Lauren Fragapane is an Australian PR professional who relocated to London to further her career. Here she outlines the lessons she has learnt from relocating and what questions job seekers looking to work abroad should consider.
A lot of PR professionals have ambition to work abroad, for professional or personal reasons, or both. Either way, it’s a big decision and one that can be filled with uncertainty. 18 months ago I transferred to the London office of a global PR firm that I had been working for in Melbourne. I went in pretty blind but full of enthusiasm. Here are the lessons I learnt along the way.
I knew I wanted to work internationally so I deliberately sought out a global agency. I also made sure that my employer knew that working abroad was part of my plan and that it was one of the things that attracted me to their firm in the first place…so there were no surprises when I raised the topic.
The first question I get from people who want to work overseas is ‘how do you do it? How do you start that conversation?’ The answer is really dependent on where you work and your company’s position on global mobility. If you work for a global company, like I did, things are easier.
I started my campaign to transfer about a year before I moved. My initial choice was New York so I booked a holiday and went to the New York office for a day of meetings with practice leads to introduce myself, find out about the work they do and seek their advice. In doing so, I made sure they knew who I was and that I was interested in moving. You never know when an opening will come up and having those face-to-face meetings would ensure I was memorable. It also showed the business that I was serious and willing to investing my own time and money to explore the opportunity.
If you’re good at what you do and you are honest about your ambitions, the conversation is easy.
I was lucky in that the CEO of my firm was also my mentor so when I was ready to make the move, I could speak openly with her and gain her support. Be honest and up front and patient. I understood it could take some time for the right opportunity to come up. In the end, that opportunity was London and four weeks after learning of the role, I was working in a new country.
In that time, work hard, make a solid contribution and then start talking to them about your ambition to move abroad.
Think about the situation from your employer’s point of view. Why would they send you to a different office?
In many circumstances, Australian agencies know that ambitious consultants will want to do this at some point in their career. They will see it as an opportunity to potentially keep you long-term, engender greater collaboration around the network, and raise the profile of their office to larger markets by placing a strong talent.
For that reason, transfers usually happen at the AM level and above. If you are thinking about moving to an emerging market, that could be different, but know that New York and London are popular choices and highly competitive.
You should also think about when the right time is for you to move in order for you to achieve what you want out of the experience. I decided that I wanted to move overseas when I was at a senior level and could transfer with experience to have a great role, so I didn’t rush into it.
If you’re working at a consultancy, you need 18 months-2 years under your belt at that agency to be in a position to ask for their support in helping you transfer to another office. I meet a lot of young, ambitious consultants who want to move to London or New York and my advice to them would be to sit tight, sharpen your skills, build your networks and then move at a time when you have more to offer (and the earning capacity to make the most of the experience).
If you’re moving to the UK or New York, your potential employer may assume your Australian experience is not as advanced as that of your international counterparts.To counter that misperception, position your value to focus on your skills and aptitude.
Your Australia different, yes, and you won’t have media or business contacts. But, from a skills perspective, I found that my Australian experience held me in good stead to hold my own.
Unless you are a publicist, being a good PR consultant is not about your little black book. It’s about your ability to build one. Talk about your experience getting a new account that you knew nothing about and what you did to quickly immerse yourself and build the right media contacts.
The breadth of experience you get working across sectors on multiple clients in Australia is extremely helpful. While this is a natural consequence of being a smaller market (Australia rarely has the budgets to sustain a full time team), it becomes a great strength when you work with people who may have worked solidly on one or two clients for a relatively long period of time.
At the end of the day, international experience is an investment – it will most likely increase your earning capacity in the long-term, and that’s what’s important.
You may need to take a pay cut (as I did) but try not to take a demotion. Make sure your ambition to move doesn’t lead you to accept an unfair offer.
An international pay cut is more about cost of living comparison. It will feel like you’re taking a step back but you will most likely need to take a cut to ensure you’re earning the same as your colleagues in your new market. Australia is an expensive city to live in and salaries are usually higher than in Europe or the USA.
Australia is seen by international companies as a ‘market’. The budgets are smaller because the market is smaller. But what
People working in international markets might not appreciate is how involved you have been in developing client strategy.
I thought when I moved abroad that I would have a seat at the table like I had for many of my clients. It’s not necessarily the case. I ended up working 100% on a multinational client. I was one of 27 full time staff at an agency servicing one of the biggest companies in the world. You become one player in a very large team.
It takes some adjusting to not be able to direct strategy as much as you once did. For me, that was frustrating but I spent the time learning how those decisions do get made at such a large company. Knowing how a multinational works, and figuring out how to navigate a complex bureaucratic system is a lesson in itself.
I had to work hard to educate my colleagues about the role I played as a Senior Account Manager in a comparatively small agency back home. The business acumen (financial planning, resource management) I built working for a ‘smaller’ firm was comparatively advanced and so I focused on demonstrating this at every opportunity.
Whenever I put myself in a challenging situation or take on a new adventure, I always think of something that my first PR boss at Red Agency, Grant Titmus, used to say: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” So put yourself in a situation to find out what that is – and then go for it.
Make yourself known as the one in the team who is up for a challenge – that you want to travel, are interested in short term assignments or that you would do a secondment. I have done more international travel for work than most of my colleagues. I have been on secondment, to Iceland, the Middle East and the Netherlands – on client assignments that don’t come around all that often.
Lauren now works for Allen & Overy in London. Connect with her here.
We love the Creative Commons License! Agency Iceberg uses images from Pexels.com.