Late last year, the talented Zoe Mitchell was appointed Marketing & Growth Director at VaynerMedia London as part of a string of senior hires in the agency. Right off the bat, Zoe sounded confident and extremely well-immersed in her role – and the chat we recently had with her below is another proof of how well she fits within the team.
Zoe lives and breathes VaynerMedia and, as the marketing and growth director at the agency, her days are devoted to growing, learning and being the VaynerMedia difference. How? By reminding her that brands and agencies exist because they are doing something valuable.
Zoe learned a whole lot from 2020, and today we are Getting to Know her as an inspirational and motivated creative leader, one whose spirit we're sure not even a global pandemic could shake.
Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?
What’s in a name… or a title? At VaynerMedia London, Marketing and Growth Director encompasses all things new business. How are we attracting, cultivating and converting the right kind of opportunities? What does the agency brand look, feel and sound like in the UK? It covers how we grow, and ensures we are expanding in the right way, maintaining our reputation as well as our culture.
A typical day might mean qualifying inbound new opportunities or progressing pitches we are committed to. How can we be ‘Vayner’ about everything we do? It might also involve applying our unrivalled understanding of platforms and culture and our approach to developing effective creative. It’s my job to win in the right way and set the whole team up for success.
We have a different way of working at VaynerMedia, and part of my job is to showcase how it’s making a difference for our client partners.
How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?
I’m a rare breed in that I’m a new business careerist. I carved out a career path with only new business in mind – my ambition was to be New Business Director of a best-in-class agency by the time I was 30. It’s a shame, but it’s a function in agencies that people often fall or move into, rather than seeing it as something to progress towards.
I’m a consultative salesperson and have a passion for building brands – which means this role sits in my sweet spot. I’ve worked at different agencies, with different outputs and cultures to figure out the type of New Business person I was and wanted to be.
The biggest challenge is that it’s a role you have to learn on the job. Often, you have so much autonomy that templates, reference points, frameworks and processes don’t exist. But it can be the biggest opportunity for the business to figure out how things should – or could – be done.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I fall into the camp of people who were lucky enough to go to university, but unlucky enough to think it was the only path to a successful career. I chose a course that’s based on what – at the age of 16, 17 or 18 – I thought I wanted to be when you ‘grow up’. So, I did a law degree. And now I work in advertising.
But I can’t deny that it helped shape the way I looked at my career from the early stages. Being able to condense a lot of information, analyse and construct a persuasive argument have all remained important skills.
Other things that made me gravitate towards the creative industries were my passion for music, art and poetry. I couldn’t believe that there was an industry that married commercial and creative and that I could find a role within it.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I’d have a ski chalet in The Alps and/or a villa in Ibiza that offered guests a ‘holistic healthcheck’. I’m very passionate about all the things that make us feel ‘well’ – nutrition, exercise, injuries, ailments, psychology, philosophy, spirituality.
Basically, you can come and have a reiki massage while a DJ plays and you’re fed vegan canapes. It’s a pipe dream, but a dream, nonetheless.
What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?
When things get tough, I remember that brands and advertising need to exist and that we are doing something valuable. That cross section of commercial and creative expertise I spoke about is so necessary. Old, legacy businesses need creative solutions to new problems. New businesses need to know how to build a brand in a modern context. We usually get to do this in an environment where we laugh or learn every day. We’re lucky, really.
How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?
It has forced new levels of compassion; compassion for my peers and colleagues. You cannot lead or manage effectively without understanding people’s context and this year has prompted me to think about how someone on the other end of my communication is thinking or feeling more than before.
On a more practical level, we have had to adopt new technology and adapt to new ways of working, so I’m grateful in a lot of ways that everyone upskilled at the same time. It’s closed the gap between people’s comfort using certain tools, which has been helpful when kicking off projects and pitches.
What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?
Understand how YOU are creative. The career and success will follow. Whether you’ve always known you have a talent – i.e. you make something or just gravitate towards the arts, explore it because the role will emerge. The worst thing you can do is run a narrative in your mind that you are ‘not’ something. Lean into what you ‘are’.
How do you recharge away from the office?
Dancing. Music and movement help me centre myself and refresh my perspective. Equally, despite being an extrovert, I often need to recharge alone to rebalance energy levels.
I couldn’t live without Soundcloud and Spotify.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
This is why I work at VaynerMedia. I think the holding companies have dominated for too long and are now too monolithic to move in a different direction, despite client demands (and the needs of our audience) changing drastically.
I want the industry to embrace a new model, which is focused on understanding a culture we are in danger of becoming too detached from. I want the industry to understand that our clients need us to be consultants on where customer attention is, what relevant content looks like and how we can play a meaningful (but authentic) role in culture. That’s what we are hyper focused on at VaynerMedia, and it’s proving effective.
What is your biggest hope for 2021?
Professionally: that brands continue to move, adapt and invest. By listening and reacting to their audience's needs and communicating in a way that is engaging, authentic
s and of value. Brands that do this shouldn't be afraid to spend their marketing money and will reap the benefits on the other side. I hope to be having more conversations with brave marketers and business owners, ready to embrace all that 2020 taught us.
Personally: that I've made it out of the country at least 5 times!
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
It's been a real win being recognised for having what is quite a niche, specialist skill within an agency. Being welcomed onto the leadership team at VaynerMedia as Marketing & Growth Director, being elected onto the IPA's New Business & Marketing Group and being named as part of the the BD100 2020 List has been fantastic.
Specifically, some of the new business wins I've enjoyed the most are those when I get to see the work out in the world. Seeing the fruits of the pitch labour is a real boost. National Trust and Camden Town Brewery made some really great things happen this year, in spite of the context.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
App: Co-Star; The Pattern
IG accounts: @complex; @goodnewsmovement
Netflix: Captain Fantastic, My Octopus Teacher