Ahead of her 20-year anniversary at WPP, Ogilvy UK’s Chief Consulting Officer Ann Higgins shared insights and tips from navigating a career which has included 17 years at Ogilvy.
Ann began her career with WPP joining as a Fellow at what is now Kantar Consulting/Futures, developing and using qualitative and quantitative consumer research to inform long-term marketing and brand strategy scenarios for clients. Following this, she worked in brand and advertising planning for JWT and in Digital Media at Mindshare, before joining Ogilvy in New York.
In an intimate lunch and learn session at Ogilvy, Ann shared 10 lessons from 20 years at WPP:
1. You don’t need a plan (but some guiding principles will help)
It's all about fluidity. Ann kicks off by explaining the importance of understanding what’s essential to you in your career while also having the flexibility to adapt.
For Ann, this has translated into having three guiding principles throughout her career: 1) Am I learning? 2) Am I making a contribution? 3) Am I valued?
These principles have been at the core of her decision making - permanent elements around which her plans have adapted.
2. Act like a sponge
Though not technically an idea coined by Ann, acting like a sponge is something she admits to hearing throughout her career and believing in strongly.
Ann emphasizes the value of being open, curious and “soaking it all up”.
3. Give things a good chance, but if they’re not right course correct
While making an effort to make things work is important, Ann also highlights the importance of course correcting if something is just not right.
Speaking about her time at JWT early on in her career, where she learnt to be a brand planner, Ann touches on the importance of finding the right match when it comes to culture.
For Ann, the culture match wasn’t there for her at JWT so she course corrected. Which is when she moved to Ogilvy in New York - the right choice for her, not just because she has remained at Ogilvy ever since. As early as her first day, Ann remembers feeling Ogilvy was the right match culturally for her.
4. Relish variety, but go deep on a client
Clients are looking for people who can go deep on a topic. So, while it’s important to relish variety in your career, Ann admits some of the best advice she's received is to "go deep on a client". Making time to build this sort of expertise can reap good rewards.
5. Make work that matters
Ann urges everyone to “tune into opportunities where there’s the chance to do something that will make a real difference”.
Not all work is created equally. Throughout the course of a career, a huge volume of work will be created and there may come the chance to do something that can make a real impact or lasting positive change.
Working on these projects can be hugely fulfilling so Ann encourages everyone to follow these opportunities if they present themselves. "If you have the opportunity to do this sort of work, you should max out on it" she says.
6. Cultivate positive relationships
The relationships we have at work and the connections we make across a business are so important. Ann reserved a special shout out to the people who, whether formally or informally, have helped her navigate her career - from 'official mentors' to friends.
Of course, there are some relationships which are less fruitful. When it comes to these experiences, Ann advises avoiding giving them as much oxygen and minimizing the space they take to make way for the good, fruitful and positive relationships of our careers.
7. The life stuff really matters
Encouraging everyone to “understand what brings you happiness”, Ann reminds us of the ups and downs life can throw at us, whether in our job or our lives outside of the office.
Throughout all of this, remembering after every low point there always comes an ‘up’ is important. You don’t stay low forever.
8. When things get tough, ask for help
Sometimes things can get really tough. But, there are things we can do when things do get really difficult.
Ann's main piece of advice is to talk to someone – “you’ll be surprised how much the simple act of talking to someone else can help” she says. It’s also important to be aware of your mental health, to keep track of how you’re feeling as much as you can to help spot when you might be in trouble.
9. There is no one leadership type: be yourself
Over the course of a career, you’re likely to encounter many varying styles of leadership. Having mainly worked under people with ‘tough’ leadership styles, a young Ann started to believe this was the only way to lead.
The realization that this wasn’t the only way to govern came later in her career, after seeing the effectiveness of a different leadership style with which she connected more naturally. If your leadership style is natural, you'll naturally be an authentic leader.
10. When in doubt, just do the right thing for the business (and the clients)
Horizontality can be so useful when it comes to solving problems, both for a business and for clients.
Ann’s advice is to reach out across the business when faced with a challenge. In her experience, this has allowed her to bring in specialists from all fields in order to do what’s right for the business and for her clients.