Reckon that your first job will dictate your career? Thankfully for many of us, that isn’t necessarily the case. Iain Bundred started his career in The Student Wing of the Labour Party, rising to the Prime Minister’s official political spokesperson and now sits as Head Of Corporate and Public Affairs for the creative behemoth that is Ogilvy PR London. So what exactly does he have to say about kicking off a creative career? We sat down with him to talk life in the media, the secret to a good job interview, and not deciding it all aged 21…
For those not up on their stonkingly brilliant creative companies, Ogilvy PR is a eye-moisteningly impressive global public relations agency that – last year alone – won 16 international awards, making it the most decorated PR agency in the UK. As Head of Corporate and Public Affairs since March of 2011, Iain Bundred is pretty well-versed in international branding strategy, media relations, cross-platform communications and complicated job descriptions. We were lucky enough to pick his brain on behalf of blossoming young creative things everywhere…
Your job is obviously quite brilliant. What do you love about it, and working in the world of media in general?
For me, it’s the fast-paced environment, dealing with new challenges every day. As a news junkie myself I really enjoy working with the media, but in the job that I do I also get to work with a variety of different clients in new sectors, stretching new skills, meaning I’m constantly learning. I’ve always loved the media; I was a student journalist, then got sucked onto being on the other side of the fence for media relations, then into politics, and now, of course, Ogilvy.
In your experience, are there any skills that remain constantly vital in the world of PR?
Creativity is crucial. Certainly at Ogilvy, we pride ourselves on our creativity, on our ability to think bigger to be better, and I think that’s a drive that links everyone who works here. But the thing about creativity is that it ultimately comes from curiosity – in a fascination for the world around you, and the desire to learn more, all the time.
It’s important to be the kind of person who is always interested; always looking to soak up as much information as you can about business issues, about what’s going on in the media, about society trends in general – if you’re not curious about this stuff, you’re not going to be interested in learning more and you won’t be able to develop.
Do you think there’s a type of learning that is particularly relevant to PR, as opposed to the media world at large?
In terms of PR specifically, there’s a different level to it, sure; about understanding not just what’s interesting, but what matters. Whereas in journalism you can follow a story for the pure fascination in it, in an agency world you always want to take it back to the business objective for the client, and understanding what they are trying to achieve. You need to develop a filter, and a knack for understanding the difference between something that is interesting, and something that is relevant.
So is it this interest you look for in the people you hire?
Definitely. The people I hire are always passionate, and always fun. I tend to hire people who want to have a good time, are looking for a bit of excitement in their day to day – seeing as you spend more time in the office than you do at home, you certainly want to be around people who will keep things interesting!
I also tend to hire people who have very strong personalities. I don’t necessarily want people who will agree with everything I say – after all, no one person can always be right; and you’re never going to learn anything unless you surround yourself with people you can bounce ideas off and get differing perspectives from. I’ve always found that better ideas come from working together, and for that you need people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinion, no matter how it differs from yours.
Is there anything (or alternatively anything lacking) on a CV or job application that would be an instant turn off?
I think I’m relatively forgiving, as I’ve been on the other side of it so many times and know how overwhelming it can sometimes be! But what I would say is that we do a lot of presentation training, and one of the things we always tell our team is that your body language is very important, your tone and pitch – and for someone going into an interview, I’d say you need to treat it almost as if you’re going into a TV interview. People spend so long worrying about content – and they rightly should – but you need to think about how you’re getting your information across, what they’re looking like, how you present and pitch yourself.
What would really impress you at interview?
I think the most important thing is just to understand the company you’re speaking to. I talk to a lot of people who just turn up and know nothing about the business –which isn’t necessarily terrible, but it does mean that a lot of time is then taken up with explanation about the company, rather than exploration as to whether they’re a good fit for us. Most of all, it just communicates that you just don’t want it enough. You always know when someone’s done their research.
Look up the person you’re meeting on Linked IN, have an idea of their interests, and don’t forget to look at the day’s newspapers. It sounds silly, but considering this company – and I – live, eat and breathe news, so many people don’t even know what the headlines of the day are. I think if you’re naturally curious about the world around you, that’s almost an instinct, but even if it’s not, it’s vital to be prepared.
Your career path has obviously been brilliantly varied, in your experience and of what you’ve seen, is there a ‘best way’ to get started in PR?
I wouldn’t say there’s a best way. Looking at my team I have about 20 people, and among them a few of them are journalists, a few of them are straight out of uni, a few of them have been in a few PR agencies in their time and I myself came from politics.
The funny thing is that I think a lot of people sit there at 21 years old and think that they have to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, right then and there. I find that quite a depressing thought. For me, that’s not the way to start a satisfying, stimulating career. Instead, just think about what excites you, what you are passionate about right now, and try and find a way into that.
So that’s what you did?
Well, I spent University thinking that I wanted to be a journalist, but I loved politics too, and once I’d graduated I found myself working for The Student Wing of the Labour party rather than a newspaper – and it was brilliant. Probably the longest hours I’ve ever worked in my life, but I felt like I was working for Number 10, and that was really inspiring to me.
That was when I realised that you don’t necessarily have to create a ‘career plan’ for yourself – you can follow what you’re interested in, what you feel passion for, and let the long-term stuff take care of itself. You may have a plan of where you want to be in 10 years, but just be aware that there’s probably no ‘one’ way of achieving that. Stay flexible, keep having fun and do things you’re passionate about.
Any final words of wisdom for media-loving grads out there?
I have to bring it back to curiosity. Don’t become obsessed about your next job move, or where you’re going to be in 5 or 10 years’ time, instead, just be interested in everything that’s happening around you. Not only will you find that opportunities present themselves, you’ll have a lot more fun along the way.
You can find Iain Bundred on Twitter @iainbundred, and find out more about the glorious Ogilvy PR UK here.
Interviewed by Natasha Hodgson, Enternships Community Manager