Spotlight on - Tom Walters
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Tom Walters the Account Director of The Dairy Creative Agency. We chatted about finding your passion, what drives you to succeed and handling COVID.
I’m a Director at The Dairy Creative Agency in Nottingham. We’re an 18-year-old full-service creative agency working with brands both big and small to inject strategic and creative marketing thinking into their businesses to deliver results. We have a fantastic team of creative people specialising in different areas of marketing from design and PR to social media, copywriting, PPC and web.
“Our ethos is centred around being open and honest in the way we work with brands. This comes across in how we communicate and partner with our clients, with no hidden costs or nasty surprises and full transparency at every stage of our partnership.”
When I went to university, I was looking at journalism as a potential career path. However, after completing several internships within marketing teams at Nottingham City Transport and The Dairy (of all places!), I quickly realised that marketing encompassed a wider range of areas that were better suited to my creative nature. I love content marketing and copywriting - and this is my specialism at The Dairy - but being able to get involved in other areas of marketing such as managing a project, working with designers to create the visuals and seeing an idea come to life in front of you, really appealed to me more so than journalism.
I think the greatest challenge I’ve faced, and this is really applicable now more so than ever in light of COVID, is breaking into the industry and getting my foot in the door.
I left Nottingham Trent University in June 2012 and didn’t start my first marketing role until May 2013. That year was incredibly tough, with several knock backs from interviews. I kept my part-time job from university at River Island and worked my way from the shop floor into full-time management positions within the store. I was determined to not stand still and made sure that even if I wasn’t in my dream job, I was still going to progress and show my desire to succeed. I knew that if I kept gaining work experience in the industry whilst working full-time in retail, continuing to expand my network and applying for as many roles as I could, eventually something would happen for me.
Fortunately, I landed my first marketing role as a Marketing Assistant for Experience Nottinghamshire (now Visit Nottinghamshire) in 2013 and I owe an awful lot to the team there for giving me that first opportunity and allowing me to demonstrate what I can do and progress within the industry.
Finding that determination and resolve to succeed no matter what, was how I overcame my challenge. It wasn’t easy and at times it would have been very easy to give up and say “no, this isn’t going to happen for me”, but digging deep and believing in myself was the best thing I ever did and it’s reaped rewards for me long-term.
Drive and determination
Ultimately what gives me the drive to succeed is the end goal. I was incredibly focused - probably more than I gave myself credit for at the time. Knowing what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be and the path I wanted to follow made it a lot easier for me to stay determined and succeed within marketing. If I had lost that focus, I think I could have settled for a career that I wasn’t passionate about and in the end, spent my life working in a job I didn’t enjoy. For me, work shouldn’t feel like work - if it does, then you don’t necessarily enjoy it.
Sharing my knowledge and expertise with the next generation. I give a lot of time to Nottingham Trent University as part of the Arts and Humanities Alumni Fellowship Programme and this allows me to pass on what I’ve learned by mentoring on a one-to-one basis or giving talks in lectures and seminars to students who are starting to think about leaving university and progressing a career path. I’m also passionate about giving young people the chance to complete work experience wherever possible to build their experience from a young age. I run our internship programme at The Dairy and we’ve seen numerous students come through our doors who have gone on to rewarding marketing careers post-graduation.
Unlike most people when they’re asked this question, I don’t have a classic quote from a manager or colleague to throw into the mix here.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt has been self-taught really and that is, to ensure that I always absorb everything that’s happening around me. I’ve basically made myself into a walking, talking sponge - listening to everyone around me and learning from every interaction and experience I’ve been a part of. From all the line managers I’ve had over the years to all the training I’ve taken part in, I’ve listened carefully and taken the best bits of those around me to mould myself into the best marketer and manager I can be. I’ve also learned a lot from my mistakes (they do happen!) to ensure that I never make the same mistake twice. I’ve also trained myself to not be afraid of making mistakes because you learn more from the occasional mistake than when everything runs smoothly. No one is perfect and anyone that says they are is lying to you and themselves.
