Don’t be afraid to change your career!

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When Veronica Swindale first met Catherine Mair, she was a molecular biology product manager looking at a potential career in marketing. Now she is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Newcastle Cathedral.

Our career paths can withstand twists and turns and we caught up on Catherine’s journey for Northern Insight Magazine to understand how she reached her long-term career goals with a little help from CIM qualifications taught by us!

So where did it all start?

I began my career as a research scientist, specialising in molecular virology and immunology. I had ambitions to become a marketer in the early noughties after migrating into scientific sales but never found an opportunity to make the transition. Even then, I was passionate about being customer-focused and taking an outside-in approach but always struggled to get marketing jobs.

So what did you do about it?

I did my due diligence to ascertain what potential employers were looking for in candidates. When I saw that a common thread was The Chartered Institute of Marketing, I knew I had to pursue a CIM qualification to differentiate myself and develop a competitive edge. I started by studying a CIM Certificate in Professional Marketing with nesma, as the recognised leading provider of CIM qualifications in the north-east. Re-entering education for the first time in years was a shock to the system, and I found it tough to manage studies alongside a demanding job with lots of international travel, but I completed my qualification.

What career journey did that take you on?

During my studies, I secured a marketing manager role at an SME but, due to impending liquidation, left soon afterwards to work agency-side. Lady Luck wasn’t smiling on me because two-years’ later I was made redundant! Fortunately, I then landed a fascinating job at Newcastle Cathedral. When I began, marketing at the Cathedral didn’t have anywhere near the prominence it has now. I have worked hard to elevate its strategic and tactical importance, and it is now seen as essential within the organisation, to articulate our vision, mission, values and USP to stakeholders.

The best thing about Newcastle Cathedral is that no one day is the same. We have to balance being, first and foremost, a place of worship alongside being a heritage attraction in the heart of a bustling city. We’re halfway through a £6M National Lottery Heritage Fund redevelopment project to transform the Cathedral into a major visitor destination for summer 2021. It’s an inspiring, challenging and rewarding place to work, and I’m excited to continue spearheading the marketing function.

What were your career learnings en route?

Change is the only constant in life. Do your research and learn from people who have been where you aspire to be. Stay relevant, current and, above all else, persevere and don’t be afraid of hard work!

Many people are now having to consider switching careers. What would your advice be?

Go for it! Before I made the leap, two things held me back: judging whether I could afford a drop in salary by switching careers; and imposter syndrome – being a green, late 30-something marketer competing against younger, better qualified, more experienced individuals. Frankly, having a CIM qualification enhances earning potential…And imposter syndrome? Well, experience tells me that everyone in the workplace feels a bit of a fraud sometimes! Due to COVID-19, there’s now an even greater emphasis on upskilling.  So I’m starting my CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing in January with nesma and working towards becoming a Chartered Marketer.

As the marketing and communications manager at the Cathedral, what plans do you have for the Christmas period?

We are very forward-looking and have an agile business model. Lockdown forced us to be more inventive, and we transferred all our services online. I am continually amazed at our reach and engagement, with people worldwide regularly joining our Facebook Lives and YouTube live streaming.

With an ever-increasing emphasis on digital, we have invested heavily in technology and recently bolstered our digital marketing outputs by recruiting Peter Cumiskey as Digital Marketing Officer. Peter is a CIM qualified marketer and who has also studied with nesma. What particularly struck me about Peter is his understanding of our values, proposition, positioning and, importantly, how to engage audiences through digital marketing effectively.

Christmas 2020 will be very different. We have to juggle our desire for sharing the Christmas message with the need to keep people safe. COVID-19 and our redevelopment works mean our visitor capacity is now only 7% of what it was. We’re really sad that we can’t hold the  big services for our university partners, the WI and local charities but we will do as much as we can. Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services are still going ahead in person and via live streaming and we plan to showcase our brilliant Choir at some small carol services.

How will the Cathedral be supporting the local community this Christmas?

Notwithstanding COVID-19, we’re still opening our doors for limited periods to provide a tranquil space for reflection, educational experiences and tower tours, and shelter for the vulnerable.

This year, instead of having a 30-foot-high Christmas tree adorning the Nave until Candlemas, we’ll have smaller trees in the Eastern Chapels where visitors can drop in for storytelling by candlelight. We’re also working with civic partners to deliver safe activities for families across Newcastle, like the popular Santa Trail and NE1’s 24 Doors of Christmas.

In the New Year, plans are afoot to work with frontline organisations who look after the most vulnerable in society so that we can continue to offer a radical welcome to those of all faiths and none.

nesma’s new term starts in January, and we will continue with virtual live teaching for all CIM and CIPR qualifications and our new workshops programme, so there is no disruption to our students’ development plans.