CAREERS: Staying power -- from trainee to the top

Most PROs move job every couple of years, but is that really the best way to build a career? Alex Blyth talks to three agency chiefs who have worked their way to the top of the firm that they joined on leaving university.

Margot Raggett, CEO, Lexis PR
joined as
Assistant account executive

In 1993, during her final year at university, Raggett took out a subscription to PRWeek and began writing to every agency that had won an account, offering congratulations and asking for a job. Lexis PR, which had formed the previous December and won the London Zoo account not long after, called her in for an interview.

Margot RaggettRaggett recalls: ‘In the end, I had to choose between Lexis and Paragon,
which was a big agency at the time. Lexis founders Bill Jones and Tim Adams ­persuaded me that their agency was going places. ­Fortunately, it turned out to be true.

That autumn, Lexis was named Best New ­Consultancy at the PRWeek Awards. We never looked back and the agency was the fastest-growing in the UK over the next five years.'

On her first day, Raggett had no desk, no computer, no phone and there was no ind-uction. However, despite, having been thrown in at the deep end, she thrived, relishing early exposure to senior clients. Before long, she was working her way up through the ranks.

She says: ‘At Lexis, I've always had new opportunities, exciting accounts and I've been well looked after. I saw many people come and go over the years who looked back on their time at Lexis as being one of the best periods of their careers. This made me realise that the grass wouldn't necessarily have been greener elsewhere.'

However, this is not to say that she was never tempted by other offers. Raggett recalls: ‘While working on the Cunard account in the ­mid-90s, I got to travel the world on press trips. This led to the offer of a job at a travel PR firm, which I didn't take, although I was very tempted.

But it made me realise that I wanted to travel, so I approached Lexis and asked if it might consider starting a sabbatical scheme.'

This resulted in an eight-month stint at Capital PR in Sydney. However, looking back, her two career highlights have been leading Lexis' management buyout in 2000 and the agency's work for Dove.

She says: ‘The sense of achievement at completing a management buyout was incredible. The day it completed, I went home overwhelmed at what we'd achieved. I had the same feeling on the day our Dove campaign launched.

We'd worked for months on the planning, but we had no idea quite how well it was going to be received.' Raggett offers this advice to PROs just starting out: ‘I would urge you to consider staying put and being loyal to a great agency. I couldn't have achieved so much if I'd moved around.

However, be as sure as you can that the agency you commit to is a sound business that is going to make a name for itself, like Lexis did.'

CV
Dec 2000 Promoted to the Lexis board
June 2000 Rejoins Lexis as associate director
Sep 1999-May 2000 Sabbatical, working for Capital Public Relations in Sydney, Australia
1998-1999 Associate director
1997 Account director
1996 Account manager
1994-1995 Account executive, then senior account executive
1993-1994 Assistant account executive
July 1993 Joins Lexis as seventh employee and first graduate trainee

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO, Mandate
Joined as
Graduate trainee

On his first day at AS Biss, in September 1997, Deshmukh fixed a broken photocopier and then went straight into a meeting with the CEO of a client. In November 2007, AS Biss merged with Republic PR to form Mandate Communications, and he was made chief executive of the new agency.

Sacha DeshmukhBefore picking AS Biss, Deshmukh considered other agencies; comparing client lists, benefits packages and the availability of the then ubiquitous ­table football mach­ine. AS Biss impressed him as the ‘one agency that put training and people development at the heart of its business'.

‘There were no end of agencies that ­recruited people at the start of their car-eers,' he explains, ‘but very few mapped out a vision for how a talented entrant would be able to build their experience, skills and ultimately their position.'

As a 23-year-old, Deshmukh wanted a career that developed not just in terms of seniority, but in terms of his skills, the people he would be dealing with and the challenges he would face. Eleven years on, he believes he has achieved all of this.

‘I'm not sure that any sane 23-year-old would put management on their list of career aspirations,' he says. ‘But in the past few years I've discovered just how rewarding and interesting it can be to play a role at the heart of a fast-growing company.'

