The BBC is a funny old brand. Domestic consumers of the Beeb are oddly proprietorial in quite a familial way: it is one of those very British institutions that people will defend to the hilt when someone from outside the family (i.e. Britain) takes issue with it, but are all too ready to stick the boot in when errors are made (case in point, a certain recent Panorama documentary: ‘weren’t our chaps awfully clever in uncovering scandalous global corruption!’ versus ‘but oughtn’t they rather have waited three days before airing the evidence?’. Go figure.)
At any rate, globally, the BBC has a distinguished heritage of offering top quality entertainment to countries the world over. Content provided by the hard graft of producers, but marketed and sold by the strategic counsel of its marketing team.
So it was with a mixture of curiosity, trepidation and awe that I found myself entering my seventh mentor session today, this time with BBC Worldwide’s Director of Global Brand and Marketing, Helen Kellie. And I left far from disappointed.
90 minutes is just not enough time to absorb everything Helen has to offer. But not for want of trying: she worked to fill every second of those minutes with advice, stories from her own experience and a worthy sounding board for my own – and in so doing forced me to work equally hard to keep up with the pace (which, I strongly suspect, is how she builds such successful teams). Safe to say that after 5 minutes I was feeling pretty relieved to have had my morning mocha before hitting Wood Lane. Firing on all cylinders and talking at a rate of knots, she expounded a huge amount in just an hour and a half. And, with the same enthusiasm, listened to every word I had to say in return.
And so, begging Helen’s permission to paraphrase enormously, my top 10 highlights:
1. Allow people and personalities to drive your career choices. It’s not everyone’s motivation but it can be enormously rewarding. It means you’re always learning – or should be – from those you work for.
2. Try to carve out your own projects, giving yourself the space and substance to play and experiment – and, crucially, to make mistakes.
3. Learn to be a great broker. Stakeholder management is an invaluable tool and whether brand or agency side, you will need to constantly fight hard to get ideas heard (and even harder to get them realised).
4. Pick your battles. What will you fall on your sword for? What can you let fall by the way? Learn to recognise which are crucial victories on which you cannot compromise. Let some things go.
5. It’s not (always, or even often) about being ‘right’.
6. Have integrity. Always, always stay true to your word. If you alter your course, ensure you clearly communicate why. It will breed credibility and earn you respect.
7. Sometimes, unreasonableness breeds creative depth. Don’t always dismiss it as an impossibly hard task-master. The results might surprise you.
8. Don’t be afraid of making risky career moves. Be bold all the while you can afford to be. Sometimes what appears to be a lousy job opportunity might be worth a second glance because of what it could deliver in the long-term.
9. Always think one job ahead of the one you are about to take (in effect, two ahead of the one you are in): is this the most effective pathway to reach that destination?
10. Marketing is an industry of blended skills. It requires a mixture of rigor and creativity. Figure out where you fit on that spectrum – and where you want to be. Is there anything lacking? Take steps to fill the voids.
Helen’s strong personality and frighteningly quick mind were not at the expense of compassion and the capability to really listen. I learnt from this. Within a short time I felt at ease to discuss my current specific professional challenges in a completely honest and open way, resulting in some sincere and invaluable advice in return that has offered me a completely fresh perspective on certain situations.
What I took away from today was not just what Helen said, but the way she said it. The speed with which she communicates is at first daunting but also (I quickly came to realise) efficient, effective and impressively powerful.
Finally, my favourite notion of the day: think of your career as an accumulation of stories. A series of quite different stories. Don’t embark on the next one just because it’s bigger and more complex if it’s essentially the same as the one before. In the long run, that won’t interest you, or anyone else. Mix up the narrative. It’s a lot more fun that way.