How did I get here?
Talon’s Sophie Pemberton shares her unique universal truths from a lively and unpredictable ten years in media
This International Women’s Day, I’ve been asked to join a panel to reflect on my career and share some of my experiences to date; always an unpredictable exercise for someone with next to no filter. As I sit down to contemplate my first decade in media whilst fending off my cat Jager’s ambitious attempts at laptop domination (think Game of Thrones but with more acts of unnecessary violence) it’s dawned on me that I’m not entirely sure how I got here.
This is going to sound pretty obvious, but ten years is a long time and it has flown by in a blur of Powerpoint, business parks, agency moves and interesting characters, and far from the self actualisation of feeling that after a decade I finally have everything sussed, I seemingly have more questions than ever. Why did ‘Outdoor Strategist’ not appear on my career aptitude test? What’s kept me going this far? Did i make the right choices? What’s next? Why did no one tell me I didn’t need to take a wallet to my first ever lunch? The list goes on.
Unfortunately there isn’t the time or the word count to cover all of these questions but this is my attempt to impart some wisdom to those navigating their way through the industry and perhaps identify with anyone, like myself, who didn’t actually realise that media was an industry in the first place. My experiences may not be yours but there are still some universal truths that I have learned in the first ten years of my career that I wish someone had told me, so here goes.
We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions – Arianna Huffington
This might be my way of justifying some of my more suspect decision making but I don’t really subscribe to the idea of mistakes. There’s a lot to be said for gut feeling and this is how I have tended to navigate my options but it hasn’t always gone to plan. At some agencies I’ve spent nearly 4 years, at others, little more than 5 weeks. I’ve questioned agency policy, voiced unpopular opinions and tried to keep drinking pace with TV buyers. At the time, none of these choices felt wrong but they have had unpredictable consequences which have forced me to adapt and learn which has taught me so much about what I want from my career. I’d encourage anyone to have the courage of their convictions, even if it doesn’t go to plan.
I’m one of those regular weird people – Janis Joplin
Media is full of weirdos and is all the better for it. People are drawn into the world of creative advertising, then the parallel universe of media is revealed to tempt you in and ultimately I think that one of the centrifugal forces of this industry is its people. I’ve been lucky enough to have some brilliant managers and colleagues who have listened to and supported me but I’ve also had some challenging ones and these are the ones I’ve benefited from the most. Don’t seek out the people who think and act like you, find the ones that don’t. It’s more motivating, fulfilling and entertaining…even if you do end up trying to track down a giant blimp that landed in a horse field in Wiltshire, but that’s a story for another time.
When you go out of your comfort zone and it works, there’s nothing more satisfying – Kristen Wiig
Those who know me might find this difficult to believe but I used to be painfully shy and was always nervous speaking to new people, let alone in front of them. I’m more than making up for it now but it’s taken considerable time and effort to embrace uncomfortable situations. My general approach has been to say yes to an opportunity before I’ve had the chance to really think about it which landed me on stage in front of the industry a couple of times last year! These opportunities might be few and far between so grab them while you can and figure it out later.
The only way is not up: why career zig-zagging is good – Anna Hickey
Wavemaker’s COO, Anna Hickey, wrote an article last year which really resonated with me and as far as I’m concerned, should be mandatory reading for anyone in the first ten years of their career. Master plans are overrated and unrealistic. The pace and energy at which this industry continues to evolve, especially in Out-Of-Home, demands diversity of thinking and flexibility. I’ve worked at 5 different agencies, had 8 different roles and worked on dozens of different clients and only now do I feel equipped enough to stick my head above the parapet. Don’t get hung up on getting to the top, you’ll get there if you invest in learning, experimenting and experiencing new things.
The reality is, the first decade of your career will be as different to mine as it will be to the people you write this for in ten years’ time, so it’s okay to not have all the answers yet. It took me ten years find the time to detangle my media career to date and understand a bit more about how I arrived here. At the very least, writing this all down has enabled me to distil my thoughts for International Women’s Day so that i can attempt to limit my unfilterable opinion.
Come Friday, with any luck, I’ll have remembered some more universal truths to impart, or perhaps I’ll just have more questions and changed my mind about everything, and that’s the wonderful thing about media; it gets to change, adapt and evolve as it goes, so why can’t I?