10 questions with… Rachel Forde, UM UK CEO

This week's 10 Questions are put to UK CEO of Universal McCann (UM).

In an attempt to showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are put to UK CEO of Universal McCann (UM).

What was your first ever job?

I got a weekend job at Bally when I was 16. If you’ve spent any time in a shoe store recently, you’ll know the shoe is only the start of the journey: you also need to bear in mind the layers of services around the shoe – shoe health, accessories and so on. Bally may have been the perfect start to a career in the media.

I went travelling after university, funding the trip with temporary work. I knew I wanted to work in the media sector in some capacity on my return to the UK, so decided to gain skills that would prove more transferrable than bar work.

Like so many young Brits, I found my way to Australia. I applied for a three-month project checking data at a B2B publisher and spotted a grammar error in the grammar test during the interview. That sealed the deal and I went from office junior to running a magazine aimed at CIOs and managing a team of 12 people. Needless to say, the project lasted significantly longer than three months! I was tempted to stay down under but ultimately the lure of London’s media scene proved too great.

Which industry buzzword annoys you most?

This one might be controversial. I have no issue with ‘transformation’ as a concept, but I do object strongly to its overuse – and misuse! Transformation has become one of those catch-all terms that can mean almost anything depending on who you’re speaking to.

Moreover, it implies there’s an end goal and then you’re done. Surely everyone recognises that businesses don’t work like that? Technology moves so fast and processes will always need to adapt to the new opportunities it brings. We’re all on a journey and everyone is responsible for managing change, so it can’t come down to one single person. You might as well employ a ‘chief jargon officer’.

Who do you find most interesting to follow on social media?

I probably don’t do as much on social media as I should. I absolutely recognise just how important a role it plays in the sector and I do find impartial insights from the likes of @markritson and @davetrott really enlightening.

On a personal level, I greatly enjoy @drwilding’s Twitter feed and @brucedaisley reminds me this industry is full of wonderful human beings. Finally, and I’m not sure if this counts as a guilty pleasure, but would you judge me for checking in on Victoria Beckham’s Instagram account on a daily basis to see what she’s wearing?

Highlight of your career (so far?)

This is a truly horrible question and one deserving of a cop-out. There are lots of things I’m proud of: winning – and more importantly, retaining – clients, awards, my involvement in WACL … I honestly can’t pinpoint one single thing that’s been an individual highlight.

It’s important to remember that you’re only ever as good as the team around you. I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing people throughout my career and the many highlights have really been team achievements.

What piece of tech can you not live without?

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I couldn’t function without my smartphone. It’s lovely to reminisce about simpler times but I’m afraid I’m not one of those people who’s going to rush out one of those reissued/re-imagined ‘nineties phones. I need my smartphone to keep my life in order.

Who or what did you have posters of on your bedroom wall as a teenager?

I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be cool, but I used to love the front covers of The Face and the issue with a very young Kate Moss wearing the headdress is just so iconic. Later on, it was fliers from various club nights I’d been to around the country.

My older brother used to sneak me into the Hacienda and it’s fair to say it had a profound effect on me. I absolutely loved the place, to the extent that I recreated Peter Saville’s famous stripes on the pillars in my office at Mediavest. One of my enduring regrets is that I had to pass over the opportunity to be an extra in the movie Twenty Four Hour Party People.

In advertising, what needs to change soon?

This is probably going to sound like a broken record, but I suppose that’s the point: we really do need to address issues around diversity in this industry. While there is parity of pay for men and women to a greater extent than before, most of the top spots are still held by men and that’s pushing the pay gap backwards.

Equally, if the sector is really going to remain relevant and reflects all the audiences we’re speaking to, we need to bring in a greater diversity of thought by looking beyond the traditional recruitment routes.

What is (in your opinion) the greatest film/album/book of your life?

There are so many, so I’m going to cheat and go for Trainspotting because it covers all three! Irvine Welsh’s original novel was such a breath of fresh – well perhaps slightly stale – air and was steeped in music and pop culture. It was one of those novels that was considered almost unfilmable, but Danny Boyle did an incredible job in bringing such a singular vision to the screen. It’s still such an energising, exciting and moving film. What a cast, what a soundtrack and what an opening scene!

Which industry event can you not afford to miss each year and why?

It became a little bloated, slightly obscene even – and it did need a reset – but Cannes remains a massive date in the advertising calendar. As an industry, we absolutely need to make a big deal of creativity and the Cannes Lions remain the sector’s highest accolade. Also, the networking is great, the clients love it and it’s still where so many conversations start.

Closer to home and perhaps closer to my heart is WACL Gather. Coming back to my earlier point on diversity, it’s never been more important to develop the next generation of female senior agency leaders. It may be a big ticket item but the quality of the speakers and connections you’ll make there make it truly unmissable.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Be a radiator, not a drain. Positivity is such a great trait, as simply put people want to work with those with whom they enjoy spending time. Energy is infectious and this is particularly important when you have to think creatively.

Your attitude always has an impact on your colleagues, no matter what stage in your career you’re at, so always keep saying yes whenever you can.

10 Questions With... is a regular interview series with others available to be viewed here.

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