By Suzanne Basra, Content & Internal Communications Manager at Ogilvy UK


For the first time, NABS have partnered with Media For All a dedicated group of senior industry professionals who are working towards the goal of increasing BAME representation across adland.

Sitting alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, including WPP UK Country Lead Karen Blackett, Twitter MD Dara Nasr and Google Marketing Director Nishma Robb, Ogilvy UK’s Head of Strategy, Communications Gen Kobayashi shared insights from his career in an exclusive speed mentoring event.

We caught up with Gen to find out more about his career path and how to make an impact in the workplace.

Tell us a bit about your career – why Strategy?

I’m fascinated by people. By what drives people to behave the way that they behave and how people react to things and why. That’s what I love about my job – ultimately we are as close as possible to human behavior as you’re going to get in this industry. That’s what excited me about strategy. I also love solving problems.

What about your route into the industry – how did you break into ad land?

I had an unconventional route into the industry – I started out in Media Buying which it turned out I wasn’t very good at. Luckily one of my friends introduced me to Media Strategy and I then started working as a Media Planner. It was my interest in comms strategy that led me to getting a job at a comms planning agency.

But it wasn’t the media side of things that excited me – I’ve always been most excited by ideas and the execution of creative work. I wanted to get involved in the work itself, which ultimately is what led me to become a Brand Strategist.

You’ve gone from starting out as a Planner to now working as Head of Strategy, Communications at Ogilvy UK. Are there any standout lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Marketing as an industry is still relatively young, which means it’s always evolving and we’re always learning. The proliferation of technology and channels and the fragmentation of media means you can never stop learning.

So, my advice is to listen to other people’s opinions and points of view. There’s a tendency to believe in only one way of doing things because people like simplicity, but more often than not there’s more than one way to solve a problem in our industry. I’m a strong believer in being open to other people’s ideas and opinions. And in being humble.

Have there been any challenges as you’ve climbed higher on the ladder?

There can be a sort of entrenched orthodoxy in our industry which I think can be the biggest barriers to progress. Helping people to broaden their horizons and be open to new and different ideas has been how I’ve tried to overcome this.

Ogilvy UK launched its Apprenticeship this year allowing talent to enter the agency via Strategy, Account Management and Data. What advice do you give to Strategy Apprentices about making it in the industry?

Meet and speak to as many types of people as possible. By that, I don’t mean only within Strategy – you must make a real effort to meet those people who work in Creative, Account Management,

Data, Production and more. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in as many different perspectives as possible. And get yourself a mentor who you see, regularly.

What do you think the world of work will look like in the future?

We’re already feeling elements of this in the marketing industry. The traditional view of how you build a career from the bottom to the top of the ladder is outdated and irrelevant in today’s world. New talent entering the industry don’t want vertical careers – they’re looking for horizontal paths.

I think progressive businesses, whether in the Marketing industry or not, are the ones that foster a culture of learning and openness to try new things. Organisations that give their staff permission to feel like they can put their hands up and say ‘I’d like to try something new’ will also retain the best talent.


There's more from Gen as he outlines five tips for Planners who want to run a department here.