24 Oct Nicole Schulz, Kite GM, talks with telum after 15 years in the industry
Kite Communications’ General Manager, Nicole Schulz, recently spoke to Telum Media (telummedia.com) about how to make the most of working in agency-land, the importance of taking risks and her projections for the industry’s future.
You’re now GM at Kite Communications, but you started just like many others as an Account Junior in 2004. How was moving into agency-land?
I first started my career working in a PR agency when I was still studying at university. I had already completed a few in-house internships but when I began working in an agency, I knew instantly that it was the right path for me. I loved the fast-paced and dynamic environment, the variety of different brands and categories I had exposure to, the strong sense of team spirit, being surrounding by like-minded people and working with inspiring and talented senior mentors. Every day was an opportunity to learn and grow. Fifteen years later, my appetite to continue learning hasn’t changed!
If you could speak to 2004-Nicole, what advice would you give her?
This is making me feel very reflective! I have lots of advice based on things that I’m glad I did and some things that I would do differently if I had my time again.
My advice to anyone starting their career in a PR agency is to be open-minded when it comes to which clients you work with. One of the advantages of working in an agency is the opportunity to work with different brands across a variety of industries. By trying different things, you can figure out your passions and strengths. You really don’t know until you give it a go and you may be pleasantly surprised by what offers you the most rewarding experience.
I also can’t emphasise enough that you should make the most of the opportunity to learn from the many talented senior people around you – another great benefit of working in an agency. If these opportunities aren’t made available through a formal training programme, take the initiative to make it happen. Be curious, ask lots of questions, request a tutorial, ask your senior strategist if you can shadow him or her working through a client brief. At a very basic level, make sure you always understand the bigger picture that your task is contributing to. You are not just a cog in the wheel – every action has an important role to play but it may not feel that way if you don’t know the broader context.
Lastly, I would highly recommend seeking out a mentor and you can have more than one! There may be someone within your organisation who you admire and is invested in your growth and development, but someone externally is also important as they can provide objective advice and guidance.
At some point in your career, your role changes from purely a content and service role, to a business role. You start having to bring money into the business. How was that transition for you, and how did you handle it?
I believe that having good business acumen is an important skill for all team members working in an agency. When this mindset is encouraged and appropriate training is provided at every level of seniority, then taking more responsibility and accountability for bringing in new business is a very natural evolution as you grow within the company. At Kite, we actively provide opportunities for everyone to play a role in business growth. It is beneficial for both the company, as well as for the professional development of our team.
2004 doesn’t seem that long ago – but it was 15 years! The industry has changed a little bit since then, so what are some of your pet peeves about the industry and what do you think we could be doing collectively to change it?
When I first started out in the industry, we were still faxing press releases to newsrooms! Whilst the media landscape has changed significantly and brands have many more channels available to them to communicate with their audiences, the role of PR in building meaningful relationships and creating compelling stories has always remained the same.
I wouldn’t say it’s a pet peeve, but I think a missed opportunity for some marketers is to not engage their PR partners in the planning process from the outset. For the greatest business impact, you can’t treat different marketing functions in silos. It all starts with a great strategy and from there, exploring what tactics will enable you to communicate with your audience most effectively and through multiple touch-points. Paid and earned tactics both have an important role to play. If you don’t consider the “earned” potential of an idea, whether it be through the media, experiential or social channels, from the beginning, it is unlikely to work.
Looking to the future, where do you see the industry heading?
This is such an exciting time for our industry. Never before have there been more ways for brands to connect with people and in ways that can have a direct impact on business outcomes. However, it also means there is a lot of noise out there and people have higher expectations of what a brand should deliver to them. We expect companies to engage with us in a meaningful way, not broadcast a message at us. This has paved the way for authentic, targeted and engaging storytelling to rise to the top, presenting a dynamic and critical role for the PR industry.
It’s important to try new things and take a calculated risk from time to time. Playing it safe might be easier to get over the line but will it really create the required impact on the business? I like to challenge the status quo and encourage client partners to do things differently if they want to cut through the noise and make meaningful change.