Senior Account Manager,
|Sebastien Desprez Associate Director,
Global Account Director,
A Career Path: Each Stage Builds Your Talent
What do you expect from your employer today? In the future? What’s most important in developing your career? How do you get noticed? Does a mentor really make a difference? And what about values? Vision? These are common questions we all ponder as we pursue our careers.
In his book Pour Your Heart Into It, Chairman Howard Schultz of Starbucks, a Ketchum client, devotes an entire chapter to the critical role talent plays in the success of his organization and maintains people are not a line item. “If you treat your employees as interchangeable cogs in a wheel, they will view you with the same affection,” contends Schultz. “But they’re not cogs. Every one of them is an individual who needs both a sense of self-worth and the financial means to provide for personal and family needs.”
This enlightened view of Schultz (clearly not your average “Joe”) of what it takes to attract and nurture employees is important in today’s workplace. In addition, the impact the different generations have on a workplace is interesting to watch and challenging to manage.
To illuminate each career stage and to gain insights into answers to the questions posed above, Perspectives asked five Ketchum employees, each representing a decade from their 20s to their 50s, and then beyond, to voice what they gained, what they expect from employers and what they wish for ahead.
Connie Yip, senior account manager, Hong Kong
You represent those in the initial stages of their career. Describe your career path at Ketchum.
Time is flying! I started in Hong Kong – my first job – as an assistant account executive in November 1999 and within three months became an account executive. In 2001, I was promoted to senior account executive and then account supervisor. In May 2003, the Corporate Practice made me an account manager, and by October 2004 I was named senior account manager. It sounds like a fast track to those outside the agency business, but inside, employees gain experience quickly and in just five years, you can climb those initial rungs of the career ladder.
For example, I was hired for the Corporate Practice but I also worked on cross-team projects for several Brand Marketing clients. This helped me build skills in multitasking, organizing and planning. A turning point in my young career came when, as an account supervisor, I started working with FedEx Express. This experience enabled me to work with a number of specialty communications areas. Now, I’m the primary driver of several corporate accounts.
The major difference in what I do now versus when I started at Ketchum is that I play a far bigger role in managing accounts, counseling clients and supervising my team. I used to be the one who required more management and supervision.
What training did you especially find helpful? What would you like?
The three-day Camp Ketchum, our training program for mid-level employees, was very useful. It gave each trainee, despite geographical, cultural and language differences, the rare opportunity to meet, interact, and work with the agency’s best people, including Ketchum’s most senior management. I learned something valuable from each of them.
I would like to be able to impress new clients faster and be more assertive when I counsel them. If I can show expertise at many different things, at least from the client’s point of view, that also will help a great deal.
Have mentors been important during your career?
Yes, very important. I am incredibly lucky to have been mentored by many really smart, brilliant, knowledgeable and outstanding PR practitioners over the past seven years. What I most treasure is the open and honest, but respectful, conversations I have with my mentors. I attribute this to Ketchum’s communications structure, which minimizes status and encourages people to share information. Also, my mentors have exposed me to wisdom and opportunities, which have helped me move from a junior-level administrator to more senior positions.
Sebastien Desprez, associate director, London
What were your 20s like, career-wise?
My 20s mostly were spent discovering what PR is, while working in the French Navy and elsewhere, before growing my knowledge and experience in the newly created marketing PR department at Rhône-Poulenc Rorer (now Sanofi-Aventis). Those five years were an amazing experience, during which the learning curve was steep. When I moved to the agency world, those years enabled me to put myself in the shoes of my clients a lot more easily.
What’s different about this second stage, your 30s?
It will sound like a cliché, but my 30s have brought me the maturity to be a better leader and manager. My clients expect me to more quickly understand their issues and challenges and provide appropriate solutions. They expect senior team members to have the gravitas to make decisions without always having to check with other people. I also am still very involved overseeing accounts, providing strategic advice to clients and supporting my teams.
When I look back over the decade, I realize how much PR has changed and how its importance in the marketing mix has grown; it’s become more of an equal with advertising and promotion.
Have training programs helped?
The Omnicom/Harvard management training I received in Geneva, Switzerland, was the most helpful and eye-opening training. It helped me get a very different perspective on how a business is run and managed. I took a lot of knowledge back to the office, much of which I haven’t had a chance yet to apply. But what I have applied already has proven useful for my development.
What further training and skills do you want to obtain ahead?
I want to keep growing in my role as a leader and manager. I would really like to build on the Omnicom/Harvard management training. I also would like to look into possibilities of growing my experience beyond the field of healthcare – even though healthcare will remain my passion!
I also would like to improve my understanding of business planning and management. This is something, however, that you learn gradually and have to apply and practice to be able to continue growing.
Have mentors been important?
They have been essential. In most cases, my mentors have been my direct managers. They’ve helped me grow as a professional, but also have advised me on what to do and what to focus on to evolve my career.
Denise Kaufmann, partner, global account director, New York
Please talk about how your career “decades” have differed.
I began my career with Ketchum in 1997, when I was 33, as vice president/account supervisor for a brand new account – the Lions Clubs. Most of my experiences in the first year were spent largely on administration, setting up new systems, finding the right staff and creating the infrastructure for a large, global outreach program.
