Sun, sea... And senior management

Relocating to foreign markets can prove a fast track to high-powered agency roles. So should you stay or should you go?

Sun, sea... And senior management
Sun, sea... And senior management
In addition, individuals who choose to work overseas, particularly in emerging markets, are often handed much higher levels of responsibility than they would receive in the UK.
Mike Cooper, chief executive of PHD Worldwide, says: "The UK is still regarded as a very sophisticated media market, and it is definitely held up as an example of where things are going. As a result, you get more responsibility, more quickly.

"I went out to Asia as a 28-year-old senior media executive and was made media director of Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong. Then, within nine months, I was promoted to regional media director of Asia-Pacific. That's a hell of a jump."

Cooper, who points out that it was largely British expatriates who pioneered the development of the Chinese media market from the 1980s, is keen to encourage overseas working in his new post at PHD.

He says this is an effective way to cultivate the right culture throughout the agency network: "PHD is a relatively new network and we want to spread that ‘magic dust' around the globe. Sending people overseas is one way to do that."

One of the most popular locations for expatriate media professionals is Australia. Most people are attracted to a new life down under for lifestyle reasons: the lure of the sun, sea, surf and sand, and general outdoors-based, active living.

Martin Cowie, who is about to take up the managing director role at Carat Sydney, has worked in Australia for four years (see case study on page 27).

He first went there for the lifestyle, but adds: "It's a great time to go to Australia at the moment because the country is booming, and so there are plenty of jobs and a real staff shortage."

Cowie says digital experience in particular is in great demand. However, he warns that media professionals should not expect non-stop "barbies on the beach", as Australian employees work just as long hours as UK workers.

According to media recruitment consultants, Australia is not the best market to choose in order to enhance your career. They believe Asia- Pacific, the US and emerging European markets such as Russia would do more for your CV.

And consultants such as Ros Kindersley, managing director of JFL Search & Selection, advise that if you want to land a top UK role, you should not stay abroad for too long. "Two years overseas is optimum," says Kindersley. "Any more than that and recruiters often feel that you have gone native. They may feel you are not keeping up with the UK market, and so you will be perceived as out of touch."

UK media agency professionals have always been highly sought after in overseas markets, but the trend for individuals to actively seek out opportunities to work abroad is gathering pace. One factor driving this trend is that, as media becomes ever more global, international experience is increasingly valued on a CV.

Gavin Duke, managing partner at MediaCom's international unit, admits his 12-year stint working in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia has meant he has "missed out on certain developments in the UK, such as the digital age".

"I've found it hard coming back to the UK after being away, because I am now playing catch-up," he says. Duke is not certain whether his overseas experience actually benefited his career, but there is no doubt that he was given more responsibility than he would have received if he had stayed in the UK.

Carat UK's new-business director, Nick Gracie, says his six-month placement in the New York office mainly served to confirm his commitment to working in the UK market. He says: "With more and more clients going global, it was great to get the experience of implementing a global strategy in a different market.

"But working in the US isn't a great environment. It's not as social as the UK: there is not much going on outside work. I looked forward to coming back and having a bit more banter at work. I found it pretty easy to slot back in."

Kelly Clark, chief executive GroupM EMEA, has spent his media career in New York, Asia-Pacific, and now London. He believes that most agency networks do not do enough to encourage staff to get "meaningful international experience", and calls for "better HR and career development programmes".

"But usually it's down to the individual to push and make it happen," he says. "The best way to find opportunities is to make it known far and wide that you are interested. That applies both to your current agency, if it has an international network, as well as to other agencies and recruiters. It certainly helps if you've already had some meaningful experience of dealing with international markets."


Jonny Robson , 28, integrated channel planning manager, Initiative Argentina

Robson is about to jet off to Argentina to take up his new role, leaving his current position as international account manager at Initiative UK. In Argentina, he will be working on the prestigious Unilever account.

Although Robson was advised by recruitment consultants that the move wouldn't necessarily boost his career, he disagrees.

"It's turned out to be a really good career move working on Unilever," he says.
"I will be channel planning and communications planning, rather than just media planning and buying, so I'll be learning more about how brands communicate. I can't see how a job such as this is going to hurt my career."

Robson chose Argentina largely for personal reasons because he has friends already living in the country, and the move presents an opportunity to learn Spanish.

However, he adds that the market is also interesting professionally, because "the attitude to risk is really different and digital is causing a big change".