Mentoring has been central to his development, he says: ‘I was lucky to be able to learn from great role models, both within the agency and also as clients.' He admits he has always kept an eye on opportunities elsewhere, but advises everyone to do the same, to be sure they are in the right place.

At one point, Deshmukh wanted to gain a better understanding of the challenges clients face, and so with the agency's blessing he went in-house for just ­under a year.

‘It showed me that people should talk to their employers. If they care about you and value you, and you have a good idea, then maybe it can benefit both of you,' he says.

Deshmukh points out that other professionals see their firms as places to develop careers, rather than staging posts to an in-house job, and he believes more people working in PR should take that approach.

A typical day for him now, as chief executive, is not dissimilar to his first day, he says - he still spends most of his time talking to clients' CEOs. But he acknowledges that it is very different in other ways. ‘I hope I have a bit more to say now than I did then. Also, no-one would dare let me loose on a broken copier any more. They know I would only make it even more difficult to repair.'

CV
2007 Chief executive (after AS Biss merges with Republic PR)
2006-2007 Managing director
2003-2006 Director
2001-2002 Account director
1999-2001 Account manager
1998-1999 Consultant
1997-1998 Joins AS Biss as a graduate trainee

Zoe Ward-Waring, deputy MD, Publicasity
Joined as
Graduate trainee/
account executive

While revising for her university final ­exams, Ward-Waring spent three weeks temping on the reception of an agency called icas. With impeccable timing, the agency offered her a job as a graduate trainee on the day of her last university exam.

Zoe Ward-WaringUnlike many graduate trainees, Ward-Waring was taken aback by how well org-anised her induction was. She says: ‘I rec-eived a copy of my first week's schedule and a reading pack on my clients in the post a couple of weeks beforehand, so I had time to read up and alleviate my first-day-at-school nerves.'

This methodical approach was also apparent on her first day, she recalls. ‘My business cards were waiting for me on my desk, I had team inductions on administration and finance and was introduced to the team over lunch. It all dispelled the new-girl feeling very quickly.'

Since then, Ward-Waring has thrived on the ‘get out what you put in' ethos at work. She says: ‘You keep an eye on what's out there, but the company has a good sense of how staff are feeling. You don't have to wait for the six-month health check and ann-ual appraisals to discuss career options.'

She adds: ‘I've also been lucky in my car-eer to have been mentored and also to drive the portfolio that I wanted to work on. All this, combined with a competitive remuneration and rewards package and an opportunity to shape the agency, has encouraged me to stay put.'

Unlike many of her peers who have flitted between agencies, Ward-Waring feels she has avoided the distraction of trying to fit into a new culture. And as she has progressed to management roles, she believes her knowledge of the agency's background has enabled her to help shape its future.

She admits that there are downsides. ‘I'd describe it as the Madonna effect. If you stay in one agency, you can't rest on your laurels because some team members will have known you as the graduate trainee. So you have to constantly reinvent yourself.'

Ward-Waring is excited about taking Publicasity (icas' new monicker following a management takeover last year) to the next level. She forms a management triumvirate with MD Emma Wright and chairman and founder Carl Courtney.

‘We're a year young, but the company started 30 years ago, so it's about developing at a sensible pace, with innovation at the heart,' she says. ‘A crucial element will be growing our next tier of management. If we get it right, we'll have succeeded in our aim to become the mother of all PR agencies.'

CV
Jan 2007 Rebrands icas as Publicasity
Oct 2006 Completes management buy in, and appointed deputy managing director
Jan 2006 Board director
July 2004 Manages icas' Covent Garden office
Nov 2002 Associate director
Feb 2001 Account director
Oct 2000 Senior account manager
Oct 1999 Account manager
Feb 1999 Senior account executive
Dec 1997 Account executive
June 1997 Joins icas as graduate trainee/account executive

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