Agency life: an interview with Further MD Lou Roberts
March 8th, 2020 is International Women’s Day. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke to Further’s joint Managing Director, Lou Roberts about her career to date.
Falling for agency life
“I absolutely loved agency life,” says Lou, who started her marketing career in 1996, working for Steve Jaggard, who would go on to co-found Further in 2006. Although she started as a part-time Office Manager, she immediately made a good impression. The board of directors soon spotted her potential to work in client services and recommended that she study with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). As a mum to a young son, just two at the time, it was a big undertaking. But never one to shy away from hard work, she took the challenge.
Lou achieved the necessary qualifications from the CIM, accelerating her career in the industry. She moved from her role as Office Manager to join the client services team and worked her way up to become Senior Account Director. “You need to understand the fundamentals of marketing before you can start making strategic recommendations for your clients. For them, it’s more than just handling briefs, they need to know that you have the relevant knowledge. Being able to talk in the client’s language ensured that they would trust me. ”
Lou left her position for a sales-driven role: “I needed to have a rounded approach to being commercial and to gain confidence in getting in front of people I chose the sales route.”
Working with the motto ‘tell not sell’, Lou gained valuable experience in her new role, learning how to work with confident people. However, sales wasn’t her passion: “Although it was consultative selling, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
She knew she belonged back in marketing, so she took her growing experience and reconnected with Steve.
Taking it Further
It just so happened that Steve and colleague Zak Ireson had founded Further in 2006 and were looking for a talented Client Services Director to take the fledgling company to the next level. And so, in 2007, Lou joined Further. The team had a set of shared values: honesty, transparency and the value of building strong relationships. It was a great fit.
“It wasn’t easy, but moving on with your career never is,” she says. “Turns out that joining Further was the best career decision I ever made.”
Since then, Lou has become joint MD with Rob Welsby, playing a key role in the agency’s growth to more than 30 members of staff. The picture at the top of this page shows Lou with Zak, Steve and Rob.
Lou is responsible for overseeing the commercial aspects of the business, ensuring Further is on-target and meeting clients’ objectives. She spends most of her time talking with clients, working with them as a partner to identify their business goals and how they can be achieved. Her work is centred around her strong belief in the ‘trust triangle’: develop relationships that build trust which leads to great work which builds relationships.
“As well as working hard to meet goals and deliver strategies, I make sure that all our clients feel valued,” she says. Lou prioritises client relationships, explaining how fairness and transparency is what drives success for everyone. “We’ve built great relationships with our clients. We’re honest and open, and they value that. If you’re honest you can be forgiven, if you’re not then you can’t.
“72% of our clients have been with us for over five years and I have worked with some of our clients for over 11 years. I’m not sure how many other agencies can say that.”
The keys to success
For Lou, success is continued growth and Further’s 100% renewal rate this year. “Success is saying: we’ve survived a lot and we’re still growing,” she says. “We still have the vision and the passion to do so.”
“But success is a moving target so you should always strive to do better – learn new things, acquire new skills. Every day is a school day. If you’re not learning, then it’s time to pack up. When you stop wanting to learn, that’s when you know you’re done with agency life.”
However, Lou adds that her success would not have been possible without a strong support network, including her husband and son. Progressing her career while raising a child, Lou valued the support of family and friends: “You need good backup. I was so grateful to have brilliant friends, family and an after-school club.”
There have also been sacrifices along the way. “Sometimes you have to miss out on events with friends and family.
“I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t have it all. Something has to give. Sometimes you have to make the decision to miss out on things but having those people still there for you is really important.”
Shaped by the emotional resilience required throughout her career, Lou stresses the importance of keeping your work and private emotions separate. “There’s nothing wrong with being emotional. Passion, joy, frustration, even anger, all play a part in how you run a business, but you need to keep everything in perspective.”
“Peaks and troughs are an integral part of agency life,” she adds. “No matter how successful your business is, there will always be lows. When they happen, you have to find something deep inside of you to push on. That said, sometimes you need to step away from it all and remember it’s not life or death. It’s a balance.”
Women in business
Citing the recent video released by Girls. Girls. Girls. magazine featuring Cynthia Nixon, Lou raises the issue of women being inundated with conflicting messages of how to behave.
“My advice for young women is to just be yourself and believe in yourself,” she says. “In leadership, you can be strong, determined and considered – you don’t have to be bullish about it. You need to find a balance.”
Lou recommends the book Alphas & Omega by Victoria Yasinetskaya and Mercè Brey for female leaders (aspiring and experienced) wanting to achieve the same balance.
She also has some specific advice for those in the marketing industry: “It’s important to be likeable and trustworthy – that’s how you’ll build relationships with clients. You also have to be on the ball, know your stuff, deliver and you have to be honest. But that’s true for both men and women.”
Lou is proud to celebrate women in business and their accomplishments and notes that diversity is crucial for any business – building a positive working culture. “International Women’s Day is demonstrating that women have had to go through a lot to get to where we are and be whatever we want to be. It’s great to celebrate how women have pushed and will keep pushing the boundaries. It’s saying, ‘we can do this!’”
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