Abi Pearl on overcoming the impostor syndrome

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We tend to forget how important it is to take care of ourselves, especially during a world-wide pandemic that makes us busier than ever.

The story of giffgaff head of advertising Abi Pearl is as inspiring as it gets. If there is one thing you should learn from her today, it is this: believe in yourself. That is what Abi did when she set out to guide giffgaff's advertising department, after the company detached from their former advertising agency. That is what she keeps doing every day, delivering great campaigns and ideas for the giffgaff team.

Today we are Getting to Know a natural-born marketer with a passion for fashion, someone determined to inspire change in the industry with the power of marketing.


Tell us a bit about your current role!

As Head of Advertising at giffgaff I work on new creative strategies uncovering insights and then quickly using those to inspire the work we create. Our model of working involves having a very talented in-house team, bolstered by external collaborators, so it’s important to make sure I’m spotting and bringing talent in.

When done right advertising can be powerful, so we fixate on its effect. It’s not just about creating great work, but creating great work that shifts opinions and delivers for our bottom line. Closing that feedback loop and constantly iterating and improving our approach is a key part of my role.

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

giffgaff was my account when I worked at its former advertising agency. We made some great work and worked with some incredibly talented people. But the model of having an agency on retainer wasn’t sustainable for us. And it was hard to balance the cost of creativity with getting eyeballs on what was created with the media. So the team decided to shake things up and tread a different path.

Parting ways with the safety blanket of an agency, and offering me a role setting up an in-house team and network of collaborators was terrifying but exciting. That was back in 2015 when it felt like there was a shift in the industry. At the start it was just me, but I soon formed a team of collaborators.

The biggest challenge was fully believing in myself to deliver. Tom Rainsford (our then Brand Director) and Ash Schofield (then Chief Marketing Officer, now CEO) had put a lot of faith in me to deliver the vision. I didn’t want to let them, or myself, down, so working through that imposter syndrome, and just ‘start by starting’ (to use an Ash phrase), was really the only way to push through the fear. In the first 5 months we delivered a TV sponsorship and new Brand Campaign. All with our tiny team. It was amazing and proved what was possible.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

There are so many parts of my personal history that have shaped who I am and how I operate. I have a wonderfully diverse heritage that makes me really proud… a Polish, Jewish Grandfather, hence my surname ‘Pearl’, formerly ‘Pearlman’ and anglosied to ‘fit in’; a working class Grandmother from Nottingham, held back from advancing her education as she was a woman and it wasn’t the ‘done thing’.

My Father was the first of his family to go to university, following his masters he emigrated to Zambia and met my Mother whose own career stalled when she had kids, but she picked things up again in later life, graduating from uni with a nursing degree in her fifties.

My family is full of examples of people who pushed against the norm, did things their own way and it worked. Whatever held them back they then used to inspire others to push on. I was taught to be aware of barriers, but to never accept them. I think that’s why I’m so optimistic and enjoy challenges. Don’t get me wrong they’re still terrifying, but also energising.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’d like to think I would have done more to pursue journalism. I studied Fashion Promotion, and if you met me at age 16, all I would talk about was wanting to be a Fashion Journalist. Now, I’m genuinely not sure what I’d do. The older I get, the more I’d like to create something - a product or service that does good in the world.

What is one top marketing tip you learned in your job?

My very first boss taught me a couple of great things that I’ve always kept in my mind: “Never lie. You have enough to remember without lies getting in the way.” and “Always have your hardest conversation of the day as early as possible.”

When you’re working with multiple people, and teams sometimes with different priorities, this advice helps keep you honest, and helps form more authentic bonds.

What is the one advice you would give to aspiring marketers?

Play to your strengths. giffgaff are great at uncovering and playing to people’s strengths. Taking time to truly engage with what’s at your core. Understanding what makes you tick. What creates an environment where people see the best of you. Reflecting on myself and engaging with myself has truly transformed my career.

I used to dismiss things like this, but making time for yourself is incredibly important.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Our current work focusing on refurbished phones, encouraging folks to reevaluate their behaviour and consider ways to make conscious choices makes me super proud. As marketeers, advertisers, people, we have the power to make change, individually and collectively. Being able to activate that in some way makes me proud and excited for the future.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I started seeing a therapist last year. Carving out time to talk, reflect and learn about myself. It’s been so valuable particularly in recent months with the Black Lives Matter movement with a lot of latent emotion, sadness, anger and hope all vying for attention.

We have a Peloton bike which has been really great. Purchased with the proceeds of a cancelled holiday. It’s not quite the warm seas and powdered sands of Barbados, but it’ll certainly make sure we’ll be super fit and healthy for when we can get out there again!

What’s your one big dream for the future of marketing?

That people working within it recognise its power to do more than shift product. It has the power to effect change. Create new norms. Set new standards. Using creative thinking not just to market or advertise things, but to fix genuine problems in society.

Imagine that.

Abi Pearl is head of advertising at giffgaff.


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