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Exploring the freedom of hybrid work with Julie Aguilera #GettingToKnow

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Julie Aguilera is Associate Director & Head of Consumer at Rooster.

Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

I work part time and am in the office once a week. My one day in the office is inevitably filled with back-to-back meetings - with account teams, senior team, clients, new prospects - whilst on my WFH days I try – in between various other scheduled or ad hoc Teams meetings – to focus on tasks that need headspace; a mix of drafting copy, reviewing copy or reports, planning and strategy development, new biz development, personnel development.

Ultimately though, what I’d identify as the crux of my role and an important part of every day, is that of storyteller – always looking for the right angles, hooks, messaging and creative ‘packaging’ to make clients relevant and interesting to their target audiences and ensuring account teams are doing so too. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Working out how to balance parenting and family responsibilities with work and trying to excel at both and ensure your value in the workplace continues to be recognised so you can get to where you want to career-wise. But that balance does fall into place with time and experience.

More challenging perhaps than that, is dealing with the evolution of the role and changing responsibilities as you grow into more senior positions. Letting go of the doing - and to some extent even the knowing - and learning to trust others to manage the day to day whilst you focus on the bigger picture and learn additional skills – business, finance, HR, people management.

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Imposter syndrome kicks in when you feel you might be losing mastery of the newest tools, knowledge of the latest media movements, or even just not being across every client update or request, but it’s important to remember that the value we bring to a client or a business is never limited to one thing and freeing up responsibilities in some areas means we can invest time in upskilling and learning in others to continue to support success and growth. 

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

I did well at school and Uni but wasn’t sure what to do once I graduated. I always loved writing, so PR felt like a good fit. With a Spanish boyfriend of four years at the time and fluent in Spanish having studied it through to undergraduate level, I took a leap of faith and went to live in Spain to begin my PR career there.

I bagged an internship, then a permanent position and worked across accounts in various sectors. One hotel client led to a passion for travel PR, which I then specialised in when we moved back to the UK four years later.

Following two stints of maternity leave I joined Rooster but having worked in the travel industry for many years by then and with two small children, I found myself wanting to change direction once more. As the agency began to diversify, I started scooping up the non-travel accounts, refining the approach, the skills and the agency creds.     

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

Win. Forming, developing and leading the agency’s consumer & lifestyle branch, which has been an ongoing process over the last eight or so years. And building a really talented and loyal team that loves the work as much as I do.

Loss. Any pitch we came second on. So much time, passion and brainpower goes into every one and its crushing – for the whole team – to come so close but not win the prize. Unfortunately an inevitable part of agency life. There are a number of clients I have been very sad to lose too, but goodbyes aren’t always final... 

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I’m lucky enough to call my creative hero one of my best friends. Alice Tonge is Group Creative Director at Apple in London and previously, Head of 4creative at Channel4. She has devised and delivered the most stunning campaigns throughout her career, the latest of which – the acclaimed ‘The Greatest’ – won Apple an Emmy this year!

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

I would have included creative subjects at GCSE and A Levels. D.T. especially, which I loved, in place of History or Biology for example, which have ultimately had no bearing on my career.

I am a firm believer that kids should pursue subjects not only that they’re good at, but that they genuinely enjoy, as that will set them on a path to finding a career and a future in a field that they love. Success will come if we’re passionate about something. Our choices shouldn’t be based on potential earnings or skill if we’re not fully invested in those paths.

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

Architecture. I Ioved technical drawing at school and am very geeky about visualising spaces even now (I create crude scale drawings using graph paper to plan room, extension or garden layouts), but having pursued what were then considered to be more ‘academic’ subjects at GCSE and A Level I wasn’t equipped to follow that path.

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

In the context of PR specifically, that one day the perception will change. PR still plays last fiddle behind advertising, influencer marketing, SEO… and continues to be one of the first services cut if budgets are tight. Brands need to understand the value a good PR campaign or programme can bring – and often at a fraction of the cost. It can deliver BIG for both brands and products when executed with meaning and purpose. 

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

  1. Listen more than you speak, and ask questions, constantly, if you want to learn and grow
  2. Work hard not fast. Sometimes it’s important to slow down to speed up. Always make time for the thinking, tailoring and adjusting
  3. You don’t always need big budgets for big impact. Simple campaigns can be compelling too; it’s all about the storytelling
  4. All ideas are valid, but be sure they have a purpose and clearly defined goals, otherwise you won’t be able to measure their success
  5. ‘Quiet times’ – like on your commute or in bed at night – are the best moments for good ideas. Carve out time for creativity. And always have something handy to jot thoughts down

What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

Be encouraging, be approachable, be clear and be honest – try not to distance yourself from your team. Identify and celebrate the different skills, interests and pathways of different team members to help them – and in turn, the business - succeed.

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

That they are genuinely engaged with their work because they enjoy what they do, because they understand what they do and why they do it, and because every small win is celebrated. Only then will they feel that all-important sense of achievement and have a drive to deliver meaningful results consistently.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

As a working mum I do my best to keep on top of relevant industry and client sector-specific media to get inspiration and know who’s doing what, but I also use books, online resources and social media to help me stay sane, distracted and/or happy! Podcasts – try Diary of a CEO - are a good way to keep on top of current trends and industry thinking and can fill a commute that otherwise might be squandered on scrolling.

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The One Minute Manager is a short read to understand balanced and productive leadership and @positivenewsuk (Instagram) provides hope and a regular uplift despite the gloominess of the daily news agenda.

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