What qualities do we look for in our Rising Star Award winners? This may be something you have pondered if you have seen our call for nominations for Totum’s Rising Star Awards 2024. Now in their third year, the awards recognise the huge contribution made by professionals at the early stage (below manager level) of their careers in marketing and business development (BD).

The nominations we receive always amaze us, representing the huge breadth of opportunities now available to those starting out in Marketing and BD in the professional services sector. The entries we have received previously have included all sorts of experience, from those implementing important change with new CRM systems and data visualisation, to nominees providing excellence in events support, PR and media relations, internal communications, reporting and analysis, internal training, client presentations… the list goes on. If you’re not sure whether your nomination fits the bill, then be assured, we are looking across the entire function for talent that adds tangible value at this level.

Entries will be considered by our expert panel of judges who, through their own careers, showcase the development opportunities available today for ambitious marketing and BD professionals. Those that excel can aspire to these roles that profoundly influence their firms’ development. For this year we have judges that include leaders in communications, client development, bids and pursuits as well as those in global roles helping to design, shape and lead their firm’s strategy. Our Rising Star judging panel brings together professionals who know first-hand what it means to work your way to the top of the marketing and BD function.

What will they be looking for in these award nominations? And what advice do they have for professionals seeking to emulate their career success? In this piece, we share the thoughts of three of our esteemed judges: Rajmeena Aujla, Head of Communications at Charles Russell Speechlys; Manjit Sanghera, Global Head of BD & Marketing Operations at Linklaters; and Gemma Vaites, Director of BD & Marketing at Capsticks.

Nominations in the spotlight
For a start, our judges will be looking for nominations that demonstrate excellence in the specifics of the role. ‘These are jobs that keep the lights on – in areas like pitches, events, directories submissions, etc. It’s incredibly important for firms to know all these things are in hand. To progress in the function, you need first and foremost do the fundamentals really well,’ says Manjit.

But our Rising Star winner will need to show qualities beyond that too. ‘Where are you adding value beyond your own remit? I’ll be looking for those nominations that show people thinking outside of their day job – going above and beyond and proactively getting involved in other areas,’ says Manjit.

‘Someone may be really excellent at their job, but the people that stand out are those that are curious, who take the time to really understand their firm, and the challenges facing the wider business, as well as the marketing and BD function,’ agrees Gemma. ‘I’m looking for someone who can show the curiosity to help the business succeed, who wants to get under the skin of their firm, and who builds those internal networks, who puts in the effort and commitment to get to know other people’s drivers and objectives and then helps them to succeed.’

At this career stage, none of our judges are expecting to see nominations from the finished article – Rajmeena talks of her love of finding the ‘rough cut diamonds’ who have so much more to give. This award is all about spotting potential. That might be a nomination that shows excellence and innovative thinking in a particular product/campaign, proof of amazing relationship and network-building skills, ideas that change the way firms approach or do things (Manjit thinks the younger generation are particularly good at seeing the challenges and opportunities arising around technology and data). Our winner has likely demonstrated a combination of abilities that has made them an invaluable member of their team from the get-go.

The importance of recognition
And why is it important to give those team members this recognition? ‘The Rising Star Award is important for a few difference reasons,’ says Rajmeena. ‘You work very hard in that early stage of your career but it is not typically reflected in your salary until you get to more senior, post-manager roles. Having that external endorsement at this early stage for what you do can really help give additional confidence for your role.’

It’s also good for internal recognition. ‘If you’ve got a good PR and internal comms team that showcases talent, an award like this can be used as a great human storytelling piece, especially for the fee-earning community to improve their understanding of professionals on the business services side of the business, and the value of the work we do at every level,’ adds Rajmeena.

‘We’ve got so much talent in our industry and often we’re so busy in the day job that we don’t take time to pause and really reflect on that talent,’ adds Gemma. ‘I think these awards are fantastic in terms of attracting people to the industry but also retaining that talent when there are so many other job options out there.’

