In recognition of Totum’s Rising Star Award 2023, Totum Consultant Lara Mitchard asks three of our Rising Star judges, all leaders in marketing and business development (BD) in professional services firms, for their advice on successfully building the early years of your career.

There was a moment that was a major career break for Richard Crook, now Director of Marketing and Business Development at chartered accountancy firm Saffery Champness. It was when he was still in his 20s and had been working for a few years at Drivers Jonas (now Deloitte Real Estate). He had enjoyed a few promotions to that point but he still didn’t expect what came next.

His boss, who was a partner in the firm and headed up the firm’s marketing function, called him into his office one day and said, ‘I want you to take over my job. You’re the expert so you do it.’ Richard stepped up as his boss took retirement, and he was made a partner before he’d hit 30. The pressure was undeniable – Richard admits that he turned into a workaholic for some time afterwards. But it was one of those sliding door moments: step through and it’ll change your life forever.

Alessandra Almeida Jones, Global Marketing and Communications Director, and Adam Soames, Global Head of Business Development & Strategy at Hogan Lovells, do not recall single moments like this. Their climb up to leadership roles included many breaks across different roles and experiences: an invaluable secondment; an inspirational boss; an MBA that provided the opportunity to go beyond the day job. But Richard, Alessandra and Adam all share the same ethos: when an opportunity arises, throw yourself into it.

‘I have always loved facing up to challenges,’ says Adam. ‘Be agile every day, embrace all the changes and make the most of them. You can’t sit still and wait for good things to happen.’

In that vein, we are delighted that Richard, Alessandra and Adam, all highly respected marketing and BD leaders, are forming part of the judging panel for our forthcoming Rising Star Award, designed to recognise the achievements of marketing & BD professionals at the early stages of their careers. As we bring together these stalwarts of the profession with those still in the early years of their journey, we ask them to share their experiences and tips for how to carve out a successful career in this increasingly important function of professional services.

Be all, end all? The importance of networking

First, it is striking how much these leaders credit effective networking for their career success. ‘Networking was crucial to my development,’ says Richard. ‘My first boss said that if you’re sat at your desk all day, you’re not doing your job. Sadly, it’s a dying art; people can’t see the value of it. And there’s a real challenge for this up and coming generation in that they interact differently. But it’s incredibly important, and it should be the most enjoyable part of the job.’

‘Networking was critical to my career and for being effective in my job internally and externally,’ agrees Adam. ‘I’m naturally quite introverted, and I might have spent those early days stood in the corner of the room at an event. But I’m also determined and naturally curious and enjoy connecting with people. Be proactive and it gets easier with time.’

Alessandra started her career in PR, so networking was part of her ‘day job’ from the beginning. ‘You can’t shake hands with everyone and you don’t need to be pushy. Start with the contacts you already have and build your network up from there. Follow up with people after you’ve met them. Stay in touch and keep your communication relevant. All human beings like kindness and the professional services sector is quite a small world. Asking for advice from someone you respect, and want to get to know, is a great way to strengthen your network,’ she says.

This might not seem so easy these days when most of us work remotely, for at least part of the week. Even when we’re in the office, there’s less chance that everyone else will be there too. Nor is it likely that industry in-person events will return completely to the levels they were pre-Covid.

But Alessandra has advice for this too, saying the digital/remote world confers some networking advantages. ‘For shy people, it can be easier to do things remotely. Look at your existing contacts on LinkedIn. Connect with junior people who attend meetings – use all the tools available. And then double down on meaningful contacts, you don’t have to network with everyone,’ she says.

Go forth and network

A good number of firms offer training in networking skills, although firms differ as to whether this includes business services professionals as opposed to just lawyers. But further tips from our marketing & BD experts include:

  1. Speak to your learning and development team. There are good coaches for networking and this is where you could start in terms of gaining practical support to improve your skills.
  2. Make a ‘network planner’. Who are the 10 people you need to stay in contact with this year? Then break it down into chunks. Who will help me learn and grow? Who do I want to mentor me? Diarise meetings. And consider what you can offer in these meetings too. How could you help that individual?
  3. Before an event, get prepared. Ask for the attendee/delegate list, research who you would like to meet and make sure you have something interesting to share with them or ask them about.
  4. Think about volunteering to set up events or chair meetings. Networking can be a lot easier if you’ve helped pull an event together.
  5. At an event, look for ‘open and closed’ groups – an open group will be one where there is a pair or small group of people where there’s a clear space to join in.
  6. Also look for the ‘trigger point’ opportunities – someone waiting for their drink at the bar and/or waiting for the food to come out make for easier introductions.
  7. Follow up after the event or meeting. Don’t let it go after making that effort and succeeding at establishing a contact. Send a follow-up email. Suggest a meeting and aim to get a date in the diary before the moment is lost. 


