthwhile to make appointments and introduce yourself. There might not be a job available at that time but it’s worth building relationships that might benefit you in the longer term.
There are definitely more opportunities in the industry now than five years ago. As the economy has picked up, so have marketing budgets, which in turn has boosted the work available for agencies. It is a good time to be starting a new career.
So make the most of those opportunities. A lot of the people you’ll meet (colleagues and clients) have worked in the industry for a long time and will be able to offer invaluable advice and demonstrate working processes that will benefit you in the longer term. Nobody will expect you to know it all but your determination and love for the industry will set you apart from the crowd.
Do you think there is pressure for graduates to go to London to start their career?
Ten years ago, I think London was more of a draw. People felt they had to move down there to be able to work on big budget ‘ad campaigns’ but that isn’t the case anymore. You just have to look at the great start up industry in Scotland and the nominations for industry prizes such as the Marketing Society Star Awards to see that there is brilliant work being done in Scotland.
Location isn’t as important for agencies and clients as it used to be. I work with London based clients and travelling is so easy nowadays that I can go to a meeting in London and be home in time for dinner that evening.
What advice would you give someone who wants to change career path and break into the industry?
It’s never too late to change direction. Many of the LEWIS development team are self-taught and plenty of the account managers have got to where they are today because of their great people skills and background in administration. Kirsty, our client services director started off life at LEWIS a decade ago as the office manager.
I would encourage anyone seeking a new challenge to speak to people and find out the skills they need to do the sort of job they are interested in and really hone those skills. Don’t be put off a job by the title or the salary. Getting your foot in the door and exceeding expectations will pay dividends in expanding your horizons and giving you experience of your preferred field. Smaller businesses can be a good place to start as you’ll have the chance to try out different tasks enabling you to gain an all-round view of where your strengths lie.
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