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Member Spotlight: Louise Hodges

Want to switch industries for a career burst?

Understanding the transferrable skill sets you have amassed in your career arsenal is key to making an effective leap into a new domain according to Louise Hodges (RGS 1989-1991). Louise is an accomplished communications expert with experience across a diverse range of industry sectors – notably as Head of Communications for Travelzoo for many years and now as Head of Consumer Communications for Clydesdale & Yorkshire Banking Group – quite a sea change. Louise recently told us about her career and her memories of RGS.

First, a bit of background.  What were your first steps in your early career?

After the sixth form at RGS, I studied English Literature and Film and a Masters in Communications and Image Studies at the University of Kent. I then worked in Berlin and Paris as a writer – originally thinking of script writing, but ending up as a journalist.

Returning to London, I moved into PR working for agencies. I helped companies like Cap Gemini plan for the ‘millennium bug’. I saw a lot of the developments of the boom and bust – a fascinating time to be working in PR.

In my twenties, I moved to Hong Kong. It was an amazing place to climb the career ladder. I worked for technology clients and also helped brands like Diageo expand across the Asian market and I became an expert in brand positioning.

Why did you move from agency to working in-house?
Whilst I was in Hong Kong, I was approached by Tourism Australia. They wanted to reposition themselves for the Asian market and re-establish Australia as an amazing cultural, shopping and dining destination – trying to get away from the Crocodile Dundee/Outback view of Australia.

I developed their brand and identified what would work culturally for 11 different Asian countries

How did you get from there to become Head of Comms at Travelzoo?
I moved back to the UK still working for Tourism Australia until I had my daughter, Grace, now in the First Form at RGS. I loved my job, but the travel to Australia from the UK wasn’t compatible with my family.

So, I worked as a consultant for two years and my built on my specialism with the Asian market with clients such as Hong Kong Tourism Board. I had my son, Ben, and I got back into writing by doing a writing course at The Groucho Club in London. By good fortune, the wife of the Travelzoo CEO was also on the course. I met him and began consulting with them before becoming Head of PR for Europe.

What did you most like about your role and what was your biggest achievement?
Travelzoo was a relatively unknown travel brand when I started. I most enjoyed and am most proud of how our public relations campaigns focused on the biggest issues facing travel, including the cost of travel during school holidays called “The Parent Trap”: when the government introduced fines on parents who took their children out of school to go on holidays. We analysed what happened to the pricing of travel and revealed that the industry pushed prices up even more during peak times. We led a successful campaign to lobby the government to remove the air passenger duty tax for under 16s, to acknowledge the importance of fairness, and to work with the travel industry to not take advantage of the situation and address the impact on domestic tourism. We even commissioned a study into teachers’ views about the fines. Travelzoo took a central and pivotal role and it made Travelzoo a bit of a hero in the public’s eyes.

Why did you decide to move into a new industry and what drew you to CYBG?
It was largely because I felt like a new challenge. I was approached by the bank because they were in need of real consumer experience. After the global banking crisis, the sector has lost a lot of consumer trust and CYBG wants to tell its story and reposition itself as not being part of the ‘big bad banking industry’. What they are doing is really exciting. They have a new digital banking system called ‘B’, targeted at millennials, with a system that helps you learn how you spend and encourages you to save. It is banks’ responsibility to help people become financially fit and provide genuine tools to make it possible.

What was the hardest thing about starting in a new industry?
It was definitely the terminology! Every industry is like it, with acronyms and catchphrases and it takes time to get up to speed. I was an expert in the travel lingo after 12 years in that industry and when you are that savvy, you don’t even notice you are speaking in code. What is daunting is coming in at a senior level and having to acknowledge that I sometimes don’t know what is being said. Especially after having been an expert for so long.

What have you found to be the main differences between the two sectors?
What strikes me most is how male dominated the finance sector is. I sit in meetings and about 80% are men in suits. Saying that, my boss is a woman, who is very inspiring and our CIO is also a woman. Across the industry as a whole, gender diversity is an issue being taken very seriously, especially at a senior level.

And the best bits?
It is great being part of a much bigger team that covers all areas of marketing, and there are amazing team members with incredibly specialist skill sets. A fantastic resource. It is also great fun!
And what would your advice be to someone wanted to make a big change and shift industry, like you have?
Skills are transferable. It comes down to confidence. For me, I love that I am learning again. I feel like I am doing an MBA in financial services! I’m constantly learning and training and love it. If you are considering it, I would say, don’t be daunted by the challenge, just re-purpose your experience. You should seize the opportunity if it comes along.

You are a former RGS student – What are your most memorable moments from RGS?
There are a couple of things, one distinct memory was playing Aphrodite in Hippolytus in 1991. The Tragedy opens with a monologue by Aphrodite – which was over 100 lines. Opening the play was exciting and memorable! My other distinct memory – and gratitude – is for my most memorable teacher, Mr Paxton. He was such a kind man and an amazing teacher. I found moving back from Japan aged 16 to start at RGS a very difficult time as leaving friends behind at that age is challenging. Mr Paxton was a very observant teacher who understood this and also how books and reading have the power to transform and heal. His passion for his subject was notable and contagious. He had a genuine love of literature and really was the role model that inspired me. I had the surprise of bumping into him in Reigate when I was out for a run 25 years later. It was lovely to thank him for inspiring me (and to discover he was still in Reigate).

Now your daughter is studying at RGS, what would your top advice be to her and other students about their careers?
Find things that you truly love doing. It is true to say that if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life! It is very important to me that if I am to be away from my family working, I need to be doing something I really love to make it worth it.


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