"Society is changing its attitude to technology very quickly, which means there is more opportunity. So, even though [Argentina] is perceived as being behind, attitudes can be far more progressive and dynamic," he says.


Mark Heap, 34, managing director, PHD China

After almost five years working as a senior planner/buyer at MindShare Sydney, Heap landed the head of planning role at MindShare China, based in Shanghai.

"I came to China for a change in culture. Australia was brilliant, but hardly a cultural shift from the UK," he says. "In China, there are whole new challenges that are only really evident in a few global markets."

When Heap moved to China, there were around 200 planners across four offices. By the end of 2007, there were 400 planners across six offices.

This pace of expansion gave Heap the opportunity to develop new skills beyond his core craft skills. He says: "I've learned how to cope with large workforces across multiple locations, and how to invest my time to make a difference, when it's virtually impossible to know the workforce individually. I have also conducted enough training courses to last a lifetime, and I was lucky to be part of a team setting the direction for the company in a dynamic market."

Heap recently joined Omnicom to help build PHD's global network, and now has around 15 clients, including multinational names (Standard Chartered Bank, New Balance, Hugo Boss and Airbus), as well as leading Chinese and North East Asian firms.

"There is a huge opportunity to have a more strategic offering in China, as forward-thinking marketers realise that there is a lot more to successful communications than price," he says.


Tim Baker, 32, general manager, Initiative Dubai

Baker has been in Dubai since 2005, citing the "drudgery of commuting from Hertfordshire to London, early starts, late finishes, miserable people on the train, high taxes and dark winter nights" as among the reasons for leaving Initiative in London.

He admits he didn't know much about the market before he went, but was drawn to the "cosmopolitan atmosphere and overall sense of optimism that seemed lacking in London".

Professionally, the relocation has been a savvy move: Baker says he's been given more opportunities in Dubai than he would have received in the UK.

Baker, who joined Initiative Dubai at 29 as client services director, with 13 people in the office, is now general manager of a network of 100 people, having opened offices in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco in the past year.

His clients include non-alcoholic beer Barbican, Americana (including KFC and Pizza Hut), telecom provider Etisalat and bank NCB.

"Dubai is a meritocracy where you really can achieve as well as learn," he says. "It is less constrained by data, red tape and historical process."

He adds: "Any individual coming from a more developed market should enjoy the challenge and gain a new way of working and a wider outlook, both professionally and personally."


Guillaume Conteville, 31, regional director, Mediaedge:cia, Singapore

In Conteville's opinion, Asia-Pacific is "by far the most dynamic media market in the world".

"Changes are happening at a faster pace and growth is phenomenal," he says. The cultural differences between markets and the commitment of media professionals also drew him to take up a role in Singapore, transferring from London.

However, Conteville's move to Singapore was predominantly a lifestyle choice, rather than career-driven. "My wife and I have always loved Asia. Singapore became the obvious choice as Mediaedge:cia APAC headquarters are based here, and it is incredibly family friendly," he says.

Conteville works across all the agency's international clients, but has recently focused on flagship clients Sony Ericsson, driving its digital effort across the region, and Sony, a new win for MEC Singapore.

His advice to fellow media professionals thinking about working abroad? "Don't think about it too much before deciding to go, because there is always an element of risk involved when taking this kind of decision.

"If you wait for all parameters to be optimal, you might miss out on some amazing opportunities. If it doesn't work out, you can always come back."


Martin Cowie, 46, managing director, Carat Sydney

Cowie has been working in Australia for four years, and a recent two-week holiday back to the "cold, wet and grey" UK reassured him that he made the right decision to work abroad.

Cowie, who started as a director at MediaCom before joining OMD as commercial director, is about to join Carat Sydney as managing director. Recent clients he has worked on include St George Bank, Beiersdorf, Telstra and Johnson & Johnson.

Apart from the weather and the outdoors lifestyle, Cowie was drawn to the fact that the Australian marketplace is similar to the UK, making media skills highly transferable.

He says: "The market is less regulated than the UK, particularly with regards to the integration of brands into programming and editorial. Programme presenters can appear in the ads that run within those programmes. The media sales rep has greater influence on the editorial department than in the UK, and money talks louder."

Cowie estimates that the Sydney market is 12 months behind the UK in terms of development, making UK imports attractive to Australian agencies.

"But don't think you will be knocking off at 5pm and heading to the beach every day; media people work just as many hours as they do in the UK," he says.

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