Today being World Youth Skills Day, we wanted to reflect on what we can do as a business and as individuals, to help the next generation of comms professionals. We believe it’s vital for young people to have access to opportunities that give them space to grow, and let them have a taste of what it can look like to work and succeed in our industry.
That’s why at Verity London, as part of our commitment to People, Purpose and Planet, we’ve pledged to develop a mentoring initiative – deepening the mentoring we already provide informally – and to invite local secondary school children with an interest in film production, marketing and communications into our Camden offices. We’re keen to empower teenagers to ask questions, experience life in a working agency and begin to think about and develop some of the skills needed in this sector.
And as we work on upskilling our youth, we asked Verity London’s team members about their first professional jobs. So, here are some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way, with key advice for young adults starting their careers today.
Debra – Co-Founder and CEO
I did a lot of work experience in local radio, local newspapers and independent production companies before getting my first job in BBC TV production. Those early years taught me not only how to network and work as part of a team – two critical skills in this industry – but also how to be editorial and the importance of storytelling. It’s vital to be able to disseminate often complex information, get to the heart of what needs communicating and how the messaging will land with different audiences, all while being creative to ensure engagement.
I’d also say when you’re first starting out that while you may find some work environments intimidating, you need to somehow find the confidence within you to know that you always have something to offer, no matter how senior some other members of the team might be. You can always bring a younger, newer perspective – and there’s no such thing as a stupid question. It’s a learning process, but with time you can and should learn how to carve out your place and the value you can bring. I think that’s really important.
Those very early days taught me the importance of people skills and asking questions – people are very willing to pass over information and advice if you catch them at the right time.
You need to network – the reason I got my first “proper ”job as a researcher on Crimewatch was finding out about it from contacts that I’d kept in touch with from my work experience days at the BBC years before.
Raj – Senior Account Director
I’ve done advertising all my life – my first job was at a small advertising agency in India. That first year I worked across their TV and print campaigns and it gave me a good, wide foundation. I got the basics, like putting together a creative brief, and what it looks like to action that across a campaign. It made me realise that I love the role of account management, and it also taught me to love the fun and the challenge of creative collaboration – and working beyond just being stuck behind a computer.
The work culture in India back then was very different from the UK now, especially in advertising. As an agency, your clients felt like they could push you around a bit more, and it could be quite exploitative. You got paid a lot less than marketing, and you’d find yourself working from 9am to 2, even 3 the next morning. Despite that I definitely feel like I had the space to innovate – companies were pushy but they did allow for very creative work, and I got to grips with digital and experiential promotions, outside of just traditional ads.
I’d say to anyone moving into any industry – don’t pigeonhole yourself into thinking you’re only there for one specific role. There’s always learning you can do, and you can always bring something fresh to clients.
Also, be creative – not just with execution, but be creative in your approach to solutions. Take astep back, look at a brief holistically, and interrogate what you could get from it, even if it means bringing the client an idea they might not have originally thought of – especially then. If you have an inquisitive mind you can do anything – I have 14 years’ experience and I’m still learning.
Karen – Co-Founder and COO
I worked at Just 17 Magazine and the Clothes Show Magazine when I was doing my postgraduate in Periodical Journalism. I did all sorts for them, but I did a lot of writing, which was nice because I always loved writing, and I enjoyed moulding myself into their fun writing style.
The magazine forced me into building my self-confidence, and learning to jump at opportunities. They once sent me to Newcastle to interview and have dinner with [singer] Lisa Stansfield, and I was surrounded by older journalists – normally a confident bunch – and I was the shy work experience kid, but I knew I had to represent the magazine well because they put trust in me. The next day, when the Capital Radio morning news read out Lisa’s answer to the question I’d asked her, it reiterated to me how good it feels to step out of your comfort zone.
Confidence is a big part of the journey; I used to think that was unfair and that doing the work well (which is a given) should be enough, but I realised in my life that having the confidence to grab opportunities and do things that scare you is what often separates those who rise up and those who don’t.
Monica – Executive Assistant
I always worked odd jobs in my parents’ restaurants growing up, and so by the time I went into accounting I already had the soft skills of customer and client service, as well as a strong work ethic. When I got there, it was about learning office protocol and procedures, and all the formal stages you need to go through. You don’t really write anything formal when you’ve just come out of uni, so I had to learn how to properly structure an email for the first time.
