Having global experience on your CV can stand out like a diamond in the rough. We spoke with newly appointed Senior Communications Advisor at Telstra Lauren Fragapane on the pros and cons of working overseas, the opportunities gained and the challenges faced that you don’t come across back home, and whether it will really help you progress you career.
I’ve recently returned from a three-and-a-bit-year stint in London working in agency and in-house roles. Since returning, a few people have asked me what it was like working there, how it compares to Australia and what I gained from the experience. It’s a hard question to answer because I only have my particular experience and no two experiences will be alike. But here is what I found…
I transferred with a big international agency so my experience was going from what I thought was a big agency in Melbourne to a huuuuuge agency in London. When I got there, I felt I was in the centre of the PR universe, and I kind of was. The office was bulging with young, vibrant, incredibly intelligent and talented people and the overwhelming feeling I had was that I was surrounded by opportunity.
Is the work really that different?
In terms of the work, from a technical perspective there’s not much of a difference. The pace is faster, the pressure is certainly higher and the scale is bigger, which of course adds to your professional development, but on the technical side I didn’t feel out of my league. In fact, I found that the experience I had working in smaller offices with pretty direct lines to senior management to be quite unique. The management skills you develop in a small office where budgets are tightly scrutinized instills a strong sense of discipline and accountability that can be a real asset in a big office where things move so quickly and budgets are so significant.
Is bigger better?
The biggest difference, of course, is the scale – the size and profile of the companies you get to work with, and the budgets. Your proximity to international headquarters puts you at the centre of global accounts so instead of being a market for a big company executing global campaigns, you are creating the global accounts and managing the offices around the world to execute. And of course, large budgets provide so much opportunity to do cool, expensive executions that you might not be able to do in a smaller market. Amongst all of this exciting opportunity, there were of course some challenges. London is a big city and there are talented people in every direction. You soon realise that you are just one of many like-minded, equally talented consultants and no one is going to hold your hand. You have to decide what you want, figure out how to get it, and go for it – on your own.
If you are looking to gain some international experience, here is my advice for those wanting to make the big move:
– Before you arrive, decide what you want to leave with
Start at the end. You may or may not have a finite amount of time. Consider what you want to get out of the experience. That can be hard because a lot of the opportunity is born from spontaneity but there are some things you can do to make sure you’re pushing yourself. Get on the accounts doing a project you know you wouldn’t be able to do back home. Don’t get stuck doing things you know how to do (if you can help it). Learn as much as you can from the smart people around you – go to all the talks, all the brainstorms, and be collaborative and generous with your time.
By the time I left London I’d learned a lot about the world and myself. For me personally I gained in-house experience (working for one of Europe’s largest corporate law firms) and plugged a knowledge gap that I knew I needed to address if I wanted to pursue my goal of advising corporates at a senior level. I used the opportunity to learn everything I could about corporate governance and the world of finance – how companies really work and, most importantly, how they make money.
Living and working internationally teaches you a lot about yourself as a person. You have so much time to explore what you’re really passionate about and that was the best part of the experience. I left a stronger, more inquisitive, independent and adventurous person with a new appreciation for our big wonderful world, and a load of friends scattered around it.
– Look after yourself
Now, this is important. It really is a different pace. I worked hard in my career before London but this experience took it to a new level. And it wasn’t just one person working hard. It was everyone. It’s amazing what you are capable of achieving in one day. The challenges are what makes it so rewarding. I found myself performing at a level that wouldn’t have been possible without pressure and although it was hard, that was kind of the whole point. You’ll get out of whack and the balance will shift the wrong way sometimes so just be conscious of it and pull it back when you need to. Burnout is a real thing. My advice is to eat well, exercise when you can or at least have one day a week where you commit to exercise or something fun outside of work. And take time to rest.
– Seek opportunities, they won’t seek you
As they say, ‘fake it till you make it.’ I don’t know how many times I said to myself (in a slight panic) ‘You can do this, you have got this guuurl’ when maybe I didn’t quite believe it. There is so much opportunity working in a bigger market but you need to be hungry and go after it. And trust me, there are times when you’re just so darned tired! But I got to do things that colleagues didn’t because of my attitude. I traveled (to some amazing places), I did special projects and two secondments to a multinational company, and that’s because I went for it.
The PR industry is a tough market to crack, especially when there are so many similarly skilled professionals vying for opportunities. Roll up your sleeves, grow your network and always say yes to challenges presented to you. It’s about the skills that you bring to the table, but most importantly the right attitude!
Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn here.