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Stuart Parkin

To Get the Job You Hoped For – Ask incisive questions at the interview

A salutary lesson for any job seekers but particularly for strategists, trained to ask the right questions for their clients and then not doing so for themselves when interviewing for a new job.

“Unfortunately, the role wasn’t what I was sold – I started there on the promise of delivering strategic work, but the other personnel and the agency leadership were only focused on delivering comm’s or worse, ad campaigns masquerading as strategic innovation! I left within three months of arriving. It was a hard lesson in really being on the same page as others in terms of what you want to achieve.”
Moral of story – To obtain a better first-hand understanding of the opportunity you’re being considered for, ask better questions, such as:

How does the agency make the bulk of its money? (tells you what the actual business focus is)
Key People in the agency – What are their primary skillsets? (tells you what skill-sets are really valued)
Awarded Work – What is the agency known for/Where is it being recognized and how?
What is the publicly articulated vision for the agency?
Your Success is defined as what? Be crystal clear what the people about to hire you believe makes you a success in your role. This will confirm whether your and their thinking aligns.

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Working Practice Post COVID

Working from home or not? There are clear advantages to both and these advantages vary by person and employer.

For over a decade I’ve been asked by strategists for opportunities where virtual working or perhaps a flexi week with one or two days working from home. There has been some accommodation by agencies but typically, staff have been expected to be on-site. The main justification, cultural cohesion and a justification that creative and business effectiveness it is believed derives best from in-person collaboration.

Needs Must

The single most compelling factor that changes the post COVID work dynamic, is knowledge gained by the team leader of their team working virtually. The planning lead now knows (or should) who can perform effectively working from home and who can’t.

Is This A Game Changer?

If you lead a team, your primary worry, is the effective performance of that team. Prior to COVID the team leader focused on results, would err on the side of caution but now the same leader can use virtual working to reward those of the team that can clearly function from home. 

Does This Mean Most Of Us Will Be Working Virtually?

No. While I’ve heard there are clear ‘working from home’ benefits, (for example, a few team leaders have said that video calls have made group meetings much more inclusive than past physical formats) there are several reasons why most of us will still be working on-site.

i)               Those that can’t work well from home – Some don’t perform well working in isolation; Some have domestic circumstances that make working from home difficult.

ii)             Those that don’t want to work from home – ‘69% percent of workers missed face to face work collaboration.’ (Digiday, 6/2020). 20 to 30 year old’s that have moved to the big city, don’t want to spend their lives locked in their studios; Others want to escape the space of their apartments to be sane/thrive on social interaction.

iii)            Those that shouldn’t work from home – In the absence of formal training which has disappeared from much of agency life, the concept of learning ‘on the job’ requires physical proximity to most effectively learn.

iv)            Control – Many team leaders will continue to justify for reasons including cultural cohesion and creative optimization, that their team should be physically present more than not.

How Does The Future Look?

Most businesses will develop more agile operating models. Smart places of work will reward more of their employees with greater flexibility to work from home, a day or two a week. Where companies require everyone in office or everyone out of office, such decisions are not typically about what’s best for people instead they’re about what’s best for profits. Smart places will seek to optimize the benefits of technology and to enhance working culture by a balanced approach to flexi working. Perhaps flexi working will increase by 20% in year post COVID.

What Can You Do To Prepare For Cost Covid?

1. Reflect and Assess – This is a great time to assess what you miss and what you don’t, what you can tolerate and can’t and where and how you truly want to spend your time.

2. Prove Yourself – If you want the option (as an employee) post COVID to work virtually, prove you can be effective from home. If you haven’t functioned well to date, actively work on ways to understand your relative lack of productivity and pivot.

For more background/links on virtual working –

For more articles on stress management, job security etc –

Strategic Planning Jobs Returning?

It’s good to report to the strategy community that at June 9th my calls have developed in to requests to find freelance and full time strategists. That said, the mood out there is still one of great uncertainty, albeit, confidence has improved. As we are emerge from lockdown, marketers will be looking for a broadening and consistency of consumer expenditure. If they see it they will spend more on advertising. In turn, agencies seeing clients return to spending more will think more positively about hiring needs. I suspect what will happen, for the remainder of this year, most employers will pursue a course of ‘flexible’ hiring; Soon furlough deadlines will be reviewed. Some will be re-hired, some will see furlough extensions. There will also be more redundancies. If furloughed, how should you proceed?
1. Prepare to be re-hired or fired! – Assume your job isn’t coming back. If it does its’ a bonus; If it doesn’t psychologically you are prepared. Remember in this situation, it’s very little about ‘you,’ more the world!
2. Front Up – Even if you feel miserable about things, show up positively with your boss and/or potential clients. If you show up negatively your actual world will more likely become the one you imagined.
#Confidence #Consumerspending #Jobs

