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So You Want My Job: Guinness marketer James Lace on culture of creativity and freedom

James Lace works on the Guinness brand and is based in Dublin

Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting. This week we talk to James Lace, assistant brand manager for Guinness at Diageo.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?

When I was very young I wanted to be a supermarket cashier as I thought you got to keep all the money. A bit older, but not much wiser, I wanted to be in a band despite having no musical ability. The romance and thrill of being a frontman was very appealing. How does that compare to now? Well, I’m part of a team that produces a lot of great work (I even did a Spotify ad recently) and the Guinness logo is a harp. Does this all count as being in a band?

How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.

My dad and grandad were both marketing men. Despite this, I never considered marketing as a career for me. I wanted to rebel and become an economist or something similar. However, following some less-than-perfect A-level results, I didn’t meet the university entry requirements and therefore had to reconsider. So I picked up the gauntlet and studied marketing at university.

During my three years I did internships at agencies of all shapes and sizes, notably at AMV on Guinness (a foreshadowing of things to come). I then went through the grueling process of finding a graduate job, but was fortunate to land my dream one at Diageo on the marketing graduate scheme. After a very fun year on Smirnoff, I now reside in Dublin working on Guinness.

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

There’s nothing like a good conversation with a taxi driver to brighten your day. Their interest usually piques a little when I say I work for Guinness; it’s amazing how many taxi drivers have a personal connection to the brand, brewery or just Ireland through their own or family experiences.

To answer the question, though, as part of a fantastic brand team we manage the Guinness brand in Ireland and we do more than just make cool ads. Personally, I lead our digital marketing, so any of our ads you see online, on your social media feeds or digital radio and music is me. I’m also our team’s lead for Guinness sustainability in Ireland, where we’re rethinking our impact on the environment and working with communities. We’re going to change how we take from and give back to the world around us – for the better, that is.

What do you love most about your job?

It’s fun. Shock, working for an alcohol brand is fun, I know. But seriously, it is. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have only had empowering managers who’ve instilled a culture of creativity and freedom in myself and others, which allows for free-flowing, creative work.

From briefing agencies to creative presentations and photoshoots to then finally seeing your work live, it’s a fun journey. This and, of course, being able to enjoy a Guinness fresh from the source.

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

To get my exact job you’ll need to apply to the Diageo marketing grad scheme. There’s an intake every year across Europe and I’d thoroughly recommend applying. Speaking more broadly, the best advice I can give is to get experience, any and as much of it as you can.

Search for your local agencies and brands, do some research on them and if inspired by their work, send off emails asking for a few weeks of experience/internship. One you get one it will be easier to get another and so on. I’ve also found most are willing to pay for your time, so don’t let the fear of that put you off asking.

I believe a big advantage in life comes from living it, not waiting around. Particularly when looking for a job, good things do not come to those who wait.

What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?

Plans are only plans. You will have to accept you can’t control everything and circumstances will change, but it’s your decision making – not your plan – that will set you apart.

Put an emphasis on learning. Regardless of what you do, whether you’re blessed with success or failure, I think the goal should be to look back in a year and be happy you understand more about yourself, your job and how to do great work. It’s vital you reflect and understand the why and how.

Whenever in doubt, keep it simple. It takes a real talent to realize you need to take away rather than add more to achieve better outcomes.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun.

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

Curiosity. I’ve always been curious as to how things work and why we do them as we do. I also like to take that curiosity mindset to challenge, invent and try new things. I think this is summed up well in a Miles Davis quote: “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” The combination of curiosity and experimentation leads to exciting marketing.

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

For marketing-specific content everyone should listen to and read Steve Jobs – his work and thinking was ahead of its time. I believe we should all seek inspiration from outside our industry too, so immerse yourself in the creative arts.

Personally I love cooking and the creativity lessons within the discipline are so applicable to marketing. Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm and Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura are great reads that explain their thought-provoking and rule-breaking creative process – as well as providing great recipes. For music I’d say listen to The Rolling Stones, Khruangbin, Loyle Carner and Cool Wine.

Discover who’s been named the best emerging marketers in the industry in The Drum’s Future 50.

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