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How I Became: Richard George, Managing Partner, Wavemaker UK

Richard George, Wavemaker UK

Richard George is managing partner and head of organic performance at Wavemaker UK.

Based out of the agency’s Manchester office at WPP’s newly opened campus, Wavemaker UK has a further office in London and the wider agency has numerous offices across the the globe.

As George has been with Wavemaker UK (formerly MEC) since 2011, he shares his career journey, tips and highlights…


How did you first get into your industry?

Most people entering the SEO industry have either studied technical code and computing or have a marketing qualification. My route into the industry was a little more unusual. Believe it or not, I trained as a management accountant and worked in the traded endowment and financial reversions market in London.

In 1998, I entered the world of digital marketing, joining a former employer, and colleague, along with entrepreneurial team of developers to set up a series of .com businesses. The sector was in its infancy, which made it an incredibly exciting place to be. Much of what we did was self-taught – learning on the job to create and launch websites for auction houses or energy price comparison companies across several markets.

The experience gave me ‘the bug’ and opened my eyes to the possibilities of the internet as a place to build, create and grow innovative businesses.

What do you love about your job?

Simply the fact that the digital marketing landscape is constantly changing, especially when it comes to technology and innovation. It’s what piqued my interest in the industry in the first place.

Take Google for example – in the early stages of my career, it was very much the guiding North Star for the industry and really opened my eyes to a new world of information. The way Google built its platforms and provided search capabilities was intriguing. It powered a change in behaviour – both within the marketing industry but  also with customers (both consumers and business) – from the way we communicate with multiple devices through typing and talking, to the way we search and the way we consume content.

Innovation in technology – beyond Google – has ensured that the digital marketing industry continues its exponential evolution trajectory. The possibilities are endless – with that in mind I will give a brief nod to the ongoing discussions across the industry around AI.

For me the seeing the increasingly vital role that organic search plays in the marketing mix and how it is becoming an intrinsic part of any marketing plan created to positively provoke growth for clients and brands, is exciting. Understanding how we can predict its future development and consistently adapting this information to deliver effective search strategies for clients certainly keeps me on my toes.

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

I can’t pinpoint just one source of inspiration. At different stages of my career, and during the past 11 years of working at Wavemaker (and MEC) it has comes from several places.

Back in the early entrepreneurial days of setting up and starting .com businesses my mentor and friend, the late Bill Weston, was a font of all knowledge. He told me that “in business you should always work hard, but always make sure you try to have the most fun while doing it.”. This way you can develop a culture and leadership style where people want to belong and get more out of every day.

Then there’s the brilliant people that I’ve work alongside, mentored, and managed at Wavemaker, who challenge and support each other every day. It’s an agency that truly has a unique culture of putting people first.

And then finally, and perhaps most importantly – especially, if she is reading this – the place I take inspiration from is my wife, Professor Danielle George. What she has achieved in her career, as a pioneer in science and engineering, and let’s not beat around the bush, as a woman in a very male dominated sector, is simply quite remarkable.

What are the biggest challenges about your job?

The first challenge is the talent in the SEO market. The pandemic accelerated the demand for digital talent and skills. This has led to a shortage of people in the market and those looking to move can command salaries, that at times, are considerably higher than their experience would suggest.

This is a great position for the individuals. However, I have a concern that this artificial inflation of salaries versus experience could impact our industry’s reputation, with people taking roles, they are potentially not yet ready for.

The next challenge is having the time to review the market and look to where the next change that can help grow our clients’ businesses will come. I gave a brief note to it in my previous answer, but the evolution of generative AI in search is causing the greatest disruption, debate and opportunity for brands and businesses for the past 10 years.

Staying ahead and embracing these changes – and new technologies – is essential but also can be a challenge. An exciting one, to say the least.

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

Working in digital marketing and SEO – a data-driven and analytical mind is crucial. Added to this are three ‘day-to-day’ skills that have helped me succeed, these include:

1. Do not fear change embrace it. We must consistently be ahead of how we can change and evolve in our products, our thinking and learning, to align with the industry.

2. Trust and empowerment. As you grow into a more senior role you will often move away from the day-to-day activity of your specialism. It’s important to still retain the passion but ensure that you build a brilliant team of experts around you. Then trust and empower them to thrive and grow – this will allow you all to succeed.

3. Communication. For many years the SEOs in the room were the technical guys- the geeks if you like. The role and value search plays may be extremely powerful, but ability to communicate with confidence is essential to success. This includes ensuring your team is fully aware of both the vision and direction of a project and/or plan. However, the real success measure is the ability to communicate and translate what can be seen as a technical discipline to key stakeholders within a business (or brand) i.e., the “C-suite” to demonstrate the clear value and growth opportunities in a way that they understand and buy into.

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

My first salary in the industry was initially very low as I was a co-owner of a business. The true value came later. Today, the salary for entry level roles in SEO is around the low to mid £20,000’s. In digital marketing, and SEO particularly, the salaries that can be earned as you develop in your career are good. It’s a great career to get into.

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

The current SEO team I work with come from a range of very different backgrounds. Technical and computing degrees, marketing course and apprentices that have come through agency or in-house training programs.

At Wavemaker and GroupM we are developing our training plans around the core areas of technical SEO, market and business analysis, commercial awareness and the softer skills around presentation and project management.

There are some great courses out there. For example from those offered by Salford University – where I have guest lectured – to Coursera and not to forget Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals”.

There are also many communities and forums – I would encourage people wanting to get into our industry to join, follow and participate.

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

To develop a successful career in digital marketing first immerse yourself in your community. Listen, learn, follow, and contribute to forums and events.

Don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid fail. Often, we can be afraid to be brave or try something for the fear of it failing, however this is where we can all learn and develop for the future.

Believe in yourself – and as a former business mentor and colleague said try to have fun in business. You spend a lot of your lives working so make it the most impactful and meaningful as you can.

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