Linked to networking, in the spirit of ‘who you know, not what you know’, comes mentoring. And here it seems there are a variety of approaches. Both Richard and Adam talk of inspirational people who they’ve met along their career journeys, who have become mentors in a more informal way.

Richard mentions Jonathan Sands OBE, the owner of brand design agency Elmwood, who looked after the account of the firm Richard joined as a graduate. ‘He was a real visionary – the marketing was innovative and beautiful. He looked after some of the biggest brands in the world but he also worked with smaller businesses like ours because he wanted to work with those who bought into his vision,’ he says. Richard was so impressed, he has taken the agency with him to all the firms he’s worked at since.

Adam too talks of his inspirational bosses: Sacha Romanovitch OBE at Grant Thornton, who went on to be the firm’s CEO (and now CEO of Fair4All Finance) and Ina Brock, the former Managing Partner for Clients & Industries at Hogan Lovells, who both ‘engaged, empowered and led by example’; as well as the former and current CEOs at Hogan Lovells, Steve Immelt and Miguel Zaldivar respectively, who have both pioneered transformational change within the firm, which Adam has helped them to lead. 

Alessandra has also benefitted from those inspirational informal relationships. But she also took a more direct approach, asking her firm for a mentor in the early days of her career when she was feeling quite lost. ‘I asked and a partner volunteered – and that really helped me understand my value as a business professional in a law firm environment,’ she says. ‘Sometimes you have to ask, either the organisation or the individual. I have been asked to be a mentor too. My advice would be to think of three to five things that you are seeking to get from the relationship. That will help you to know whether it’s the right person or not.’

She mentions the constructive feedback that mentoring relationships provide – the boss who once told her she ‘talked too much so the good points get lost’ and another who helped her manage anxiety levels. ‘A good mentor is really important, so don’t wait – seek one out,’ she says.

For those struggling to secure mentoring opportunities within a firm, organisations such as PM Forum and PSMG run mentoring programmes, identifying and bringing together mentors and mentees across marketing and BD in the professional services sector. Together with networking opportunities these groups offer, they can provide a good training platform for those wishing to make the industry connections that help careers take off.

Uniting generations

Looking back, our marketing and BD leaders wish there had been a few things they had known when they started out on their careers. ‘I started in financial services, and then moved into professional services and law,’ says Alessandra. ‘It can be quite intimidating in your early days working with technical experts, but you need to come to the table as an equal – focusing on what  you can deliver and the tangible value you add to the business and the partners you work with.’

Adam thinks he would have liked to have known the huge importance of people management in developing your career. ‘No one expects you to crack it on day one, but knowing how best to lead, manage and motivate people is key to driving change,’ he says. ‘And that’s what our roles are all about – winning hearts and minds to change things for the better. You have to be able to engage people on an individual and collective level.’

And they also agree on one thing that is shifting everything – the vital and ever-growing role of digital. ‘I did a degree and masters in marketing but I never learned how to demonstrate the success of it,’ says Richard. ‘Now data analytics make it much easier to prove the ROI of marketing. I wish it had been more digital back then.’

This is the area that all feel will most impact future careers in a function that has evolved so quickly in terms of its ability to understand clients and drive growth. ‘Technology is so important for people coming into the business now and for those who want to stay in it –  tech skills need to be at the heart of the teams we are forming,’ says Alessandra.

Richard agrees. ‘The digital-first environment is going to be the biggest thing that impacts junior-level roles in marketing and BD. Data is king now. I did a BSc in marketing and I didn’t really understand why it was a science back then. But now I do,’ he says.

This is surely where the younger generation has something to teach older generations – where ‘reverse mentoring for generational differences’ would be useful, says Adam. ‘We think differently to younger generations who are digitally enabled. Everything now is about mobile devices and communicating through social media, and as a consequence young people have incredible agility of thinking. Reverse mentoring can be very useful for filling the gap between generations, as well as building real understanding across partnerships about areas such as diversity and inclusion, and ESG.’

Marketing & BD leaders have much to share about paving the way to a successful career, not least how to embrace new tools while maintaining more traditional and vital skills around areas like networking. As Adam says, ‘You must never forget to be curious  ask questions!’ This is a world in which there is now fantastic experience to share from leaders who have made a profound difference to firms across the sector. But it is one that will offer many new learnings too as marketing and BD continues to fast evolve to meet the needs of the next age.

If you would like to know more about our Rising Star Awards or to chat about trends and opportunities in the marketing and BD function in the professional services sector, please contact [email protected]