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What I’ve Learnt: Sally Willis, Managing Director, Fantastic Media

Sally Willis

Sally Willis was recently been promoted to the role of managing director at Fantastic Media, an agency based in Leeds.

With 18 years of marketing experience, she has been with Fantastic since 2013, moving through various roles at the agency as account manager, head of client services, and director of operations and client services.

In 2015, Willis picked up the Huddersfield Examiner Business Employee of the Year award, a testament to her passion and enthusiasm, and her strength in building relationships.

From her luckiest break, to her biggest influence, here she shares the key things she’s learnt so far in her life and career.

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

I won’t leave my house until my bed is made and the dog is walked. The routine and fresh air really sets me up for the day and gets me into the clear mindset I need to begin work.

I find forward planning is essential too. Each day I set out my goals and targets for the next day, so I know exactly what I need to achieve.

What’s been your luckiest break?

When I was headhunted for my first role at Fantastic, I was in a position where I was wondering if my current agency was really the right one for me. After speaking to the team at Fantastic, I found their values aligned with my own and everything clicked into place perfectly.

Having been here for over a decade now, I’m proud of what the agency has achieved, from recessions, lockdowns, acquisitions to relocation, and I’m delighted to have now taken on the role as managing director. As an agency, Fantastic is an excellent environment to be in, with a real focus on keeping relationships at the heart of everything we do. Our core values of people, results and value are embodied by each and every member of our 33-strong team and I am incredibly proud to be leading such a fantastic bunch. 

What’s your best failure?

I don’t think it’s helpful to see things as outright failures. Sometimes a minor setback or change in direction can actually lead you down a path to something better, or even give you a fresh perspective on where you want to be.

During my time at university, I left part way through my degree course in marketing because I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to pursue. I took some time out, in a completely different space, which allowed me to reconnect with what I loved, from a different place. 

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

Over the past few years, I’ve found that investing in myself and my own well-being has become much more important.

I do weekly hot yoga classes, in 35°C heat, where for a full hour I’m forced to completely switch off from work: no emails, no calls – just time for me to recharge and focus on myself. 

Time with my dog Stanley, my family and my friends is also essential, and I make sure I have time to fit all into my busy schedule. 

Which podcast or book would you recommend to others and why?

A book I enjoyed recently is Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. The premise of this is an incredibly powerful mind management model, that can help you become a happy, confident, healthier and more successful person. The author explains the struggle that takes place within your mind and shows you how to apply this understanding to every area of your life so you learn how to manage your emotions, understand yourself better and make improvements.

I also find both the Louis Theroux podcast, and Chris Williamson’s Modern Wisdom podcast, are always really insightful, offering interesting perspectives on the world from people from all walks of life and are entertaining, of course. 

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

Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t control everything, so don’t spend time worrying over things that aren’t in your power. Things are very rarely as bad as you think they will be. Mark Twain said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” I wholeheartedly agree. 

It’s important to look at what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. Our focus as an agency over the past four years or so has been to centre on people’s strengths, and this approach has helped us grow exponentially. Maintaining that positive mindset is the key to moving forward and growing in your career and maximising the key strengths of the team. 

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

My parents are by far my biggest inspiration in life. From encouraging me to get a career I enjoy, to simply approaching life with hard work, respect, and professionalism, they’ve brought me up with the values I’ve held dear to progress in life.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

My ambition as a young girl was to become a football manager. Back then, it seemed like an impossibility, but not so much anymore!

If there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be and why?

I’ve spent the majority of my career working in Yorkshire, but I would love to have worked abroad. I’d want to do the same job as I do now, but it would be interesting to experience a new culture, with a different way of working.

What does success look like to you?

Success to me, is when you can feel a positive culture running through the entire agency, with everyone aiming towards the same goal. It becomes much more than just work ethic and output. When you look around the office, and you can sense that everyone wants to be here, that is success. 

At Fantastic, we are always looking to get meaningful results that deliver positive gain and benefit to our clients. We want to surpass expectations by adding value at every stage of our process – this becomes the foundation of our own success.

Our team continues to grow in knowledge every day, and with the recent expansion of the digital team, as well as the acquisition of Faith Brand Communications, we’re certainly on an upward trajectory.

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