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What I’ve Learnt: Kelly Cunningham, Head of Content, Influential

Kelly Cunningham

Kelly Cunningham is head of content at Influential.

She’s worked with the likes of Disney, Purina, Microsoft, American Express, Homebase, Lyle & Scott and the NHS over the course of her career.

Cunningham joined the marketing communications agency in 2022, following the acquisition of creative branding agency Young Bright and Grey in 2021.

Eighteen months after acquisition, Young Bright and Grey completed its Influential integration with existing teams operating out of the Liverpool and Manchester offices.

Here, she shares all the lessons she’s learnt.

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

My fake commute. It started on day one of lockdown so my husband and I weren’t waking up and heading straight to a spare room to work and it’s still something we continue to do. Even on the days I’m working in the office, I make us get up a little bit earlier and we head out for 30-40 minutes.

It helps us feel more refreshed and awake and unwind after work with no phone calls, messages or distractions. On the days I can’t do this – for example, if I’ve an early meeting at the office – I’m definitely not as ready to seize the day!

What’s been your luckiest break?

Meeting our co-founders Viv and James at an agency we all worked at back in 2019. Viv hired me pretty much on the spot as a copywriter.

We only worked together for a few months but the way we gelled together meant that even before Viv and James officially started their own agency (Young Bright & Grey, before it joined with Influential), they had already promised me a position when the time was right. I can still remember the phone call – it was peak-pandemic, and I was in the queue for Aldi one morning before starting my current job at the time when Viv rang me.

As someone who struggles with imposter syndrome at times, I can’t explain the boost in confidence it gave me. It’s what then spurred me on to change jobs and work for THG (The Hut Group) Ingenuity for a while. The idea was to really challenge myself in terms of delivery and as a manager, to make sure I was ready and prepared for whatever life as their head of content could throw at me. I also had a manager I learnt a lot from in terms of how important it is to dedicate time to growing a relationship with your team.

What’s your best failure?

I wonder, sometimes, if it was going to university. At the time, I didn’t really think about what other options were available to me.

Yes, it got me to Manchester, taught me a lot, provided me with amazing friendships and opened doors but when I look at what people are doing with Apprenticeships and general on-the-job training, I wonder if I put myself into a lot of debt for nothing.

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

Moving to Manchester. I’m originally from Belfast but moved to study Advertising and Brand Management at MMU. After I graduated, I moved back but within 18 months I was on the Stena Line to Liverpool with my boyfriend (now husband) and dog in tow.

The creative industry is much smaller in Belfast, so the opportunities just weren’t the same. I miss the comfort of home a lot though, but hybrid working has opened so many more chances for me to head home for longer than a weekend at a time.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

If you had asked me when I was about 12 years old, I would have said Victoria Beckham’s autobiography, Learning to Fly. I can’t remember a single thing in it, but I just remember loving it!

Now I read purely for pleasure and recommend anything by Harlan Coben. I wish I could be someone who recommended something like ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ but I didn’t finish it…

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

The company isn’t making you redundant. They’re making your role redundant. I’ve been made redundant twice and the shame and worry it caused me because I couldn’t separate the two has scarred me for life!

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

It may be a cliché, but my parents’ work ethic is what’s driven me to constantly want better for myself.

My mum aced her full-time career while still making sure she was home in time to make us all dinner, put my sister and me to bed and keep the house spotless. (I still feel terrible about the fact I was such a picky eater and often had her cooking me a separate meal from the rest of the family).

My dad worked away a lot during the week and could never fully describe what he did – except that it was in marketing. That’s what potentially spurred me and my sister (who’s also killing it!) into the industry because it sounded so exciting and different.

I should probably also give a shout-out to my husband for always telling me to take whatever opportunity is thrown at me and worry about whether I’m qualified or not after!

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

Unless you catch me in my ‘Elvis Fan Club’ t-shirt from Amazon, not many people know just how much of a massive fan I am.

I’m talking Graceland with my family for my 18th birthday, watching Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis at least once a month and calling my 9-year-old dog Presley, kind of fan.

What does success look like to you?

When I was first starting out, I always wanted to be someone who was invited to loads of meetings. But now I’m at that stage, I’m often pleading to just let me get on with my work! Ironic, right?

On a more serious note, success to me now is a healthy work-life balance. I used to make work my personality and think being busy until 7 to 8 pm was good. But now I know the difference between being given an unrealistic workload or time frame and when it’s just a busier time than usual for the agency.

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