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How I Became: Lauren Greenway, Client Services Director, ilk Agency

Lauren - ilk Agency

Lauren Greenway is a client services director at ilk Agency.

The Leeds-based agency, founded in 1999 by Nev Ridley, has a further presence across Manchester and London and was named one of Prolific North’s Top 50 Integrated Agencies for 2023.

Greenway has had a long stint at the agency, first joining as an account executive in 2012.

Here, she shares her career journey, tips and insight.

How did you first get into your industry?

It felt really lucky at the time, but I found a role at ilk not long after leaving university with a degree in Cultural Studies. I put off the job search for a while, then found a creative account executive position advertised on Graduates Yorkshire.

When I sat down for my interview, they had a CV from another Lauren – and it had an awful Microsoft Publisher border. I had to point out it wasn’t me! I’ve wondered since whether they even saw my actual CV, but I’m so thankful for the mix-up as a decade later I’m still here – and sitting on the board, working alongside some really talented and inspirational people.

I fell into an industry and agency I love, and I know that’s not the same for everyone. I’m a serious organiser though, which probably boded well for a life in account management.

What do you love about your job?

It’s the people. I’ve made some lifelong friends through this agency, and I met my husband here too. Every day I genuinely love going to work, and in the main that’s down to the people.

No day is the same, in part because we don’t specialise in any sector. It’s something we’re really passionate about, and it’s resulted in an eclectic roster of clients – every project is a new challenge, and a chance to learn something.

I love it when a campaign goes live and you see your hard work out in the world. One of my favourite projects was rebranding Leeds’ Kirkgate Market, an iconic place in the city. I still bore people when I see the branding or walk past the building, but it’s really rewarding.

Part of my role these days is our people and their welfare, which is something that’s always been important to me. Seeing our team develop and achieve their potential means a lot to me. I want everyone to feel rewarded for their hard work, and to stay at ilk for years to come – like I have!

Who – or what – has inspired you in your career?

I’ve had some amazing line managers and bosses, people who’ve pushed me and helped my development. I look back at some parts of my career and cringe when I see how I resisted new processes they were bringing in, or how I felt when they hired above me – I was convinced at the time I could have done that role, but I definitely couldn’t.

Many of my role models at ilk have been strong women, who guided me and helped me believe in myself. They saw things in me I didn’t even know were there. I’ve never been micro-managed, but instead given space to develop – something I think is fundamental in helping people grow and learn. We offer people a level of autonomy that gives them a real sense of achievement when they deliver on their objectives.

I’ve heard horror stories about junior members from other agencies having to collect things from the printer, or glue their MD’s broken shoes back together. I’ll be forever grateful that I’ve never had to witness that.

What are the biggest challenges about your job?

Deadlines can be a real challenge – or more specifically, managing client expectations. We want to deliver the best solution for the client, attaining the best results possible, but sometimes the time just isn’t there. Good communication is vital, because it’s my job to help them understand what we can realistically achieve, and how.

Another thing I find challenging is the classic lost pitch. It might seem biased, but when we’re not chosen for work I think we really deserve to win, it’s tough. Delivering that news to the team isn’t a fun part of my job, especially when we went over and above to produce work we were really proud of. Again, communication is key – understanding how the decision was made, and positioning this in a way that we can learn from and take into our next project.

What skills have been the most crucial to you succeeding in your career so far?

Communication is key, internally and externally. And good communication comes from knowing people, and working out how to get the best out of them. I’ve always preferred a softer approach, but I quickly learnt that it doesn’t work for everyone. Being direct is a skill too, and it doesn’t mean you’re rude. Good relationships are about building trust, which makes difficult conversations easier. They’re also about listening, because not every conversation needs you to talk. Helping people feel heard and appreciated can sometimes be much more about what they have to say than about your opinions.

You can’t be in account management without being organised. Post-it notes, highlighters, timing plans, reminders, lists, more lists… Running a tight ship is key, because every client is your priority and you can’t let anything slip.

I’ve really worked hard to be open minded, because there are so many opinions in this industry. The majority are brilliant and should be listened to. I won’t get into others… I try to take in what people are saying, even if I don’t necessarily agree. We’ve implemented all sorts of things at ilk I came down on the other side of, and they’ve nearly always changed our ways of working for the better.

What was your first salary and what could someone getting into the industry expect to earn nowadays?

I started at ilk (then Manifest) in 2012 as a creative account executive on £16,000, moving to £17,000 when I passed my probation.

What that looks like today depends so much on the agency. Our approach is to focus on development and consistently review objectives. If people aren’t quite ready for the next step, but they’re working hard and getting results, they should still be rewarded through pay. Salary isn’t everything, but it is important and we all need our efforts recognised.

What education or training would be most useful for someone looking to follow your career path?

My degree wasn’t really related to marketing, but that never held me back. I honestly think my experience in retail helped me just as much as academic studies! Dealing with tricky and rude customers, thinking on your feet and finding solutions were all great skills for account management.

Recruitment is a big part of my role now, and I know what I’m looking for. I love people who’ve gone out of their way to gather as much experience as possible, and who try different things – in-house, agencies of different sizes, specialist agencies. It helps you see what works for you, and to give you a variety of future career paths to consider.

We’re also lucky these days to have so many resources available online, like seminars, white papers, articles and blogs. Soak it all up, and have something to say about the industry when you sit down across that interview table.

And please research the agency you’re applying for! There are so many different, diverse places to work. But we need to feel like you’ve paid attention and that you think we’re the right fit.

What advice would you have for someone looking to follow your path?

My advice might sound a bit contradictory, because it comes from two opposite places.

Firstly, listen and take advice. Laugh at yourself, and try to see the things you struggle with. If you can see what other people get wrong, there must be things you need to work on too. The people around you should be there to support you, not to bring you down. So let them.

Secondly, believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, and make your case. Work hard, so you feel proud of what you achieved and you know it was your thing. Your win, and your victory.

If you can find a balance between the two – and it’s not always easy, believe me – you’ll have found a way to love going to work each day. It’s something I’m always working on too, but I couldn’t ask for a better agency, and a better team.

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