My Media Life – Nicky Owen

May 10, 2022

Nicky Owen in conversation with Arif Durrani, Media Consultant

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, 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 Nicky Owen, Global Head of Marketing Initiatives at Credit Suisse. Below are extracts from our longer conversation – you can watch the full interview above or listen to the podcast here.

What does the media industry mean to you?

I think it’s a perfect combination to me. I was bullied at university into trying to have a career in accountancy and I had placements in my long summer breaks at accountancy firms, which I did enjoy, but realised my heart wasn’t really in it.

I think that the media industry is a perfect combination of creativity and bringing that sense of developing and creating, whether that’s advertising or planning or content, but also having all the numbers as well. So, to my mind, it was more creative than accountancy, but it also has some of that kind of rigour and analytics. I think it’s, it’s a fantastic industry to be in.

Storytelling itself, and (as I’ve always worked on the international side) being able to do that and understand different cultures and work with people from different cultures has been really stimulating. I can’t think of a better industry, regardless of what you’re studying at university, or if you’re early in your career. There will be an opportunity within this industry for you to find something that you can be passionate about.

What’s the one piece of advice that has helped during your career?

I started off at JWT (J Walter Thompson) and really wanted to work in planning. That’s how I started off, as a planner, because of the strategy and the creativity coming together.

My first boss said from day one: “Always take the meeting notes”. And I think that was really helpful because if you don’t have something to say, certainly starting out in your career, then you’ve got an excuse because you’re writing. You can clarify if someone’s made a point, so you have a role to play within the meeting, and then you’re then sending that to your clients afterwards. You have that contact; you start to build your relationship from day one. I think that’s really important.

I say it to people in my team now, in some ways contact reports and status notes might seem very dull, but they are your way of keeping track of projects and keeping you at the heart of them. So that was the first piece of advice, which I think still holds true today.

As a woman, I also had an interesting piece of advice from a WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications Leadership) event I attended fairly early on in my career. It was from women in the media industry who’ve been very successful, giving advice to other women. One of the pieces of advice, which sounds quite strange – and I can’t remember who said it, but it stuck with me – was, whistle!

Sometimes if you get frustrated, your throat closes up. So, if you’re on the back foot in a meeting or it’s not going how you want it to, or you’re in a negotiation and it’s getting a bit heated, if you can breathe out or, even better, leave the room and have a good whistle, your throat opens up and you get your voice back. And if you get your voice back, you get your confidence back and you start to get your control back. It sounds, really simple but it’s one that’s stuck in my mind.

Another thing someone said is to focus on your people skills. If you have a client or a colleague and you see something that you think might be of interest to them, send it – be helpful to people. Remember names; smile; have conversations. People do business with people, so if things are going well, then that’s great. If they’re not going as well, if you’ve got a good, strong relationship to base negotiations on, you will be in a stronger position. So don’t forget the soft skills.

What’s your favourite thing about your current job?

The variety. I think one of the things that I was worried about when I went from agency side to client side was, would I still get that variety? Obviously in an agency you’re dealing with different accounts – I worked across several accounts at the same time – so you always have variety. I was a little bit worried, but I needn’t have been. My days are very varied.

The other thing that’s interesting is I don’t know all the answers, so I’m always learning. I find it very interesting and it’s lovely to be able to build and have a confidence that you know what you’re doing, but at the same time to not be arrogant and think that you know everything.

What’s your secret talent?

I would say one thing is to celebrate success in others. So, I like to think that I can not only celebrate success in my own career, but also celebrate it in others. I think if you have a generous spirit, then it pays back to you. I take time to mentor people. I take time to try and help understand the career path of others who may be at different stages in their career and try and support others. And it will always make me feel good as well, so that investment in other people pays back.

If you’re kind and you’re interested in others, then people tend to pay back to you. So, I would hope that my secret talent is that ability to celebrate success when you see it in other people, and to try and stimulate that as well.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in marketing or media today?

Don’t have preconceptions. Don’t make decisions on something. So, you could have an interesting sector or client that you’re working with, but the job might not be so interesting, or the job might be really interesting in what you think is a dull sector.

One of the biggest learnings that I made was don’t have an excuse. Don’t say “Oh, it’s okay for them because they’re in a really interesting industry” or “It’s okay for them because they’ve got a really good job”. Take ownership yourself.

A great example of this was when I worked on a project in consultancy, with a company that manufactured concrete slabs. Not what comes to mind when you’re thinking about innovation projects – it was an innovation task. However, they were probably one of the most openminded, forward thinking organisations I’d ever worked with.

Where do you get your daily news from?

I’m a bit of a news junkie. In the morning I have BBC News on, either the news channel itself, or Breakfast TV whilst getting the kids ready for school. I tend to steer towards BBC for news and Channel 4 as well in the evening. In terms of other publications that are slightly broader current affairs, The Economist definitely, Time, the Financial Times as well.

