What I've Learnt: Trevor Pill, Executive Director, Onyx Health

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Joining Onyx Health in 2016 as Client Services Manager, Trevor Pill rose through the ranks to firstly become Associate Director, before being made Executive Director and co-owner.

Trevor oversees the creative and strategic digital direction of the healthcare communications agency, along with delivering international client projects.

Newcastle-based Onyx Health has doubled its headcount over the course of the pandemic and seen record growth.

We found out what lessons Trevor has learnt in his career.

 

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

My working day starts pretty early; I get up at 6am every weekday and start the day off with a cup of tea, before getting the kids up, dressed and fed before school.

We always try to eat breakfast together as a family. It gives us the opportunity to talk about the day ahead and I find out what the boys have been doing at school. Quite often if I’m at work in our Newcastle studio, I won’t make it home before the kids are in bed so even though it’s an early rise, I value that time in the morning. 

Juggling being a dad to my three young children plus being Executive Director of a communications agency certainly has its challenges. But I wouldn't change it for the world

What's been your luckiest break?

After graduating, I worked in Surrey for a year before I decided to take some time out to think about my career path and went travelling. After a short spell in Hong Kong, I travelled down the east coast of Australia before basing myself in Sydney. Like all backpackers, I needed to find some part-time work to help make ends meet in between having fun. 

Backpackers are accustomed to undertaking jobs like fruit picking or bar work which I was more than happy to do. I had my fair share of ad-hoc work that included pressure hosing patios and furniture removal, but with a bit of luck, I ended up using my design degree to good effect.

I'd had the foresight to bring my design portfolio with me when I made the trip down under. So decked out in my flip-flops and shorts, USB stick in hand, I decided to be bold and ring the doorbell of a local design agency in Sydney.

The decision paid off; I was offered six weeks' paid work experience, working on design visuals for a video game headshot project and other product design-based tasks. It's not the most conventional route into the industry, but I learnt a lot and the life experience has been invaluable.

What's your best failure?

Back in the old days before digital marketing took over from print-based activities, I managed to mess up the resolution and colour spec for a piece of artwork. To add to the failure, I didn’t request a print proof.

The quality of the print was therefore not good enough and the entire job binned and resent. It taught me a real lesson about attention to detail and from then on, I've always made a point of ensuring everything I do is triple checked. Having an eye for detail and reviewing your work is essential to delivering the best results. 

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

It might seem a small thing but getting some fresh air and taking a walk every day is something I find important. It gives me a chance to either switch off and do some mindfulness or think about work with a fresh perspective.

During the height of the pandemic, I had a 30-minute walk every morning to get out of the house and stop me getting cabin fever when we were in and out of lockdown. 

Part of my role at Onyx Health is to push creativity and innovation, and coming up with creative concepts requires space and time - I get some of my best ideas when I'm out walking. If you have a creative block, it's always worth stepping away from what you are doing to get a fresh take on things. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

As someone in charge of creative direction, I've always been more of a visual guy than a words person. However, one of my favourite books is 'Join Me' by Danny Wallace. 

It's about a movement started in London by the comedian and writer Danny Wallace, who put a classified ad in a magazine asking readers to join him. A combination of publicity and word of mouth eventually led to the group having 12,000 members and numerous gatherings, where people performed random acts of kindness for strangers. 

I read this book not long before I joined Onyx Health and it opened my eyes to the power of communication and human nature. There is so much negative press these days, it obscures the fact that the majority of people are kind and supportive of each other. That’s what real human nature is and it was incredible what Danny achieved in such a short space of time. 

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

My main advice would be not to plan too far ahead and enjoy the present moment.

When you are young, you can often worry about what the future holds, but this can result in you missing out on the great opportunities you already have. 

I would say stay engaged in the present moment and enjoy the here and now. Give yourself time to learn your craft and then, when the time is right, you can realise your career ambition and life goals.

Be inspired and take inspiration from all around you, whether it be a conversation, a billboard advert or something in the news that day. Google doesn't have all the answers. You learn to find inspiration by living, and that is why it's important to stay engaged.

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

That would have to be Onyx Health's Managing Director, Karen Winterhalter. She has been a friend and a mentor to me for many years. During my career, she has trusted me, supported me and helped me grow and fulfil my potential. 

I started at Onyx Health back in 2016 as a Client Campaign Manager before rising through the ranks to become Associate Director, Executive Director, and even though it’s a tiny part, co-owner of the agency. 

I've worked with Karen very closely over the years, and I've seen the agency through the good and perhaps more challenging times. One of the best things about working for and with Karen is her respect for colleagues' work-life balance. Sometimes we all need to take time away from work to deal with life. 

Coincidentally I moved to Darlington, where Karen lives, six months after joining the agency, and even more coincidentally I moved only a few streets away, so we quite often bump into each other over the weekend.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

In my younger days, I had a brief foray into the world of extreme sports. This was part of my travel experience and when travelling in New Zealand, I plucked up the courage to skydive. I literally got the ‘buzz’ and over the next six weeks I did bungee jumping, glacier trekking, white water rafting - you name it, I did it. 

I wasn’t the biggest adrenaline junkie in the world, but it's something I really enjoyed doing and again it was all part of the experience, and I made some friends for life along the way. 

New Zealand has some amazing volcanic springs, as well as glaciers, beaches and mountainous areas, which makes it a uniquely beautiful part of the world.

Getting involved in extreme sports was a terrifying experience, but the adrenaline hit was worth the initial fear. It's something I'd recommend to anyone. Although having skydived in Peterlee a few years ago, the view was a little different. I’d take New Zealand any day - no offence to the good folk from Peterlee. 

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had its challenges, but it's helped accelerate new ways of working.

Our new hybrid working model is something that's changed me for the better. It has enabled me to have a much better work-life balance and when working from home it has given me the time to do the little things that make a difference, like picking the kids up from school and helping with childcare. I gain from not having to do the two-hour daily commute.

That said, being stuck at home stifles my creativity, so getting out of the house and working in a collaborative creative space with my colleagues gives me the best of both worlds.

I also think the pandemic has widened the talent pool from a recruitment perspective. It has started to break down the North-South divide. We are in another recruitment phase and we’re now receiving applications from candidates all over the country. 

What does success look like to you?

For me, success isn't measured in terms of money, awards and titles; it's about supporting others to fulfil their potential and helping our graduates starting out in their careers. At Onyx Health, we don't just recruit talent; we develop it. 

I'm also very proud that we're still an independent agency that isn't part of a larger multinational corporation. We've done amazingly well for a medium-sized agency based in Newcastle to work with large international pharmaceutical clients from North America to New Zealand. 

Growing in line with our clients is also an important part of the Onyx Health ethos. We've worked with some businesses since they were university start-ups and helped build them from the ground up. It's through this approach that we can generate sustainable long-term growth as an agency. That’s important, and it's what success looks like to me.

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