Showcasing North East Talent

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Veronica Swindale, MD of nesma, caught up with Nichola Elgie who won the Marketer of the Year award at North East Marketing Awards for Northern Insight Magazine. Nichola received this accolade due to the positive impact she has made on client campaigns with her strategic planning, creativity and innovative thinking.

What does it mean to you to be recognised by such an award?

When my MD, Dan Appleby, said he was entering me for the North East Marketer of the Year Award, I was blown away. For me, my role is all about making things happen behind the scenes, being that person that rallies the team and someone clients and partners can rely on to help plan and deliver compelling campaigns they’re proud to put their name to. To be recognised for playing a part in making many things happen, especially during such a tough time for the advertising industry, must be one of the proudest moments in my career.

Have you received any other awards?

I’ve not received any other award (unless you can count the Bad Driver Award at the annual Drummond Central Away Day). But I’m chuffed to say that campaigns I’ve led have won several awards at regional and national ceremonies over the last three years, including Marketing Week Masters, The Drum, Prolific North and the North East Marketing Awards. ‘Thank You’, our regional Covid campaign and the Greggs and PlayStation partnership have been recent winners – both highlights of my career so far.

We both have a keen interest in ensuring people have the right practical and professional skills to advance their careers.  What do you think makes a person stand out, even when they are in their first job?

Having bags of enthusiasm, an interest, and a willingness to listen and learn makes a person stand out. These traits came from a place of passion for me personally, which gave me a good start. I loved all things marketing – my favourite adverts were the VW Polo Singing Dog advert by DDB and the Sony Bravia play dough bunnies advert by Fallon London. And I wanted a piece of that.

But don’t get me wrong, you must be able to channel that passion. Don’t be that person who thinks they know everything (believe me, you don’t. You never will.) Show initiative, do something before you’re asked. Do some proactive research on a category and a client; make the teas for the pitch team working late and learn from the experienced and talented people around you.

Are these skills something that is innate or can be taught?

I believe it’s both. You must be naturally curious, but your approach can be polished. I wanted (and tried) to be involved in absolutely everything, which sometimes meant I was overstepping. I’ve learnt how to get the best out of people and add value for my clients and colleagues without trying to do their job for them.

And what is your advice on lifelong learning?

Never stop wanting to learn more or be better. The marketing industry changes all the time, overnight in some instances, so knowing when to listen to the experts is an important skill. You have to be open to learning from everyone and everywhere and combining different learning formats and techniques. Someone told me that it’s when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and feel uncomfortable when you’re learning. I should remember who said that it’s stuck with me ever since and is something I tell my team today.

Your career in advertising is a fascinating one. Can you take us through each stage of your career from Account Executive to Senior Account Director in 9 years? What are the additional skills required by each role to merit the promotions?

Account Executive is a task-based role. I was focused on supporting my Account Manager on client projects, general admin tasks, taking meeting minutes, nipping to the Post Office when needed, preparing for meetings – you name it. If I could make my Account Manager’s day-to-day that bit easier, then it would be my pleasure to do so.

I was promoted to Account Manager after just a year. That was a tough transition as I had to learn how to balance having more responsibility with still being the person those around me depended on. The Account Manager role requires more of an ability to plan – you have to know the detail, put a plan together, and deliver it, stepping away from someone who can provide someone else’s plan. It’s when the stabilisers come off.

Finally, as Senior Account Director, my role is to shape the strategy with clients and colleagues and ultimately be a trusted advisor that both external and internal partners come to and rely on.

Moving from managing to leading is the most challenging move. You have to learn to let others build the plan and come up with the answers – but always be on hand to provide guidance and direction.

As you move up the ladder, what management advice would you give regarding managing your team?

My most significant piece of advice is to let people work things through themselves, even if it means they make mistakes. But not to the point where they fail, of course. As a manager, you have to help your team resolve issues but flying in with a cape to save the day isn’t the answer. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for them. It took me a long time to realise that doing something for someone because you think it protects them doesn’t help in the long run.

I know that when I made mistakes as an Account Exec, Manager and even today, the disappointment I would feel in myself was enough. It would have been easy to hide away and let someone else fix things – but being allowed to be part of the solution forced me to dust myself off, learn from it and make sure it didn’t happen again.

For me, it was those opportunities that helped me get to where I am today.

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