Advice and tips
Tip 1: Put yourself out there as much as you can on LinkedIn and apply for as many roles as possible. Even if you don’t land a particular role, that person will have you on their radar and there might well be an opportunity in the future.
Tip 2: Gain as much experience as you can even if it’s unpaid. There’s nothing wrong with work experience and if it means spending two weeks of your annual leave completing unpaid work then so be it - that’s what I did! Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get to where you want to be.
Tip 3: Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Keeping this in your mind will spur you on to be the best you can be and land that dream job in the future.
This advice is very personal to me and not applicable to everyone, but the best advice I’ve been given is to believe in myself more and to not be afraid to stand up for what I believe in when the time is right. Sometimes in marketing, especially in an agency environment, you need to stand true to your beliefs and fight your corner. I’ve certainly trained myself to believe in my own values more and have more conviction in what I say and do. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, people buy from people and if you come across as confident, people will listen to you and the advice and expertise you can offer. But, and this is a big but, whilst fighting your corner is good and you should stand up for what you believe is right, you need to marry that with a humble and personable approach. Don’t go in like a bull in a china shop, believing your way is always the only way. Listen to others, empathise and take on board everyone’s thoughts and feelings. Often the best ideas come from collaboration rather than just one person.
To anyone looking for a leadership position I would say work hard, remain focused and be a compassionate and personable individual. People work for people - not businesses. In my opinion, leaders don’t need to shout and boss people around - in fact from my experiences that approach has the worst effect imaginable on your people. Support those around you, work together and lead by example. That’s the mark of a good leader in my view. It shouldn’t feel like you’re leading. If you can do your job effectively and set a standard by how you conduct yourself and approach your day job, people will naturally respect that and work with you.
Highs and lows
For me, the best part of my job is taking a creative idea from initial concept through to rollout. That could be a simple video, a rebrand or wider campaign idea. Watching the journey we take our clients on over a period of time is incredibly satisfying and sometimes it’s good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s only then that you realise the change that’s taken effect.
The only negative thing I can think of is when you speak to business owners or managers who don’t appreciate the value of marketing. It’s very rare that this happens but over the years we’ve had one or two approaches from companies where they want to market their business but they don’t appreciate all of the energy and work that goes into successful strategies. If people want to do good marketing, and we’re lucky to have a client base that does, then they need to be open-minded and appreciate how much work goes into it. You can’t spend £100 and expect your brand to suddenly receive 1,000,000 orders. Significant investment needs to be made both financially and in terms of resources. Those who don’t want to invest properly will always remain at first base.
Formula for success
I think that everyone’s journey is different and everyone finds their own way depending on their circumstances. Personally speaking, I come from fairly humble beginnings. I was the first generation of my family to go to university, I was average at school and university with my grades but when I got into the world of work and marketing in particular, my common sense and business aptitude kicked in - allowing me to flourish. That’s why when we recruit for full-time positions or hire interns, I look beyond grades and assess people on their personality and aptitude. Grades, for me, only tell a small part of a person’s makeup.
Handling COVID- 19
We’ve been incredibly lucky because we’ve retained the majority of our clients and managed to win some new work along the way. It goes back to that determination. If you think negatively, then you’re more likely to fall when you encounter a hurdle. If you embrace the challenge and you’re realistic as to what you can achieve, you can overcome situations such as COVID by facing up to what’s in front of you and adapting accordingly.
To anyone struggling with remote working, I would suggest giving it time and sticking with it. I appreciate that some businesses can’t work remotely due to the nature of what they do - such as manufacturers. But if there are parts of the business that can adapt then invest the time and perhaps money needed to make it work. The world is changing and COVID will spark some of the biggest long-term changes to us as a society since the industrial revolution. Remote working is here to stay more so than ever before, so businesses need to embrace it as much as they can - within reason.
Adapting and thriving
To be fair, we had all the tools needed for remote working before the crisis hit. In terms of how we’ve adapted, that’s purely come in the form of how we prepare the office for welcoming people back. Social distancing, cleaning communal areas more regularly, regular hand washing and an added awareness in how we operate and communicate with each other and our clients, have all contributed to our adaptation as a company.