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"Put yourself forward for as many pitches as possible" - With the Havas Media Group Chief Strategy Officer | #GettingToKnow

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For Group Chief Strategy Officer Eva Grimmett, boredom breeds. Once it sets in, it corrupts everything you do, everything you want to achieve, and all your future plans. As simple as it may sound, her secret formula to success is to not allow yourself to get bored. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Among the many inspiring things you'll read in the interview below, there is one piece of insight that will ring true to most: exposing yourself to different inputs and contexts is the key to always learn something new. "Put yourself forward for as many pitches as possible", Eva recommends; only by doing this you can keep learning, and by learning, you will remain motivated to be more of a force for good in this beautiful industry.

Today we are Getting to Know Eva Grimmett, Group Chief Strategy Officer at Havas Media Group.

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

I look after the Strategy, Insight and Media Futures teams across Havas Media Group and am ultimately responsible for the agencies strategic output. For me, there isn’t a ‘typical day’ as my role is so varied and touches so many different projects and clients, that no two days are the same. That said there are some themes though – which invariably involve having too many meetings and not enough thinking time! 

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

The whole process of getting to my current role was actually very exciting. I got to talk to people across the Havas Village, not just the media side of it and could feel that what Havas offered was very different to anywhere else. The challenge for me, was more of a personal one. I had recently come back from maternity leave and didn’t appreciate at the time, just how much everything was going to change. The first six months or so were thrilling but incredibly hard, as a back to work mother, juggling a new full-time job. There was literally no time for myself, which is actually really important in a job with a lot of responsibility 

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

I excelled at art throughout school and did a Fine Art degree at university. I knew when I came towards the end of it, that I didn’t want to pursue it for a career, but was at a loss as to what I did want to do. True story, I have a print out of a psychometric careers report dated 1999 that suggests media planner (alongside cartographer or librarian, the latter of which if you know me is hilarious, particularly as I’m incapable of speaking quietly). On researching what a media planner was, I realised I had some transferable skills – I was adept at tailoring messages to different audiences, and I could think on my feet (and fast). While doing a temp job after finishing my degree I got an interview with a media recruiter, and took a job as a digital planner buyer as a way into the industry. To this day I feel incredibly lucky that I fell into something that I am naturally good at, as it was a complete gamble way back at the time.

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

Client wise, it would be either winning the Lidl account when I was at my previous agency or retaining the BBC more recently while at Havas, the latter I am particularly proud of. However, thinking about this question more broadly, it has to be the team I have built at Havas. I have grown a team of collaborative, passionate, curious and generally fantastic individuals – who teach me something new every day, and who are genuinely the thing I am most proud of in my 21 years in media

What’s your secret to remaining inspired and motivated?

Don’t allow yourself to get bored. For me, boredom breeds, and once it sets in, it can be very hard to get out of. Put yourself forward for projects and work that will challenge you and keep you on your toes. Seek variety in your role. My advice to others would be to put yourself forward for as many pitches as possible – because they are always a great way to learn about a new category, get exposure to people across your agency and challenge yourself to come up with new and interesting ways of solving communications problems. 

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

I don’t really buy into the idea of heroes, but I usually vehemently agree with, and am inspired by anything that Rory Sutherland or Dave Trott says. On more of a peer level Amy Kean is wonderfully inspiring and continually challenging me to think about my preconceptions, while what Jed Hallam has been doing from a class perspective across the industry is both brilliant and badly needed. Beyond that, it is genuinely my team, who on a daily basis share interesting and challenging articles and ideas that help me grow.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

It has been both good and bad. In many ways it enabled me to slow down a little and redress some imbalances in my life. I am certainly calmer (pandemic aside) and on a more even keel as a result of having more time at home. Being able to put on a clothes wash during your lunch break has remarkable mental and lifestyle benefits! That said, I miss people, I miss my team and those moments face-to-face that at the time may seem inconsequential but are in fact crucial to working relationships and productivity. I think the new hybrid way of working that is emerging will be brilliant, particularly for strategists who need a balance of collaboration and quiet thinking time. 

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

I have very few regrets, for all the mistakes I have made have led me to where I am, and the person I am today. I am tempted to say that I would go back and tell my younger self, that she is enough, that she doesn’t need to prove herself, but you know what, those feelings gave me the drive and determination that got me where I am. I might also tell me to revise more, but again, the last minute cramming set me up for meeting quick deadlines later in a professional capacity!

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

I honestly have no idea. I am very driven and do think strategically, I could perhaps see myself in law. I harbour plans to become a magistrate one day. But I also crave a quiet life, so maybe I’d have a smallholding and the pygmy goats I continually tease my husband about wanting. 

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

To be more of a force for good. We are an industry built on persuading people to do things, and quite often buy things they don’t really need. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to use our skills for more beneficial and compassionate purposes. I think the ad industry has a massive role in trying to tackle the climate crisis – which ultimately requires total infrastructural behaviour change.

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What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

Always ask yourself how you can turn any situation you find yourself in, to your advantage. I believe (for the most part) you can make your own luck in life, and there are positives you can take from most situations. And if you feel the cards are stacked against you, and for many people, they really are – find allies that can mentor and advise you. Identify people you admire on Twitter and get in touch with them, or ask them a question. Reach out as much as you can, because none of us can get anywhere on our own. Oh, and there really is no such thing as a stupid question, I guarantee many other people in the same room as you are thinking it too. 

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

It is worth reading some of the iconic books of our industry (whether or not you agree with them). Anything written on behavioural economics, nudge theory, how brands grow, and effectiveness is always helpful. WARC and the IPA are great resources. I’d also recommend following as many peers, trade bodies, industry publications, authors, bloggers and so on, on Twitter and Linkedin, because they will share links to everything useful that they write. 

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