In a piece first published in PSMG Magazine, Totum’s Marketing & BD consultant Lara Mitchard spoke with three of the Rising Star judges in recognition of Totum’s Rising Star Award 2023. Discussed was 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 its 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 and 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 this spirit of seizing the day, we asked Richard, Alessandra, and Adam to share their tips for how to carve out a successful career in marketing and BD.
Be all, end all? The importance of networking
It’s striking how much these three professionals cite effective networking as key to their 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 isn’t 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 thinks 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
Further networking tips from our marketing and BD experts include:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Think about volunteering to set up events or chair meetings. Networking can be a lot easier if you’ve helped pull an event together.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
But in addition to informal relationships, Alessandra 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.”
For those struggling to secure mentoring opportunities within a firm, organisations like PSMG run mentoring programmes, identifying and bringing together mentors and mentees across marketing and BD in the professional services sector. Together with networking opportunities such groups offer, they can provide a good training platform for those wishing to make the industry connections that help careers take off.
Looking back, looking forwards
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 all agree on one thing that is shifting everything – the vital and ever-growing role of digital.
“I did a degree and then a 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 on marketing. I wish it had been more digital back then.’
Marketing and 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.
This is a world in which leaders, who have made a profound difference to firms across the sector, have fantastic learnings to pass on as marketing and BD continues to fast evolve to meet the needs of the next age.
To read the original piece featured in PSMG Magazine, click here.