Earlier this year Claire Valoti became managing director of O2 Media, a new mobile advertising venture from the telecoms company. This significant career move came off the back of an uninterrupted spell at Mindshare, the digital media agency that took her on as a graduate in 2000.
Despite her rapid ascent of the career ladder, Valoti is understated when she considers the origins of her success to date, explaining: “I was brought up in a family where the attitude was, whatever you do, give it 100 per cent, which I think has stood me in good stead.”
While she was growing up, Valoti’s parents ran their own hotel business. Seeing them regularly working seven day weeks and long hours with total dedication had a profound influence on her.
“Their standards have rubbed off on me a lot. That desire to demonstrate commitment, and to maintain a high work ethic, is ingrained in me.”
When Valoti joined Mindshare 12 years ago the digital industry was growing fast and full of potential.
“When you get into something in its infancy, as digital was in 2000, your career speeds through it that bit quicker. If you look at my peer group in the industry, many of them have gone on to achieve some great things. At the time, though, a lot of us didn’t quite realise the significance of what we’d got into.”
Is such accelerated career growth still possible in the new, mature, much-larger digital market? Valoti thinks it’s about seizing chances when they present themselves.
“I think that digital is more challenging now because digital expertise is more widespread – but the opportunities are there. Look at mobile, for example. I see a lot of people doing extraordinarily well in their career as a result of getting into mobile early on.”
Mobile has positively affected Valoti’s career too. During her time at Mindshare she adopted responsibility for the emerging channel, experience which in turn led to her step up to O2.
After 12 years Mindshare must have felt firmly like her home territory; has the transition been difficult?
“It’s been a massive learning curve for me, and I always knew that it would be. Leading a whole business, and all the elements that make it up, is a fascinating challenge.”
Valoti feels strongly the benefits she’s enjoyed as a result of her long service at Mindshare, not least the massive career opportunity at the end of it. She’s dedicated to building teams where such loyalty and progression is the norm, rather than the exception.
“I think that employers have to get better at rewarding loyalty. It’s critical that we create career paths for people – that we create a nurturing environment where individuals feel that they can grow, develop emotional attachments and stay for a long time.
“That’s what kept me at Mindshare for so long. They evolved my role and allowed me to grow. I don’t take that for granted. Not all companies do it. The churn in digital is a genuine problem. People can end up in a vicious cycle where they move so frequently that they miss opportunities that they could have been given – exposure to different parts of an agency, new skills.”
With a two year old daughter at home, Valoti knows first hand the juggling act required to maintain a career and a family. She identifies the role of the employer as key to ensuring that the process succeeds.
“It’s about choices. If women want or need flexibility then that should be recognised and accommodated. Women need confidence to set the terms of their job.”
Not that Valoti is asking for special treatment.
“All employees should be output driven. If you’re doing what you need to do to succeed in your job and getting results then that should be all there is to it.”
Right now, Valoti’s challenge is a very positive and exciting one. As managing director of O2’s fledgling media arm, she’s one of the people at the heart of a large shift in the digital advertising culture.
“We’re trying to transform the mobile advertising space. We have 10 million people opted-in to a messaging service where we can target against a huge amount of data: demographic, location, call activity behavioural information; it’s a sophisticated offering.
“Most advertisers really want to step-up what they’re doing in the space and be as targeted as they can. Our challenge at O2 is that what we are doing is a break from previous models, so it doesn’t necessarily fit in a traditional digital budget, an outdoor budget or what have you. That can make things take a little longer, but do brands want to embrace it? Absolutely.”
And whilst Valoti is now working in a new and exciting area of technology in advertising, she’s finding that she’s not charting wholly unfamiliar waters.
“It’s not massively dissimilar from agency world. When you start comparing the cultures, you see a lot in common. Having come here I’ve realised just what a large and useful network of contacts in digital I’ve built over the years.”
That network of people is extremely important to Valoti. In the way that earlier in her life she found inspiration from her parents, she’s sought the same energy and impetus from those around her as her career has progressed.
“I need to work with people who have energy and passion – solutions people. I work best when I feel like I’m collaborating with people who inspire me. I like to be around people who push me and question me.”
Now that she’s a managing director, does she find herself being questioned less?
“No, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s about identifying people to be in your leadership team who you know will challenge you in a positive way. I think I can recognise people’s potential, and a big part of that is that they challenge and aren’t afraid to ask “why?””