On a bright and chilly Friday morning, I was headed to King West’s Liberty Village, to meet Valerie Swatkow, the SVP, National Brand Leader of Cossette. Thanks to Ten Thousand Coffees, I was able to get in touch with Valerie, and have the opportunity to not only gain insight into the marketing and advertising industry of Toronto, re-spark and guide my ambitions in this industry, but also I would get to hear about her life experiences, her start in finance at Queen University, and her rocky and uncharted path to where she is today.
We sat down in a café-like area near the entrance of Cossette’s Toronto headquarters. Mini circular tables were lined-up with banquet seating along a white sprawling wall, and minimalistic white chairs to its opposite. Beside was a coffee station, that was frequented many times during our chat. The vibe of Cossette’s space was open, bright, creative and fun. You could definitely see the fruits of their labour, inside this massive open-concept and modern, creative space. From first impressions, people worked hard, played hard, and liked working at Cossette.
Meeting Valerie and really having the opportunity to have that one-on-one experience, without the pressures of meeting an industry professional for a job, established a friendly, honest, and professional connection. This indescribable experience was something that I never could have expected.
You know when you meet those people in your life that change your whole outlook of approach? Valerie was one of them, and I am still extremely glad she was the first person I was able to talk to from Ten Thousand Coffees, because like they say first impressions are the most important.
Valerie went to Queen University to study finance and not advertising, all her friends and classmates had jobs upon graduation, and she did not. She had a job, lost her job, packed-up, taught english in Asia, got to work in Indochina for Leo Burnett, in Vietnam, built strategies and creative in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, only to be transferred to Chicago for Leo Burnett Worldwide.
The dynamics of her career was so out of the ordinary. You hear stories in school of how you study one thing, then work in something completely different.
So, are you wasting your time in school? No you are not.
The unfortunate way of life is that you have to experience the worst things in order to learn from them, you have to work in something that you might not like after a month. The bigger the risk, does not always mean the bigger the reward, but as Valerie advised me, ‘you have to find the positives out of a crappy situation’ and to ‘let go of that negative baggage’. Look at what you have gained out of the situation. Essentially, how did you turn that negative into a positive.
Being a Women in the Industry
Recently I was working in a place that didn’t see women as equals in the workplace. I was spoken over, cut-off mid sentence, and blatantly ignored. I brought up this topic with Valerie because I was having trouble coming to terms with it since it has never happened to me before. This company was uptown, whereas I’ve always worked downtown, and was surprised at the difference in people’s attitude towards women in the workplace.
I asked her: What do you do when you face adversity as a women in the industry, when male colleagues and clients don’t even acknowledge your presence or your ideas?
Keep at it. Make your pitch something they have to listen to, make it so that what you have to say they can’t ignore.
Here are some of the best takeaways I got from our conversation:
Be positive and energetic, when you are being interviewed or giving a presentation. Your audience can immediately read your demeanor, and will believe in what you are saying if you yourself believe it just much.
Even if you don’t know what you’re talking about, your audience doesn’t know that, so don’t give them a reason to doubt you.
Be persistent for information on the places you want to work for. You’re not being annoying. It shows that you are genuinely interested in what the company/agency is doing, and will be your first in distinct from the hundreds of people applying.
Ask if they are hiring, and if not, ask for information or if you could talk to someone and learn more about the company, not just a person in the area you wish to work in, but anyone from any team or level. They will give you more insight than their website.
Tell yourself before anything scary or stressful: You can do this. You will get it. You’ve got this. (Not I hope I get it) A strong and confident mindset into anything that is scary will help steel your resolve. I’ve practiced this ever since with success.
Don’t be afraid to look desperate. That’s okay. You do want the job, you do want to work there, and you are passionate about what they are doin, and would love the opportunity to be part of it.
Conduct ‘Information Interviews’
Research possible places of work. Figure out why you want to work there.
Seek information from the people who actually work there through cold calls and emails, from HR, talent acquisition, and in the areas of the agency you might be interested to work in.
Contacting agencies will help you target where exactly you want to work.
Is it a campaign that you really related to, the work environment, etc.
This in will help them remember that you expressed interest, had a great personality, and will push your resume to the top.
Figure out what gets you going. How important it is to you that you do something you love as your profession.
Feeling burnt out? Take a step back, take a break. You will get there, it will take time, but don’t worry you will.
When you find out what you really want to do, really promote it. Tweet at places you want to work, retweet their content. You’d be surprised…
If you’re working on a campaign for a client, keep innovating, but make sure your strategy has your client’s voice. Make sure there is always that anchor.
It’s better to be good at one thing than to be well-rounded in everything.
Strategize how you will keep the conversation going even when you are communicating with different clients of different cultures.
When you sit down with clients, have a small book handy to jot notes, and to keep as a reminder to stay on track.
Sit down with as many people as you can, regardless of their position, and you will gain insight and establish yourself.
After our hour, I left the conversation feeling so much lighter and had a completely new outlook. I learned new ways to get into this extremely competitive industry, and landed a job a week later…an internship, but definitely a step in the right direction.