How to stand out and succeed
As Global Head of BD & Marketing Operations at Linklaters, Manjit gets to view the whole gamut of marketing & BD. But she also knows what it’s like to work your way up, having started her career as a research assistant at Lovells (now Hogan Lovells) before moving to become a CRM Coordinator at Terra Firma Capital Partners. She then spent 13 years at Linklaters climbing the ladder to leadership from a CRM Advisor role, up through communications to marketing operations, to take on her current role in May 2022. No-one better demonstrates the spectrum of career opportunities on offer in professional services firms for those with ability and ambition.

‘I studied Business Studies at University and started my professional services career having worked in the research team in Lovells. I then joined Terra Firma, which was rolling out InterAction, their CRM system at the time,’ Manjit explains. ‘At Terra Firma, I was working in a small environment, which really helped me, because you have to get stuck in across multiple business disciplines and find creative ways of getting things done – you become really tenacious.’

When her manager asked her to take on the team leader role at Linklaters, Manjit says she had no idea how she would do it. ‘But my managers believed in me. I enrolled on a team management course, which made a real difference in developing the skillset I needed and growing my own self-confidence. I also had a really good network of people around me. Sometimes you just need people who will listen,’ she says.

This willingness to seize opportunities, even if scary at the time, is a familiar refrain among our judges. Gemma, for instance, started her career with an internship at an events company in New York, before she was asked to open their London office at the age of just 22. She then went on to work for a property consultancy, including an 18-month stint in Sydney, before undertaking an MBA, after which she joined Safety First Aid Group (SFA) as Sales & Marketing Director.

‘SFA was a really traditional products and services business, with a field sales team spread across the country and no digital team. I restructured the whole of the sales and marketing function, launched new ecommerce websites, worked with big digital PPC agencies, and gained loads of experience of running teams and a significant part of the business,’ says Gemma. It was after this that Gemma returned to professional services, joining Capsticks in 2015. She gives the impression throughout of being fearless: if an opportunity arose, no matter where, she went for it.

Rajmeena highlights the importance of building your own networks of people you can trust who then help develop your career. But she too has clearly been tenacious throughout her career, contacting every major PR agency in London when she decided to seek a PR role after graduating, before she succeeded in getting hired by leading global PR firm FleishmanHillard. Here she soaked up the chance to learn all about multimedia, how to put a great campaign together, stakeholder engagement and simply explaining complex material (a much-underrated skill, she adds).

Some years later, she again contacted numerous law firms when a contract at Eversheds came to an end right at the start of the Covid pandemic. ‘You have to be relentless and have the hunger for it,’ she says. ‘You can’t sit back and wait for opportunities to find you.’

‘It’s about saying yes, doing the work and taking on other projects,’ says Manjit. ‘And it’s not always about moving up the ladder, it’s okay to move sideways to gain skills. Be open-minded, embrace change and play the long game.’

Supporting the next generation
Those still in the early years of their careers may be forgiven for finding all of this quite daunting. It’s not made easier either by the fact that there are so many job opportunities for marketing and BD professionals today – it can be hard to distinguish between offers that will propel or stall career prospects. What if something goes wrong along the way?

But that is another reason for these Rising Star Awards. They recognise stellar performance because we know how hard it can be to establish a career – even those with bags of raw potential will meet obstacles along the way. Things at times will go wrong. That is why it is so important to highlight the successes and the breakthroughs – because we know they are hard-won.

‘I understand that the younger generation can often feel highly anxious in the workplace and scared of making mistakes. The pandemic has robbed them of crucial time to learn by osmosis from their peers and those that engage with social media mean that they are even more aware of themselves. But you can’t be perfect all the time,’ says Rajmeena. ‘We need to create a workplace environment that provides psychological safety, ones in which you are working with a manager that allows you to make mistakes and invests time with you.’

Totum’s Rising Star Award isn’t about recognising perfection. It’s about crediting the enormous efforts of those contributing such value to their firms at the earlier stages of their careers. It’s about recognising the bravery of up-and-coming talent who are willing to take the risks to make a difference, and who keep going when the inevitable obstacles arise. It’s about spotting those who have the potential to become the next leadership success stories.

For more information on our Rising Star awards, contact [email protected]