Working on the Lions Clubs and FedEx accounts created profound, life-changing experiences and opportunities. Throughout this “decade,” I had the good fortune to travel the globe, to live and work in Hong Kong, to learn the nuances of doing global business, and meet and work with our colleagues from more than 20 different countries.
My 40s have brought a greater sense of confidence, calmness and, as much as I hate to admit it, maturity. Also, a renewed sense of purpose and a much greater emphasis on process and order. Also, the sheer size and scope of my responsibilities have expanded. The number of team members, the size of the budgets, and the demands of my clients all have increased exponentially in my 40s.
As I started this new “decade,” most of my experiences have focused on growing and expanding the FedEx business across the agency, which provides new experiences associated with managing the corporate reputation of one of the most admired companies on the planet. Certainly as you ascend each rung of the career ladder, clients ultimately expect greater and greater levels of accountability for every element of their business; they expect you to come to the table with solutions.
What do you hope your next stage brings in terms of opportunities and experience?
In the short term, I would like to continue working with FedEx because opportunities exist to expand the relationship even further. Longer term, I would like to spend more time helping team leaders develop better, stronger client relationships and create high-performing, more collaborative teams across the company.
What training helped you most as you moved through your career stages?
Building High-Performance Teams, Global Account Management, presentation-skills training, budget-and-finance training and, of course, Camp Ketchum. Ketchum does a good job weaving in training that focuses on the “managerial” aspects, which is helpful as you move up the ladder and have more and more people reporting to you.
Looking back, what training/skills would you have liked to receive?
If I knew then what I know now. . . I would have pushed for and attended a lot more training/classes on coaching, supervisory skills and successfully delivering feedback…both positive and negative. For all of us, the beginning of our careers is all about “the work.” As we grow and climb that ladder, being a good manager and a good mentor becomes the most challenging and, ultimately, the most rewarding aspects of this career.
How have mentors been important?
Mentors have enabled me to have spectacular opportunities. One, in particular, taught me three fundamental lessons that have shaped my career.
- Keep an open mind and accept that great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere.
- Find the one core idea that “speaks the truth” with your target and you will be able to sell your ideas.
- Don’t ever let your team see you completely lose it.
Another gave me a much deeper, more profound understanding of what it takes to successfully do global business. And a third has taught me how to look at everything we do with a sense of purpose and humor.
Jerry Olszewski, senior partner, Washington, D.C.
Describe the differences of each of your “decades” in terms of career experience.
The 20s were absolutely about survival. Learn it on Monday morning, do it on Monday afternoon. There was complete and total saturation in media relations and a healthy competition in the office to one-up each other with the quality and quantity of our placements. As a result, we came to understand "the media" in a highly practical, real-world context.
I developed an enormous respect for how tough it is to be a reporter and the many ways that a PR person can be truly helpful. I learned not to waste a reporter's time. I learned to recognize the look on their faces or the tone in their voices that said: "This is total BS." I learned that most of the time, they were trying very hard to get it right and I developed a low tolerance for whining about the media being "unfair."
I was at a small business at that time with about 25 people total in New York and Washington. I had early access to clients. I got them prepped for media interviews, went on the road with them. It was an opportunity to counsel clients way before I had any right to, but an opportunity that taught me so much.
Before I knew it, I was 35. It's scary to think about this now, but it was then that I got the chance to move to Munich and help start Ketchum's European operations. Interestingly, it was a large U.S. client seeking to "go European" with its communications strategy that opened this door for me. I find that this remains the formula for people who want great international experiences. Find a client who would advocate (and financially support!) your presence elsewhere in the world and there's a great chance it will happen. With my family, I spent three years in Munich and five years in London. This changed our lives and my career forever. By the end of those eight years in Europe, I was also responsible for Asia and Latin America and came to realize how much there was to learn and appreciate about the world.
How different is what you’re doing now from what you were doing a decade ago?
There's a "back to the future" aspect about this decade that I really enjoy. I've been fortunate to get immersed in a few major clients – FedEx, Kodak and Nokia. I've been reminded about how satisfying it is to use our strategy and creativity to contribute to a client's business success. I've been reminded about how much pressure our clients face each day, how they unavoidably pass some of that on to us, and how appreciative they often are for a job well done. It's important to note that this also puts you into regular contact with some remarkably talented people.
This decade is about making a difference in all ways, large and small, for clients and for Ketchum. I'm deeply interested in clients that are really on a mission or at major inflection points in their history. I have an enormous appreciation for clients who can say what they mean in the clear words that a real human being might actually speak, clients who will take a few calculated risks and have the courage to admit a mistake. I want to be held to the same standard.
Please talk about client expectations at each juncture of your career.
Interestingly, I found clients often will give you permission to run as far as your proven talent will carry you, even if it's beyond what your title suggests. I still see it. I work with people at Ketchum who are given incredible opportunities to handle sensitive client assignments. Those opportunities didn't happen overnight – it took lots of "proving," but one day they find themselves handling some of the most challenging assignments out there, and doing very well regardless of title.
