Inspiring Reigatian: Tania Barr
Tania Barr (current parent), Brand Strategist at Jellyfish, walks us through her exciting career and provides some useful advice for those considering a career in marketing.
Briefly describe your career
You could say it’s been fluid! After completing a Manufacturing Engineering degree at Cambridge, I joined McKinsey’s graduate programme for three years in the UK and New York. I then jumped to a tiny architecture software start-up which were modelling how crowds move through spaces like football stadia or skyscrapers. My next swerve was into an ad agency as a Brand Strategist, devising the strategy behind the creative work. Over 14 years, I worked on Tesco, Apple, Mars, the BBC and Amex among others, and led several strategy departments along the way. My most recent move was five years ago to the digital marketing company, Jellyfish, as their first Brand Strategist – a company that’s been on a fascinating trajectory in that time. I’m now one of five global VPs of the brand strategy capability.
What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
That’s a really hard question, because marketing isn’t a particularly altruistic or heroic pursuit! But personally, I’m proud of always having had real agency over my own career. I’ve put in my all, but I’ve moved roles and companies on my terms, and to opportunities that have excited me. That’s particularly key when you’re a working parent – you need to love what you do.
What inspires or motivates you?
For me, it’s all about working with smart and uplifting people, in energising places. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a new iPhone campaign or an engine oil brand – if I enjoy and respect the team I’m working with, I’ll look forward to Monday morning.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
Classic imposter syndrome. Stepping into ad-land from corporate consulting, then into senior management straight after maternity leave, and my recent jump from creative agency to digital marketing. Every time, you feel very exposed for all the things you don’t know. But you have to trust the people who’ve hired you and know that you’re bringing something new and valued to the table.
What three tips would you give to someone wanting to start a career in digital marketing?
First of all, I would say that all marketing is increasingly digital, so don’t underestimate the importance of knowing your core marketing principles (and following some classic marketing thinkers). They still hold true today, just in a faster-moving environment, and they’ll help you establish a sound point of view, even as the canvas shifts.
Second, experiment and be curious. There are lots of good, free, online courses and tools out there (look at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn’s learning spaces) – take some, then see if you know anyone with a small business who would appreciate you looking at their website SEO, improving their Google listings, or creating and testing a bit of social advertising for them – you can get started with a tiny budget. Use the tools. Create your own work experience!
Finally, if it’s about where to look for employment, cast the net wide. Agencies are fun places to work if you’re up for a bit of chaos (and perhaps less cash!). But companies are increasingly bringing digital expertise in house and looking for smart young things, particularly those who understand newer social channels. Look for brands whose ethos attracts you – you’ll get more out of it and will want to put more in.
What would you most like to tell yourself at age 18?
I’d love to tell myself that it’s ok to not know what you want to be. As long as your next move is something you think you’ll enjoy and want to put your all into, it’ll always lead somewhere good. It’s ok not to have a grand plan – I still don’t, and I’m 46!
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
I’m learning so much, from fun people, which is great. But Jellyfish also encourages you to identify and develop your personal superpower – the thing you enjoy and are also good at – and find ways to amplify it. It could be expertise on a particular piece of tech or being brilliant at getting people together around a problem. There’s a default that to succeed, you have to have sharp elbows and be better than your peers – it’s refreshing to be somewhere where it’s encouraged to lean into your own strengths while leaning on others for theirs.
What more could be done in your industry to make it more diverse, equitable and inclusive?
I’ve been very fortunate in my opportunities, so it’s difficult to speak from experience here. But a greater diversity of people feeling genuinely included is the only way marketing will actually survive. What we do is easy to ignore or opt out of – it’s increasingly hard to stand out, engage and be relevant. It takes fresh talent that’s properly in tune with the world we live in. And that definitely isn’t a bunch of people who look and think like me. I’d also like to see our clients hold us to greater representation as an expectation of doing business. If agencies can’t win the big accounts without meeting certain criteria, you can be sure the industry will step up its diversity efforts surprisingly quickly.