Welcome to So You Want My Job? where, each week, we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. And, along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can help inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.
This week we speak to Scott Spirit, chief growth officer of S4 Capital Group. But before we jump in, a quick reminder that you can subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter, Working it Out, which maps the trends in the wider jobs market.
What did you want to be when you growing up, and does your job now resemble that in any way?
I grew up in a farming community in the North Yorkshire Dales, so as a kid I wanted to follow in the footsteps of James Herriot and become a vet. Spending a week shadowing a local vet, standing freezing cold in the snow, watching him with his arm shoulder-deep in a cow’s arse, soon put paid to that idea. And from then on it was all about plotting my escape and heading to the ’Bright Lights, Big City’ and gold-paved streets of London.
How did you get your current job?
Sir Martin Sorrell called me and asked if I’d like to team up again. I said yes without even knowing the role. But there was a 15-year journey that got me to that point.
I first started working with Martin in 2003 as his assistant – an apprenticeship of sorts. In 2006, he and Miles Young (then the Ogilvy Asia chief executive) ganged up on me during a trip to China and persuaded me to move there. Moving to Shanghai was an incredible adventure and learning experience. The opportunity to embrace a new culture and witness the explosive development there was a privilege and an experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. From then on, every time I relaxed and took a breath Martin would throw me a new challenge or responsibility, pushing my boundaries and making for a rewarding career where I was always learning, ultimately becoming the global chief strategy and chief digital officer at WPP.
So when the opportunity to partner with him again came up it was a no-brainer for me. My career has been defined by the people I work with – colleagues I trust, respect and can learn from – and I’m delighted to be working with a new inspiring crew at S4.
OK, so what is it you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
I work in advertising for a new company called S4 Capital and we are on a mission to shake up the industry and do things differently. I’m responsible for growing the company. I explain what we do to analysts and investors so we can raise capital, I persuade amazing entrepreneurs to join us and merge their companies into S4 and I help convince clients that we are the best partner to help them grow their businesses.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
No. When my gran was alive she religiously kept a scrapbook of articles about WPP in case I “missed something”, but she had no idea what I actually did and I don’t think my parents do either. That said, they and the rest of my family are all investors in S4 so I know they’ve placed their trust in me and that’s a responsibility that’s never far from my mind.
What do you love most about your job?
The variety, the pace and the people. My role and responsibilities are broad, so it’s certainly never boring or monotonous. S4 is a young and fast-growing company – the speed at which we move and make decisions, the agility built into our model is exhilarating. Finally, and most importantly, I draw inspiration from the people I work with and the team at S4 are the most ambitious, talented and fun group I’ve ever met. I’ve really missed spending time with them in person this past year.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job?
We’ve just launched a fellowship programme at S4 specifically targeting graduates from historically Black colleges and universities in the US. The four-year program was built with a clear mission to empower young, exceptional students from traditionally underrepresented communities as part of a next-generation fellowship program. It offers new grads an immersive, hands-on experience with our clients and partners, an apprenticeship with S4 leadership and the chance to work abroad – something that did my own career a world of good and broadened my horizons. Participants in the fellowship will gain both a bird’s-eye and hands-on view of what it’s like to be a chief executive through formalized apprenticeships, helping organize leadership activities, as well as contributing to and participating in their meetings. This includes working inside global brand clients, where fellows will have a chance to work with the world’s biggest disruptors, entrepreneurs and leaders on award-winning campaigns and marketing.
You can find out more here. And if you don’t qualify for that, then we are hiring at all levels and locations – come work with us.
What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?
I can’t think of a more exciting time to join the industry – there’s plenty of opportunities. Remember, there’s no such thing as an overnight success – be patient and work hard. Sadly, our industry is not known for the kind of training programmes that the law, accounting or finance industries provide (although we are certainly trying to change that at S4). This means you need to be a self-starter and seek out opportunities to learn. Be hungry for knowledge and experiences, try to gravitate to work for and with people who will invest their time in your future and give you opportunities to challenge yourself. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work for/with mentors like Paul Zwillenberg, Mike Anderson, Miles Young, Ranjan Kapur (RIP), TB Song, Bessie Lee and, of course, Martin. Choose your colleagues over brands, job titles and (if possible) salaries. It’s a team sport.
What personal trait makes you most suited to your role?
Empathy. So much in marketing is about persuasion, whether you are using creative storytelling to encourage an emotional response to a brand or data-driven performance strategies to trigger a purchase or action. It’s hard to be persuasive without a good helping of empathy – being able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand their mindset. I’m not creating campaigns day-to-day, but my role involves a significant amount of negotiation. I’ve seen many styles of negotiation in my career and often people treat it like a war, going all out to win and vanquish the other party. For me, a successful negotiation is the start of a long term relationship, whether with an investor, entrepreneur or client. And the only way to ensure a healthy future is empathy during the process, putting myself in their place, understanding their motivations and ambitions and being willing to help them achieve them.
What should anyone wanting your job be reading or listening to?
I’ve always got one of David Ogilvy’s classics on the go. I read them over and over again and find new relevance every time. I’m not a big fan of marketing academics, but I do enjoy professor Scott Galloway although I don’t always agree with him. I prefer to learn from practitioners. Social media has gotten a bad rap recently, but we can celebrate the fact it allows us to get wisdom directly from the source. I’d encourage you to search out people in the industry you respect and admire – scour Linkedin, Medium, Substack and podcasts for their content. For me, it’s mainly colleagues and ex-colleagues such as Bessie Lee and Kaiser Kuo on China, Rob Norman for his media soothsaying, Mary Meeker for her internet trends, John Ghiorso on e-commerce, Chris Martin on data, Rishad Tobaccowalla for his general wisdom, Ciaran O’Kane for his no-nonsense views on adtech, Diana Rau for her optimism, Brian Jacobs on media, George Tannenbaum for his acerbic wit and Lanya Zambrano for her humanity in leadership and commitment to diversity and inclusion… and countless others.
Last week, we heard from Ricky Sans, the strategic partner manager for memes at Instagram.