My Media Life – Ella Solomon

October 11, 2022


Welcome to My Media Life, where we chat with the movers and shakers in the worlds of business and marketing to find out what the media industry means to them. They share their advice for those starting out today and personal insights into their sources of inspiration and motivations.

This month, we’re delighted to be joined by Ella Solomon, Growth Director at Initiative Media and the recipient of our very first World Media Award for the Rising Star of the industry.

Below are extracts from our conversation – you can watch the full interview in the video above or listen to the podcast here.

Why did you join the media industry? What was your motivation?

I studied biochemistry at university but finished knowing that I didn’t want to work in that field. A lot of it is very technical and very in-depth and I knew that I liked to speak to people rather than sit in a lab all day.

I worked in recruitment and recruited somebody into a media agency. They loved it and told me a bit about the culture, then I got a job at a media agency myself! I went into a trading role – some companies called it investment. I did that for three years, before moving over to a global growth role. I’ve always worked in global or regional business. And then recently, I joined Initiative as an EMEA Growth Director – I’m in my fifth week now. We help drive new business pitches or retention pitches.

What does the media industry mean to you?

I think it’s the timeline of how society has evolved. It provides landmarks for us to look back on and show how society has developed.

A good example of that is when the Queen died a few weeks ago. Within minutes of the BBC releasing that she had passed away everyone across the globe knew, and that was due to the power of social media that probably wouldn’t have been there 20 years ago. I thought that was really interesting.

It’s also interesting to see how everybody – I think it’s something crazy, like 37 million people in the UK – tuned in on TV to watch the Queen’s funeral. It shows the power of the old media types, as well as the newer media channels, and it’s a good way to see how society has evolved.

What’s the one piece of advice that’s helped you in your career?

Sometimes I get a bit consumed in my work, so somebody once said to me, “Remember, there is a life outside of work.” And for anybody that’s young and ambitious, I think that’s really important.

Sometimes I get frustrated with small things; you need to look at the bigger picture and realise that sometimes that’s not a huge deal in the context of the world. It’s also true, I think, that to be good at your job, you need to stay creative in your thinking. And you need to be at your most productive. Don’t feel resentment towards your role.

To do that, it’s important to make sure that you’re doing things outside of your job that you absolutely love and don’t spend all of your time working. Especially as we’re in the post-Covid world where home and work life have really blurred, and people are contactable 24 hours a day.

How are you finding that work/life balance now we’re coming out of Covid?

Everybody’s used to doing their washing or going to the post office on their lunch break. You have to do that at the weekend now. I used to get more free time at the weekend than now that I’m going into the office two or three days a week.

At Initiative we have a 50 percent rule that people are trying to adhere to. I think it’s a difficult transition, but if we can go from being in the office five days a week to working at home for years, I think this is easier than the other way around, where we just went cold turkey and had to work at home 100 percent of the time. It wasn’t what I was used to or what any of the world were used to.

What is your favourite thing about where you are at now in your career?

One of the main reasons that I moved over to Initiative is because I really believe in their proposal in helping clients create cultural velocity with their key audiences, which is essentially connecting with people based on their cultural behaviours rather than just their demographics, which I find super interesting.

And they’ve also had a great amount of growth over the last few years. But when I think about my role in general, as a growth person, the thing I love most about growth is that you see the best and you see the worst of people.

You learn so much about different cultures working in a global regional role. You get to meet the most incredible people and find out about the whole business. You don’t just work in one small area – you literally touch every single part of the business, which I find super interesting.

You’re coming across quite a people person. Has the move back into the office worked to your strengths?

Yes, in building relationships, which is completely vital to my role, and especially as a new starter. When I managed new starters in my previous role at Wavemaker, onboarding them during Covid was really challenging because they didn’t know anybody. When I joined Initiative, for my first two weeks I went in every day. I tried to meet as many new people as possible because you need to meet in person to get a real feel for what they’re like..