A tip I’d give to young people going into the workforce today – get the brief nice and clear before you start something and don’t be afraid to put the hours in.
You’re young now, and you’ll never have more time to work and to learn – stay past 5 if you have to in order to push yourself forward professionally and personally. Also, when you’re just starting out, employers understand that you don’t have the hard skills yet, they just want to see that you’re willing to learn – it’s about attitude.
Jo – Business Development Director
At school I was lucky enough to do a week’s work experience at the BBC – I used to respond to all the fan mail coming in for Grange Hill. It showed me the proper process and structures of an office job, and I see that rigid structure in my role today with business development. At my first “job” job, in sales, my boss was incredible at problem solving. He was almost like magic – he’d always find a way out of an issue before complaining about how it can’t be solved, and watching him taught me that if you want to make something work enough, there’s always a way to do it, and that’s an attitude I carry with me today.
As for advice? I’d say that if you don’t know the answer, it’s not a stupid question.
And I’d also say, especially to girls, that you shouldn’t allow yourself to get talked down to because of your gender, and if you feel like you are, don’t be scared to reach out to someone in your field who’ll understand. An older woman who’s been there and seen it all – finding amentor figure is a good way for a woman to succeed.
Cecile – Senior Digital Marketing Executive
Back in France, I worked as a hotel receptionist during my gap year, and I had to learn to do a lot by myself because it was a small hotel and often I’d be the only receptionist down there.
I really think that taking initiative is one of the most important skills you can develop – do your job, but also keep your eyes open to anticipate whatever problems there could be outside of your job description. If and when you can, take the initiative to do the things that you see could be done better, even when you’re not asked.
Being proactive is a skill that’s often appreciated.
Also, if you’re confused about something, it’s better to ask the “silly” question now than trying to do it on your own and producing inadequate work down the line – sometimes as managers we can use certain jargon and just assume that people understand, but it’s better to make it clear when you don’t.
Julie – Head of Production
I worked for a long time producing on BBC shows like City Hospital, and then as a video lead at RNIB [the sight loss charity], but before that I had a lot of experience as a runner on productions, and after uni I did a summer scheme at MTV – right down the road from Verity’s offices now.
When I’m making content for companies’ short films or social media, picking the right tone for a script – knowing the differences in rhythm and style between writing something for print, and something that’s meant to be read aloud – is a skill I use that I lifted from my career in TV.
Whatever work you’re doing, it’s about the attitude you’re showing – When I was photocopying all day at MTV I could’ve easily thought “this isn’t what I went to university for”, but those experiences are how you learn things, and how you meet the important people. If it looks like the current job you’re doing’s being done with no enthusiasm, they might think that’s how you’d react to any other tasks as well.
My earlier jobs taught me that if you don’t ask, you don’t get – The work experience I did at a local radio station as a teen paid peanuts, but they wouldn’t have paid me at all if my mum hadn’t pushed me to ask them!
When I was in TV I realised that you always remember how people treat you – those who helped you out and those who didn’t, and I’m conscious of that when I’m in charge of people myself. I remember what it was like to be a runner, so I’m always insistent on getting runners involved and letting them learn from me. I work a lot with the shadow board at EVCOM [the industry body for events and comms] because I care about the next generation, but also just because I’m a mum, and I would hope for my kids that someone would be there to help them on the way up in their own careers.
Joel – Director, Strategic Communications
My first job after university was an Account Executive at a big, global PR company. That’s where I ran a budget for the first time and presented in meetings. I still get nervous presenting sometimes, but it was at that first job where I really got my practice in.
There I realised that yes, you need to do the work, but so much of what I did was about how you managed your personal relationship with clients.
Managing expectations, letting the client feel comfortable knowing you’re delivering and producing good work for them, it was all as important as the hard skills.
Also, when we’re juniors we feel the urge to pipe in with new ideas, and that’s a good thing. But that first real time in the office taught me how to gauge when’s the right time to ask something of someone – if it’s not urgent, wait until the deadlines and “busy-ness” die down a bit.