Enhancing Your Chances of Finding Work

I’ve had conversations with a few agency heads in the last few days that have told me they have in the last few weeks re-hired some of theose they furloughed two months ago. It’s a start! So what should job seekers be doing, perhaps as the tide begins to turn, to enhance their employment prospects 1. Follow the money – Ask yourself, where is money being spent? Target those companies and products you/others consistently buy. If company’s products/services are selling well, their advising agencies are quite possibly doing comparably well and are likely to be the first to need extra help. 2. As money starts to be spent again, (it’s beginning) energise your effort to talk with more people. I know from my own experience, that creating maximum opportunity for working prospects is based on being in the right place at the right time. The speed with which you identify career opportunity is directly related to your energy and peristence. But critically, you can’t talk with everyone all the time, so target your energy, as indicated in 1) above. hashtag#followthemoney hashtag#Persistence hashtag#Opportunity

How did I do during covid?

A crisis sheds light on those that function well under extreme pressure. Conversations about lockdown have revealed those of you that feel your boss simply cannot communicate/reassure/cope, with virtual working. But cut some slack to those bosses, who knows what their domestic circumstances are. That said, we are all constantly being assessed, the bosses but team members as well! For sure, team leaders will now have a pretty good idea who thrives virtually and who is diving. This will be a valuable understanding to have in deciding the physical/virtual mix post covid. And perhaps moving forward, whilst intelligence ‘IQ’ and emotional intelligence ‘EQ’ will continue to be important, your ‘AQ’ or adaptability quotient, will play a much larger part in the hiring process. hashtag#Effective hashtag#Communication hashtag#Assessment hashtag#Adaptability

Get Inspired Get Living

‘Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.’ (Pablo Picasso) I’ll certainly be working this long weekend…On my tennis arm, my drinking arm, my sun worshipping everything…May you all be ‘found’ working this weekend. ps. time out is crucial for successful careers. Be kind to yourself. Live a bit! hashtag#Live hashtag#Inspiration hashtag#Timeout

Should we all work virtually all of the time?!

There’s much talk about the future impact on working practices, a big theme of my daily conversations with you. The longer we have to live with covid 19, the more entrenched coping behaviours become, the more likely we are to see real permanent changes. Will we all be working from home instead of going in to offices? Managers have discovered that virtual working can work. Specifically, they will now know who can work effectively from home and who can’t. Recently some companies have decided beyond covid, they are going completely virtual. This seems as strange to me as compelling everyone to be in the office! For many years I’ve been asked by those of you looking for a new job, whether an employer might allow four day weeks in office and one day out. My response has been, earn the right, prove your ability and perhaps you can make it happen. ie) Employers want people in the office. Moving forward, the smart agencies will allow more virtual working/have a flexible approach to their employees. What they will not do, is lurch from the controlling inflexibility of expecting 100% attendance to demanding everyone stay at home. If they do, this seems more a policy about financial management and less about employee welfare or effectiveness. hashtag#optimalwork hashtag#motivatedemployees hashtag#flexiworking

Strategists – Jobs Outlook – Reasons for Some Optimism

For those of you strategists that don’t have jobs and are worried about your prospects, some context and encouragement based on the many interactions I have had and continue to have today, May 18th:

1. New business activity – Despite furloughs and layoffs, far from being in survival mode, there are plenty of agencies actively pitching new business and I am hearing repeatedly from those working telling me there’s plenty of activity.

2. Stretched Teams – I’m also being told that teams, prior to covid that were running lean, are now running extremely lean meaning, any incremental business will lead to hiring, which I suspect in many cases will be flexi/freelance.

3. More varied consumer spending – As the un-lockdown does begin to gain momentum, consumers spending money on a broader range of goods and services give a broader range of clients more confidence (it’s all relative) to begin to start spending again. #staypositive #newBusiness # #inthistogether

Counteracting the effects of Covid 19

Who isn’t stressed with the effects of COVAD19 first from the perspective of the health of their loved ones closely followed by economic uncertainty and fear for their jobs. What should we do to help our families/friends and colleagues/clients?

What We Can Do? Professionally

Forwards – There’s only one way we can go. It’s good to remind people of this fact, while struggling to cope with real life pressures isn’t easy, the sooner we focus on the future the faster we move individually and collectively forward.

