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So You Want My Job? Colm Murphy on his serendipitous journey to becoming chief strategy officer

So You Want My Job? Colm Murphy explains how to be a chief strategy officer

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 Colm Murphy, chief strategy officer of The&Partnership and m/Six in New York. 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 growing up?

I wanted to be a drum and bass DJ. But alas it turns out I was much better at the partying than performing. And no, being an agency chief strategy officer doesn’t have much to do with that… although I suppose you could say my job is finding the perfect mix between creative and media. Har! Har!

How did you get your job?

I initially got into advertising by accident. Or perhaps you could call it serendipity. The story is, I was finishing up a master’s degree in computer science and had no idea what I wanted to do. Through a friend got two weeks work experience at JWT London in the research department. That initial two-week stint ended up turning into 10 years.

One thing that has changed over the years has been the value of my computer science degree. At the beginning of my career, it was something of an oddity. But as the industry has become dominated by tech and data it has actually become pretty useful. I think it shows that you should follow your interests, rather than focusing on the ’right’ things. Diversity of skills is the most important thing an agency can have.

In terms of my current job at The&Partnership, you could call it a story of the band getting back together. I had worked with both Agnes Fischer (president, New York) and Justin Ruben (executive creative director, New York) at Droga5 running the Chase account, and over the course of about three months a couple of years ago we found ourselves reuniting here.

OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

The taxi driver answer is ’I make ads’. Those guys don’t need me boring them. The real answer is I lead both creative and media strategy to make sure the work works and everyone that needs to be is on board.

A lot of my job is really about understanding people. What’s important to them, how they live, where they find meaning and enjoyment. The longer I do this the more I’ve realized that applies to your own people and clients as much as the audience.

The other aspect of strategy is trying to look ahead, figure out what’s coming next and then position clients to thrive as things change. I will say trying to predict the future offers great lessons in the value of humility.

Do your parents understand what it is that you do?

Vaguely. They know I work in advertising in New York and they’re tremendously proud of course.

What do you love most about your job?

Great clients. The smart, talented, funny and dedicated people I get to work with every day. The opportunity to work at an agency that combines the vigor and smarts of a hot independent shop with the power of network-strength tools.

Additionally, my role itself – in that I oversee strategy for both a creative and media agency – is something of a throwback to a not-so-distant advertising past where marketers had a single, do-it-all agency rather than a collection of disparate specialists. Clients don’t and shouldn’t have to care about agency disciplines.

While The&Partnership has pioneered this return to everything under a single roof model, I think it’s an example the rest of the industry is increasingly adopting. So I imagine this type of role is only going to grow.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

There’s no single right path and I would caution against over planning. One of the things I have found over the years is that advertising skills can get out of date, but being an interesting person does not. I’d much rather hire a strategist who has followed their passions and taken the scenic route than someone who went to school just to study advertising. Agencies are better and strategies are better when we can bring a diversity of opinions, perspectives, expertise and life experience to the work.

One thing that I do think is valuable is being exposed to as many parts of the business as possible early in your career. People naturally tend to inflate the importance of their particular discipline and to be a good strategist you really need to have a broad view of the entire business, understanding the interplay between all aspects of the process, from creative inspiration to the intricacies of data and measurement.

Finally, wherever you are in your career, it’s important to not get too comfortable. Things are always changing, so it’s important to keep learning and keep engaging with new information, ideas and people.

What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?

A healthy, ever-present paranoia of becoming out-of-date.

Who should those who want your job read or listen to?

I think the most important thing is to engage with the world. Learn as many things as you can about as many things as you can. Follow your real interests and listen to everyone – especially people you disagree with.

Last week, we talked to Mobbie Nazir, chief strategy officer at We Are Social.

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