So You Want My Job? We Are Social CSO Mobbie Nazir on independent thinking
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.
Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer, We Are Social
This week we speak to Mobbie Nazir, chief strategy officer at We Are Social. But before we jump in, a quick reminder that you can subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter, Working it Out, which gathers up the best new marketing vacancies and helps you get interview-sharp.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a TV newsreader and a magician. Do they resemble what I do now? In ways, yes – newsreaders bring a voice of calm and authority to the room and they’re inherently trustworthy, there are definitely aspects of that in my job. And magicians perform to a crowd, they surprise and delight, making the unexpected happen, and there are elements of that in my role too.
When it comes to what my parents wanted me to do, that’s another story. They arrived in the UK from Pakistan with nothing. They had to build themselves up. They wanted me to be able to look after myself and make my way in the world, preferably as something scientific or a traditional profession like a lawyer or doctor.
A teacher said I might get into Oxford if I applied for English so they agreed to that – for all the other universities they wanted me to choose economics. As it happened, I was accepted – to an all-girls’ college, which was part of the compromise with my parents.
Having said that, my mother loves the arts and was a librarian until she retired. She was always bringing books home when we were growing up, so I read a lot, and she’s probably the reason I wanted to study English.
How did you get your job?
Like a lot of kids in the 80s, we watched a good deal of TV and I remember really wanting to be part of that culture, it seemed so magical. I loved the ads too, I was that annoying kid who wouldn’t let their parents switch over in commercial breaks. We’d always be quoting the Maureen Lipman BT ads to each other: ‘You got an ology, you’re a scientist!’
After I graduated, I did the advertising agency milk round and discovered the role of planner during the interview process, That was the role I was best suited to. Before I had no idea it was a job you could do. I made it through the interviews and ended up in a selection process that was kind of like The Apprentice, but I didn’t get hired. This was hugely gutting at the time but I had a cunning plan. I decided to work for my university career service – that way I’d be in the best place to find my dream job. So I actually worked in marketing for a research consultancy first.
It took around 10 years before I ended up in my first advertising job, as a marketing assistant at Digitas with American Express as my first client.
I now understand what might have seemed like a diversion has in fact been a huge advantage. The research consultancy focused on the IT and telecoms sectors and that made me realise I loved emerging technology – something I inherited from my dad – and encouraged me to look for a way to combine that interest with advertising. It was a move that futureproofed me.
Any obstacles/funny stories along the way? Anything you would do differently?
There are definitely people whose route to a chief strategy officer role was more direct than mine but thinking about it, there’s a lot to be said for the path I took, specifically working at communications agencies in different disciplines, like digital, direct marketing, advertising and PR, as well as having client services experience. I think having such a holistic skill set is a huge advantage in being a good planner.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
I think they do, to an extent. They know I work for a social media agency and how important social media is in the world right now. I know they’re proud of what I do, and unlike some friends’ parents, they never ask me when I’m going to get a proper job.
What do you love most about your job?
I love understanding what makes people tick. I’ve always found that fascinating. I get the chance to really talk to people, to discover what motivates them, how they’re different, how they’re the same. For anyone interested in behavioural psychology, planning is a great way to make that your job.
I also love that we get to work with some pretty sexy brands and that we focus on digital and social media. It’s the progressive end of advertising, so it keeps me young – there’s always something new to learn.
On a day-to-day basis, working in a creative environment means I’m lucky enough to feel like it’s not really work. That’s one of the nicest things about working in agencies: you get the best briefs and you are constantly creating concepts and coming up with new ideas.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
I didn’t start out with an idea that I’d end up in a chief strategy officer role; I don’t suppose a lot of people do. So my suggestion is not the most original – go and do something you really enjoy and you will progress at it. If you specifically want to succeed at strategy, then try to get a job in a progressive space or with an organisation that has a reputation for pushing boundaries.
What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?
It probably feels like a daunting time to be starting a career but I’d argue that it’s also an incredible time. That’s because we’re going through a period where everything is being reset, everything we thought we knew just got turned on its head. Immerse yourself in all the amazing research coming out about how behaviours are changing, prove yourself to be an independent thinker and you’ll probably make yourself an invaluable hire.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?
I’ve previously said resilience and empathy, and they’re still very important, but now I’d add that being curious and being open-minded are also vital traits.
Flexibility is also valuable, as we’ve learned over the last 12 months – not just for strategy either. I think it was Mike Tyson who said ‘everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth’. So yes, being willing to adapt is a huge asset.
Who should those who want your job read or listen to?
I don’t want to talk about a specific author; instead, I’d say spend time with real people, not just the industry bubble, and listen to what they say. As a planner you’re there to represent the audience, the consumer, so do everything you can to understand different perspectives.
In this day and age that also means getting out of your bubble, not just listening to people whose opinions you agree with or who have the same experience you do. Brexit, for example, was a big lesson for marketers. If you lived in London it was really easy to believe that most of us were remainers. Clearly that wasn’t the case. When big events happen we should, of course, follow them in the mainstream news, but also listen to conversations going on in other groups. It serves us well to understand how other people think.