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What I’ve Learnt: Bec Chelin, Managing Director of Manifest Manchester


Manchester became the Manifest group’s fourth office after London, New York and Stockholm, and it began with Bec Chelin being made Managing Director last December.

Formerly head of client services at Scarlettabbott, she has also worked with Sainsbury’s, EY, Asda, Co-op, Dixons Carphone, Vodafone, Rolls-Royce, EY, John Lewis, Morrisons, O2 and Santander, among other clients.

Here, she reflects on her career so far…

1. Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I’m pretty strict with myself about taking a distraction-free hour or so first thing in the morning ahead of our all-team daily standup to really crack on with the to-do list with a fresh head. That, and a massive cup of very strong tea! At the moment I’m trying to round off the day with a good workout as well – getting that balance means I’m way more productive when working.

2. What’s been your luckiest break?

Way back in the early days of my career I was a creative designer. I got the opportunity to run the studio on an interim basis while we looked to fill a full-time role. I ended up keeping it and never looking back! It’s given me a love of working with brilliant teams and agency management.

3. What’s your best failure?

Bombing in a pitch very early on. Young and eager to impress what was, at the time, a very big client for us – I focused way too much on what I wanted to get across and not what the client needed or wanted to hear from us. It was the best lesson I’ve had in my career – listen more, say less, and work in partnership with your clients. I would probably also say opening an agency just before a global pandemic wasn’t what you’d call great timing, but rather than a failure it’s actually been the absolute making of Manifest Manchester.

It’s been hard work and uncertain at times – as it has been, and worse, for many – but we’ve been able to adapt quickly and with agility as a team to really focus on what our clients need creatively, commercially and from us as brand consultants.

4. What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

It’s always hard to make time when there are a million and one things going on, but without doubt the best time spent is always when learning something new. Whether it’s switching the TV off at night and reading a book, making time in the diary for that webinar or event, or making sure I get regular 1-2-1s and group sessions with the team to showcase their skills, it’s got to be made a priority. It’s the best thing about the job, but the hardest thing to keep on the to do list.

5. Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Seth Godin, All Marketers Are Liars is an immediate one for me. Telling the brand story authentically at every touchpoint for consumers is fundamental to the way we build brand campaigns and this book sums it up perfectly. Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt was also my first introduction to behavioural economics.

I stumbled across it by accident years ago as it sat on my uncle’s bookshelf. I found it fascinating how the world around us has been shaped to influence certain behaviours – often with much bias depending on who’s making those decisions! Years later it’s a core part of how we engineer our insights work.

6. What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Say yes to every opportunity you’re given. Scary, hard, tiring, daunting as it might be, some of the best roles I’ve had because I’ve taken a bit of a leap of faith. Some of them have turned out to be not quite right for me, but there hasn’t been one where I haven’t learnt a very valuable lesson.

7. Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

The MD at my old agency. The listening lesson (see answer 3) was definitely him. But also he instilled incredible confidence in me that you don’t have to know and do everything all the time. You just have to know people who do! The best thing about building a team of experts who you can trust is learning about what they can do, let them get on and deliver brilliantly on it, and focus on leading them to exciting new places as a team.

8. Tell us something about you that would surprise people

I’m terrible at surprises 😉 And people are generally very surprised when I tell them that I’ve never seen The Goonies.

9. How will the Covid crisis change work for the better?

As much as it’s been a challenge, work will change for the better. We already had a really agile and flexible way of working in place at Manifest which allowed us to focus on supporting our clients and the wider comms community much more quickly, but I think the one resounding thing that has definitely come of working through the pandemic is humility and being much kinder to each other.

Working remotely and largely on zoom calls in peoples’ dining rooms, home offices or bedrooms has allowed us to remember people are humans with lives outside work. We’re more forgiving of hiccups and we’re more trusting in that we can deliver for each other without having to check in continuously – and that goes for clients as well as the internal team. It’s also proved flexible and remote working DOES work.

Saying that, I can’t wait to get the team back to the office, but it’ll be a case of both home and office working, not a binary choice.

10. What does success look like to you?

Work-wise, a happy team. That’s number one. At the end of the day, when all clients have gone home, if we can look around and say we did a fantastic job, had fun, and got paid for something that’s really made a difference, that’s it. Personally, getting that never-ending balance of work, family and solo time just right… but I’m yet to meet anyone who’s nailed that, so as long as we’re all safe and well with a smile on our faces, that’ll do.

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