What doesnt kill you makes you stronger

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					What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Most successful professionals experience tough career
moments. Suzy Bashford talks to media figures who turned
daunting challenges into rewarding opportunities.

We have all heard the old adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".
But is it really true in media? Is it actually worth putting yourself through the
stress and strain of difficult career experience in the hope it's all worth it in
the end?

We asked five media professionals at the top of the career ladder to share
their toughest career moments. And yes - they all agreed that these
experiences ultimately helped them get where they are today.

Media coach Suzy Greaves, who wrote Making The Big Leap about career
change, says: "Our most painful career moments can be the ones that teach
us the most. Career wobbles can be the best place to take stock and ask
yourself fundamental questions about how you work and what you want your
career to look like.

"Everyone will have tough career moments in his or her life. The danger is
when you see it as a disaster rather than an opportunity."

Greaves advises people who feel particularly challenged at work to analyse
why. What do you need that you're not getting? Support? Control of a
project? Recognition? Once you've answered these questions, she says, the
next step is to work out what you need in a job to feel fulfilled, then devise a
plan to achieve your goals.

Our interviewees also agree it is a mistake in the competitive, fast-moving
world of media to get stuck in a rut where you are doing the same
unchallenging tasks day in, day out. They all argue that to get ahead in this
industry, individuals need to take risks and push themselves out of their
comfort zones. This may mean you need to put on an act while you get to
grips with the task in hand.

"If you act as if you are confident, others react differently to you," says
Greaves. "Sometimes it's not the most talented people that move up the
career ladder, but the most confident. Confidence can be a magical key to
career success."

Stephen Allen, Chief executive, Group M

"The scariest moment of my career was in 1988. I was 25 and had recently
become a director of the agency, The Media Business. I was one of the
youngest directors in town. Life was good.

Then we had a board meeting. I remember the rest of my colleagues saying
"We think in order to grow the agency, we need a new business director and
we think you're the best person for the job".

We had never had anyone in this role before. New business directors at
media agencies just didn't exist then. In ad agencies, the role was regarded
as the last stop out of the agency, where you would assign someone you
wanted to get rid of.

I felt like a rabbit caught in headlights. There was no predecessor to show
me how the job was done. I had to invent my own job. This was hard
because I had to not only sell my agency to clients, but our whole business
category too.

At that time, the bulk of business sat in ad agency media departments. The
scariest part of the job was the weekly Monday board meeting. Everyone
would look at me and ask: "So Steve, what's happening with new business?"
I used to sit there with a blank look. I learnt, as people know now, that new
business doesn't happen overnight. It can take years. We didn't have
databases then either.

Three months into the job I won my first piece of business. It felt like I'd won
the World Cup. It gave me a lot of confidence. From there on, new business
became very successful and we consistently punched above our weight.

The moral of the story for me was that sometimes in business, you have got
to take a chance if you want to move on.

You have got to learn new skills and you have got to have different
experiences. That experience forced me to become entrepreneurial and

It helped me land my next job as managing director of the agency.


REALISING I WAS IN THE WRONG JOB - Adam Mills, Sales director, Carlton
Screen Advertising
I was 25. I had been in the industry for about three years, working for Abbot
Mead Vickers as a media manager. It was great fun. Parties. Free booze.
Beautiful women. But I became increasingly aware there were parts of the
job I was avoiding. I love communicating with people and setting the
strategy far more than the minute planning, which I was pushing to the side
of my desk.

I realised I was working longer and longer hours to stay ahead of my peers.
Several seemed to be doing the job more naturally than I was. My wake up
call was when two colleagues got promoted and I didn't.

I'd been talking to a media owner at the time, Rank Screen Advertising. It
said it needed more strategic planning in its sales role. I thought 'Sod this,
I'm in the wrong role'. I took a demotion to be a sales executive and had to
start at the bottom.

It was hard, but I wouldn't turn the clock back. You don't realise what an
incredible weight you carry when you're in the wrong job. It's an amazing
feeling when you unburden and find your niche. But it's a young industry,
and you've got to make that decision to switch relatively early. I would not
have achieved as much as I have done if I had stayed where I was.

Chief executive, Future

The toughest period, and when I was least happy, was when I took a job for
the wrong reasons. I was deputy managing director and was offered the
managing director role at a creative agency. I was more interested in the
title than anything else.

It's probably the only company I've worked where I've been seriously
stressed. The job I had to do was so different from the job I thought I was
taking on. I expected to go there to grow and develop. In reality, I was there
to fire-fight.

I worked from very early in the morning to midnight nearly every night. I
had to pretend to the outside world that everything was fantastic. In fact, the
business was on a knife-edge and I was putting on an act. I quit as soon as I
was in a position to leave without jeopardising other people's jobs, which was
about 18 months later.

I think the experience ultimately helped me. I do think you learn from your
mistakes and from adversity. It's also easy to get into a groundhog situation,
when you're not being stretched, so I don't regret it. However, I would
advise people changing jobs to do proper due diligence: speak to people
there, get a sense of the company's clients, look at their business plan, check
their annual results, read their annual report. Instinct is fine, but it has to be
mixed with formal risk assessment.
CIRCUMSTANCES - Carrie Barker, Director, Emap sales magazines and

It was 2000. I was coming back from maternity leave to take on my first
managing director role, heading up the specialist women's titles at Emap. It
was a very difficult role because the division was being moved out of the
consumer division on Shaftsbury Avenue into the business-to-business
division in Camden. The way the staff saw it, we might as well have been
moving to Hull. The business was under-performing. But the trickiest thing
was that I didn't agree with the decision to move our division. However, I
had to keep justifying it. At Emap we believe in passionate arguments, but
once a decision is made, it's up to managers to back it and get on with the
job. So that's what I did.

First off, I tried to determine a culture that would turn the company around. I
employed people with complementary skills to my own. I tried to make sure
the team understood the vision and bought into it. I organised meetings and
away days where the senior management explained this vision and very
quickly people wanted to make it work. We spent a lot of time brainstorming
new ideas and launched new commercial ventures, which now generate
seven-figure profits for the company.

We managed to turn business around and I stayed there for three years.

The irony is that two months ago, the decision was taken to move the
division back to where it sat originally."

director, London 2012

I've had many tough moments, but one in particular was when I was
promoted to marketing director of digital television at BSkyB.

One of my responsibilities was to oversee the design and implementation of
the Sky Digital electronic programme guide (EPG). It was 1995 and the UK
had never seen anything like an EPG before.

There was significant pressure on me to deliver something that worked not
only on a technology level, but also from the consumer point of view. But
there was a problem. The three EPGs on the market, all American, were
poorly designed. They were so hard to navigate, I struggled even with the
instruction manual.

I reported these findings back to Dan Chisholm, the chief executive of Sky.
His reaction was 'Well, you better design one for yourself then'. So I went
home and sketched out an idea for how I thought an EPG should work. I then
spent two weeks transferring the sketches to an Apple Mac and presented it
to the management team. Luckily, it went down very well.

The most difficult thing was having faith in myself and believing that I could
do the job. But it was worth it - the EPG is recognised as probably the best of
its kind in the world and is used by over 8 million households every day.

The lesson I learnt from this experience was that if you can't get someone to
do something for you, do it yourself and believe that you can do it. Make it

The mantra 'just do it' is one I've used ever since.

Suzy Bashford
Publication Date 2006-06-13 12:00 AM

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