Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
My route to becoming Joint MD of Front Page has been a very circuitous one indeed. After graduating in 1985, I did a stint as cabin crew for British Caledonian and then I ran a restaurant for a short while. I then returned to the travel industry and worked in a number of positions for British Airways, Carlson and First Choice. After 12 years, I was becoming increasingly restless and keen for a new challenge. I’d always felt a pull towards the creative industries, so when the opportunity came up in 2000 to join Front Page as Account Director, I jumped at it. I went from being one of 20,000 employees to one of just 13, and had to quickly get to grips with a completely new industry and culture. It was quite a shock to the system but I immediately loved it and have never looked back. Here I am 17 years later…
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
Front Page is a creative and digital agency that was founded back in 1990. At the end of 2011, the founding directors approached my colleague, John Tafe, and I to buy them out. One of the directors was close to retirement and they were both keen to secure a future for the company after they left. Having worked for the business at that point for 11 years, I felt very invested in it and couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, so I decided to take a deep breath and go for it. The buy-out was implemented in summer 2012 and John and I have been running the business on our own since 2015, when the buy-out was completed.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
I really don’t like the word empowerment but I’m 100% behind the sentiment, as I think it’s key to developing a successful company culture. You need to support and encourage your team to take ownership and let them know that it’s OK to make mistakes too – as long as they learn from them.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
For me it was undoubtedly raising a young family at the same as working full time in a challenging role. Whilst my husband and I shared most of the child-rearing and household tasks, I think it’s fair to say there was still definitely more pressure on me. That said, I think I was one of the lucky ones, as I’m not sure every woman’s experience would have been as positive as mine. My kids have grown up and flown the nest now, but sadly I don’t think things have progressed much. Society still views women as the primary carer in the family and I think as long as that continues, those rather disheartening figures in relation to women’s equality at work and to those who park their careers when they start a family, won’t improve. It seems countries like Denmark have a much more progressive approach to working parents and I’d love to see that adopted here in the UK. This wouldn’t just be a case of drafting new legislation however, it would also take a significant cultural shift.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
As I said above, I think many women put their careers on hold when they start a family, as the pressure to be a ‘good mum’ and successful at work becomes too much. More needs to be done to support working parents – and not just working mums. I also think more needs to be done at a societal level, and especially in schools, to change attitudes towards women and work. We need to stop pigeonholing and ensure our girls and young women feel confident, and have the support, to pursue any career they want to.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
We are members of the DBA, BIMA and the Agency Collective. I also follow Kerning the Gap and I have a mentor through the DBA’s Twenty/Twenty mentoring scheme, which I’ve found immensely helpful over the course of the last year.
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
No, they offer me everything I need.
What other female founders inspire you?
Felicity Johnson, one of the founding directors of Front Page, who took a risk by employing me (with no industry experience) all those years ago. And Celestine Phelan, Executive Chair of Event Communications, for being a source of inspiration and encouragement over the last year.
What do you think makes a great agency?
A motivated and happy team who strive to do their best and who put clients at the centre of everything they do.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Be brave and learn to silence your inner critic.