Ahead of our AMG ‘7 Minute Mentor’ speed learning session in Melbourne on May 17, Mr Smith partner and business director Sarah Bailey shares why, among other things, leadership, organisation and empathy are key for a successful career in advertising.

TCC: Why advertising as a career?

SB: I fell into advertising by accident. Originally I was interested in a career in journalism but after some short work experience stints I was much less interested in that! I thought advertising might be a good alternative seeing as it was still creative, and would allow me to use a wide variety of communications skills. Plus, I had heard good things about the industry culture. I applied for a junior account management role having zero idea about what a ‘suit’ actually did but luckily it was a role I quickly came to love.

TCC: If you hadn’t pursued this as a career, what else would you have done?

SB: As per the above, journalism was my first choice. I have always loved writing and am really drawn to stories and storytelling. Advertising obviously fulfils that interest to some extent, but I made sure I kept up my creative writing on the side. Now I’m in the fortunate position of working in advertising but also having a writing career. I’m working on my second fiction book at the moment.

TCC: Name three skills or qualities you think you need to stay at the top of your game ?

SB: 1. Leadership skills. It doesn’t matter whether you are officially a leader or not, this industry screams out for people to lead a conversation, a meeting, a situation and of course, teams of people. Calm thoughtfulness will always be respected, as will genuine passion and energy. I’ve seen the youngest person in a room hold everyone’s attention with a clear, measured comment. I think it’s important to conduct yourself in a way that ensures clients will take you seriously and that your agency will recognise your current and potential value.

2. Organisation. It sounds boring but if you can nail the basics you can master the stuff that really matters. Unfortunately, a lot of people think it’s the other way around or decide that you get to grow out of needing to activate these core skills. But if you get the little things right, no matter what level you are at, people will immediately be impressed. So, be on time, plan ahead, communicate frequently, have and honour processes, do what you say you are going to do and document everything.

3. Empathy. This is not an advertising-specific quality but I think it’s a pretty important one. In any busy, creative environment it can get pretty hectic and it is easy to forget that what you are trying to do may not make sense to someone else or that they might have stuff going on that makes it hard for them to come at something from your perspective. Seeing as it is a suit’s role to get the best out of everyone and bring people together, it’s important to have solid listening skills and the ability to provide advice and understanding, all while getting the job done.

TCC: What’s the best part of your job?

SB: Without a doubt the people. I constantly feel fortunate to work in an industry where I meet so many interesting people and am privy to some of the weird and wonderful things their brains cook up. I love also the combination of rigorous strategy and lateral thinking that advertising demands. The parties aren’t bad either.

TCC: What’s the worst part of your job?

SB: The politics. This can be especially difficult when it loses you a pitch or a great idea is rejected and the reason is irrelevant to the work itself.

TCC: What’s your most embarrassing career moment?

SB: I can easily recall lots of cringe-worthy moments but there isn’t one that stands out above all the others. Mainly these moments are a mix of being caught out unprepared, saying something stupid in a meeting, tripping over in front of clients, stuff like that. And there was one time when I set a meeting at my office and then for some reason thought that it was at the client’s office so hauled our entire team across town only to have the client calling us from our office wondering where we were. I find it helpful to remember that almost everything is temporary. Moments pass!

TCC: What’s your career high?

SB: Again, this is more a montage of great moments as opposed to one specific moment. Most of these centre around the friendships I’ve made over the years and memories of working on cool projects with great people. I’ve really enjoyed some pitches, there is nothing quite like the feeling of being part of a close-knit pitch team and nailing the final presentation. And being recognised for great work at awards nights with your colleagues is up there as well.

TCC: What do you look for in a team member?

SB: Curiosity, resourcefulness and resilience are my three favourite qualities when I am building a team. A sense of humour and a good handle on technology never hurts either.

TCC: If you could step back in time and offer yourself just one piece of advice as you started your career, what would it be?

SB: Be a bit less impatient (but only a little bit less). Be kind to people. It’s what everyone remembers later on. That and the nastiness. And I know what I’d rather be remembered for. Say yes to stuff. Even stuff that you’re not sure is for you. It’s good to learn as much as you can early on so that you have the info you need to work out what you really want to focus on as you get older.

Sarah Bailey is one of our ‘7 Minute Mentors’ at our AMG speed mentoring event in Melbourne on May 17.