What would you say your personal secret talent is?

This question really made me laugh. I feel like if it’s personal, it’s a secret – I definitely shouldn’t tell you!

You’re being a little modest. One of the reasons you were made a Rising Star was for the sustainability project in your previous role, which says a lot about you. Perhaps you could describe how that came about and the context of it.

It started off as a grassroots project with me asking why we were using plastic cutlery in the office and snowballed from there. I started helping out on some sustainability events. I was quite lucky that my manager at the time allowed me to pursue my passion because I feel like not everyone does get that opportunity. I ended up being the main person that would speak to clients about sustainability.

We had a great lead who would help ensure that everything we were doing on sustainability actually fed into clients as well. And I ended up developing the internal and external offering for Wavemaker on sustainability with the help of some amazing people at GroupM.

GroupM have recently released an immediate decarbonisation programme that I helped work on. A lot of support from the network enabled me to do that. And I also did a course on business sustainability management that meant I could get all my crazy thoughts and focus them a bit more towards the business.

It was great to work on and is something that I’m also doing at Initiative. We are working on lots of different sustainability projects and bringing them all together to take to our clients, and also to make sure that we are being as sustainable as possible.

What media is important to you and where do you get your daily news from?

I think we live in a world of misinformation. And as Heinrich Böll quoted – I think in it was in the 1970s – I also believe that you need to read at least five sources of news / media before getting a well-rounded answer and actually understanding what the truth is. This book was published pre-internet but I still think that’s completely true in this day and age.

The standard place I get my news from, like a lot of people in the UK, is the BBC. But then I try to make sure I’m fact checking it with as many other things as possible.

Even going to the likes of Twitter to see what people are saying I think is actually quite important to make sure that you can make your own judgment on certain things.

And thinking about media brands, which are the most important to you?

I think it’d be wrong as a millennial to say anything apart from a social platform! So, Instagram’s the platform that I use the most. Potentially not the most educational, but definitely the one that I find myself aimlessly scrolling, or finding house inspo, or talking to my friends on.

I’ve also recently got into a new platform that doesn’t take advertising yet. I’m hoping they’re going to start taking it. It’s called Be Real. The idea is that you take a photo of yourself face-on from your front camera, and then it also shows what’s in front of you, It asks you to do that once a day. There are no filters – it’s meant to be real; that’s the whole idea of it. I think it’s quite nice to see a snippet of people’s real life and often mine is, “Oh, I’m working again,” But it’s quite interesting to see it more honest and natural.

What do you do to switch off?

This is something I found really difficult during a massive pitch. But more recently, I’ve got a lot better. I think it’s something a lot of people do find difficult, especially if you’re an ambitious person.

It sounds quite cliché but things like exercising – I absolutely love boxing and I love spinning. They’re so difficult, they just take me into another world that really helps me relax. And then I love a good podcast. I listen to one called “My Therapist Ghosted Me” by Vogue Williams and Joanne McNally and they’re just hilarious. They just chat about life and stuff that’s not important. I love them – I’ll find myself laughing down the street and looking slightly strange, but it’s that’s the kind of thing that really makes me switch off from work.

Who or what inspires you?

There are so many inspirational people in the media industry. Professionally, there are many people I’ve worked with that I’ve absolutely loved and people I haven’t worked with and just read about. However, I think my mum’s the person that’s inspired me the most and has given me the drive that I have today.

She was an absolute superwoman and a hero. She has three children all quite young and she was a single mom. She completed her PhD in that time. She also had a terminal illness and worked full time. She just did everything you could ever imagine.

She really taught me and my other siblings how to handle stress and never to give up. For my job today especially, having tenacity is absolutely everything. That’s definitely something I learned from my mum.

Your mum sounds like an awesome woman. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and time with us. We can’t wait to watch what you do in the rest of your career. Watch out Sir Martin Sorrell here comes Ella!