One For All – We will get through this through collective support and effort. Communicating this is comforting to those that are feeling the stress, who are feeling the pressures of the world are upon them.

Communicate Empathetically – Uncertainty is the enemy of business. Before anything else, others need to know that you understand their situation. Don’t assume you know what it is. Hear people out. Often they simply want to express themselves. Hear them and you are better equipped to communicate effectively.

Positive Mindset – Much easier said than done but to get the best from those around us, we can play are part in giving ‘belief’ that things will work out. By projecting a narrative away from ‘uncertainty’ to one of possibility and potential, we influence the defensive mentality of clients.

Create Opportunity – In every situation your reaction drives you toward a potential positive or negative outcome. Externally there’s much you can’t control but by talking opportunity or potential even with clients in a defensive mindset, you increase the chances if not of an expansive client mindset then of one that is relatively less negative, one prepared therefore prepared to cut budgets less?

What We Can Do Personally? (How best to escape constant pressure and to buoy our mental health)

Find Peace away from the Bad News or/ switch off.’ For many this is not hard but for a decent number this is very hard. Two ‘safe’ areas I’d suggest.

Gratitude – After extensive travel in Africa and India, I’m aware that we have huge amounts to be grateful for.  You might not want to hear this and are simply concerned for your family’s well-being to which I say, focus on how fortunate you are to have a family you love so much, many don’t. Focus on the things that are amazing in your life, such as being healthy, having food to eat or that you have an inquisitive, ‘problem solving’ mind! We all tend to take most things for granted; The state of being grateful, prevents you focusing on what you don’t have. Being grateful is ‘mentally,’ a very safe place to be.

Giving – Helping others – (Not talking about it, doing it.) So your hands are full, I understand but when you are completely focused on helping others, your own children or strangers, when you are completely ‘in the moment’ of helping, you are in a ‘safe’ area, as far from worrying about what ‘might not be’ you are creating ‘what is’ for someone else.

Connect with Others – Talk with others, show them you care, that they are not alone and in so doing, you help and are helped.

For links on some of the themes from above –

2020 – Job Security and Success

In a perfect world you would enjoy most of your working day but for as many as 60% (Gallup 10/19), this is far from true. If you consistently don’t like more of your working day than you like, the salary and/or experience you’re getting really need to be worthwhile to justify staying in the job.

It’s not rocket science. There’s a strong correlation between enjoying what you do and job retention. In truth, if you like what you do, you may well be good at it or at least, motivated to achieve task mastery and therefore show up, more energetic and enthusiastic than your peers.

For strategic planners, 2020 presents much opportunity but the uncertainty pervading the advertising and marketing worlds is palpable. A volatile business in-the-midst of structural change, with a short term ‘P&L’ focus, with jobs added and removed at the margins as business is won and lost, should ensure the safety of strategy roles, but this very often is sadly, not the case.

I’ve spoken with several talented strategists who have recently lost their jobs. If they are so talented why are they losing out?

  • There are no guarantees in business and the chances are at some point, (law of averages) you will be laid off.
  • Factors beyond your control – The new boss, the new competitor, client cut- backs.
  • Strategy is misunderstood and/or undervalued in your agency.

What can you do to minimize your chances of being laid off and to be a career success. As we roll forward into the new year and decade, a few thoughts.

i)   Business mindset – Be aware how and where the agency or business you work for makes money even if it’s not your role to do so.

ii)  Keep close to the money – Keep a close handle on the client relationship. Be aware of how the client makes money so you can help them and so enhance their loyalty to the agency/you.

iii)  Multi-Skilled – The more you can contribute the easier to deploy, the more valuable.

iv)  Team Player – Work closely with (and in the development of) others  and be open to performing multiple tasks.

v)   New Business – The security for all business is sales/new business, particularly where business retention is poor. Get involved in making business growth happen, new or existing.

vi)  Leadership – Keep near to it and so close to the pulse of the agency and what’s happening.

vii) Fame – ‘Be famous!’ Be known for doing something extremely well. I.e.) Make yourself irreplaceable. Easier said than done. It takes time so start now!

There isn’t 100% job security for most people, employed or self-employed. So, the more aware you are of the value exchange, yours and how the agency provides value in relation to where the client makes money, the greater chance you have of not simply keeping a job but thriving in it.

For more background on this article see newsletters with links attached in the sparkin search website.

Wishing all, a happy and successful year ahead.