My favorite client expectation comes from Bill Margaritis at FedEx – “Your job is to stay ahead of me." Very simple, isn't it? It can also keep you awake at night if you commit to the entirety of what that entails.
What training helped you at these junctures?
There's formal training and informal training. The formal training is easy to recognize because it looks like training. There are hundreds of "informal training" opportunities in any given year – the opportunities to learn from a client, an international colleague, a conference speaker, a journalist and on and on – all those people we encounter in our business lives who are pouring out knowledge and information if we're paying attention.
I've had two formal training opportunities that form wonderful bookends on a long career. Camp Ketchum is one. It taught me about the values and culture of Ketchum, and gave me a network of colleagues and friends that I still rely on today. Omnicom's Senior Management Program at Babson College provided another moment of enlightenment. I was exposed to the faculty from Harvard and colleagues from every type of business and every corner of the world – a first-class experience in every way.
Mentors, how important are they?
Mentors are everywhere. Anyone who waits to be "assigned" a mentor will miss many, many opportunities to learn. Several of my very best mentors were and are clients. I've learned more from them than I could possibly describe.
My most amazing mentor mentored by example, communicating:
- Work with integrity, push yourself toward excellence, have the courage to accept criticism when you're average.
- Appreciate your clients because they pay your salary.
- Speak and write in your native language – keep it simple.
- Clients in trouble should first do the right thing, then talk about it.
- Pay attention to the wider world; tell a good joke and be willing to laugh at yourself.
- At a certain age it's OK to use horribly dated expressions (I think this is why I feel compelled to say "bust a move").
- Appreciate your family.
John Paluszek, senior counselor, New York
How has each of your career “decades” differed in terms of career experience?
I first worked as an editor at McGraw-Hill on three different publications, one of which was a weekly oil magazine. It was right out of college and it taught me respect for deadlines, accuracy, and everything else that goes into good journalism. So many of those abilities have great relevance in public relations and were very helpful in giving me a smooth transition into that field.
After five years at McGraw-Hill, I moved to a small PR firm and did just about everything that an account executive would be asked to do. In terms of media relations, having been an editor, it was quite easy to recognize the news value that a client would have and present it to an editor as a pitch, either formal or informal.
I then joined a larger firm that combined PR and advertising. This gave me an opportunity to manage people and, eventually, I was in charge of 30 people and ran a major piece of PR business. Then an interesting thing happened. I began to realize I had an entrepreneurial streak in me and that I could run my own shop. So I opened my own firm in 1972. It was based on what has become a staple in our industry but was, at the time, eyebrow-raising. That was corporate social responsibility, or CSR.
We succeeded and ran the firm for nearly a dozen years until Ketchum acquired us.
Another valuable aspect of my own firm was that I developed insight into the difficult balance that CEOs have to achieve in satisfying the expectations of a broad range of constituents. For example, we started our firm with borrowed money (40 percent) from some friends who put up the capital to enable us to run it for the first year. That gave me direct insight into the many different “publics” involved in running such a business, such as shareholders, owners, employees, and customers. It also helped me articulate some of the things we were trying to say in terms of CSR and other aspects of our work with clients.
What did Ketchum furnish in developing your talents?
Ketchum was considerably larger than our own little firm. So it was a matter of adjusting the “universals” of PR firm management to a larger scale. My first assignment was to be director of the New York office. At the same time, I was in charge of the Washington office. This was quite a challenge. I had to relate to other office directors around the world and, for the first time in a number of years, I had to report to some tough, but fair, bosses. It went very well but it took some adjusting to.
One of the most important things I learned was the collegiality throughout the organization – the ability for any individual in any office to get cooperation virtually anywhere in the network with very little, if any, tension.
What has this particular "decade" provided in terms of career and work satisfaction?
Senior counsel is a relatively unique category. There are really two parts to what I do: external and internal. First, I’m available to clients through the account teams whenever they feel my expertise can be useful, which often is in terms of CSR. Other times I’m called on to help with clients who may benefit from my involvement in the educational aspects of the PR field. Also, I mentor people.
Externally, I work with more than 250 universities and colleges that teach PR on an organized basis. For nine years, I have served as co-chair of the Commission on Public Relations Education, which periodically sets standards and makes recommendations as to how PR should be taught. This is so young people coming into the field are adequately prepared, not just in writing, but in ethics, in campaigns, and in a variety of activities. In addition, I work with the United Nations Global Compact, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, and, of course, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
Describe how clients expect different things from you at each career juncture?
At entry level, your role is filtered through the people you report to. At the next level, there’s a need for managerial skills. And that grows and becomes more complex as you take on more responsibility. When you’re running a shop, you also have to have business acumen, which is a whole new set of standards and capabilities.
You’re very involved in professional organizations. How can that help a career?
I started getting involved about 10 years into my PR career, midway into running my firm. You could meet potential clients, match wits with them and other professionals, and have a forum for displaying your smarts. But you couldn’t be arrogant. It also gave me an opportunity to deal with industry-wide challenges. I would recommend it, with a caveat – get established, do what your employer expects of you, and then, when you’re comfortable, make time for these professional organizations.