I’ve set up a lot of alerts. I think, like everyone, we don’t have enough hours in the day and it’d be lovely to just sit there and absorb news. I get alerts from WSJ, the FT, Moral Money. I spend a lot of time on sustainability so Moral Money is a really good one for me.

Wall Street Journal – I get their marketing. So again, picking different newsletters for different aspects of my role. The business staples like CNBC and Bloomberg – looking at those the ongoing and the real-time streaming.

Also, the more in-depth programmes. I listen to some of the CNBC podcasts if I’m doing my gardening. I tend to put a podcast on when I’m doing my relaxing things. I guess it’s having to be broad, but also curated, because I just don’t have the time to be scrolling through all the things; I need to cut to the headlines and then dive into things where I’m a bit more interested. So there are lots of alerts set up to try and manage that.

Which media brands are most important to you?

My Sunday Times. So The Sunday Times is my ritual. As a northerner, I have to drink lots of cups of tea or I fall over. So, I have a big pot of tea on a Sunday and sit there and [read] cover to cover. My children know not to disturb me whilst I’m reading The Sunday Times. My husband finds it very strange that I have the paper version of it delivered to the house. He keeps saying just do it on your iPad, but it’s not the same. It has to be laid out on the table with my tea and I’ve done that for many years. I find it’s a really good roundup of lifestyle recipes through to business, through to investments, etc.

The Sunday Times is probably the most enjoyable out of everything that I do. The other place I go to is Harvard Business Review. Every month I’ll have a coffee and have a look on it. And every single time I find something that I can learn and apply, which is quite rare these days. So, Harvard Business Review is another one that career-wise, and also in terms of people management, I find really helpful.

In addition Netflix. Certainly over the last few years, the ability to watch whenever, fits into lifestyles. Interestingly, even working from home, you certainly worked far more hours. So being able watch where and when just to get a bit of relaxation – it seems frivolous, but it’s actually an important part of that disconnection from your work in the evenings.

And then obviously social media, so LinkedIn daily, and Instagram tends to be for retail therapy and inspiration.

How do you switch off?

I’ll probably switch attention more than switch off. I get bored quite quickly. Someone once said to me that there are two types of people in this world: people who relax by being passive, sitting or lying down on a sunbed and reading a book; or you can relax through movement.

I find meditation through movement – so things like gardening or hiking, walking, or Pilates. I very much relax by doing something, so I’m getting the movement. If I sit down, I start looking around and thinking, oh, I should probably be doing something else. The idea about meditation through movement for me, and getting outside to get fresh air, is really important.

Who, or what, inspires you?

I find inspiration in lots of different places. I had some medical issues last year from Covid and I was so humbled and inspired by the medical people that I interacted with. I found that their patience and grace under pressure really made me think about when I’m having a slight tantrum moment! I find it very inspiring to see others who are really good at their job, and do it in a way where you think, that’s awesome.

I also find inspiration from people who are visionaries. I do a lot of holidays in places like the Lake District, outdoors, so people like Octavia Hill, who was one of the founders of the National Trust, along with a couple of other people in 1895. She had this quote, which says the need of quiet, the need of air, the sight of sky and things growing is basically a human need.

I still find that inspirational today. Every time I go somewhere, I think someone had that vision and set that in motion, so that there are places we can go to today and that carries on – I just think it’s extraordinary.

I’m also inspired by the work we do with One Young World and Kate Robertson. She was one of the founders of One Young World, which is an organisation predominantly for people under 30, basically for young leaders to get together. There’s an annual summit and every year we send a delegation from Credit Suisse, and lots of other organisations send them, and people get sponsored as well.

I find Kate’s energy, her vision, her desire to bring change in the world and to understand human nature, using social media, bringing people together, I find her fantastic. I can’t wait to attend the summit again this year in Manchester in September.

And one little personal story: I love the idea of ‘mini adventures.’ One weekend, we hired a boat and were sailing up the Thames towards Windsor. There was a loch where you can all come together, so there are very big boats, lots of lovely leisure cruisers, and we were tied up alongside this very small wooden boat with a little tiny cabin on it. Everything on it was bright green. It was called Sprout.

We were chatting to the guy, a quite elderly gentleman. And he explained he’d retired, and his wife had passed away, and he decided he needed to have an adventure in life. So, he bought this boat that was cheap, which is why he’d painted it all green because it obviously needed loads of work and it was easier to just coat it all in a thick layer of paint!

He’d navigated from the source of the Thames out to the mouth of the Thames and was going back up again. He was stopping and seeing whatever life brings on the way. And I thought, That’s amazing. It’s not a grand plan; it’s not impacting anyone else, but he’s doing something and having an incredible adventure along the way. One day I want a Sprout.

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