So You Want My Job? Rebecca Bezzina, R/GA London MD: ‘From day one, I wanted to lead’
Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest roles 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.
Rebecca Bezzina, managing director at R/GA London
This week we catch up with Rebecca Bezzina, managing director at R/GA London.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?
I wanted to be a backup dancer for Beyoncé. While I would still jump at the chance if she came along asking, I’m very happy with the career I’ve built out in corporate life.
Leading a digital innovation agency might seem pretty far removed from being a backup dancer in a performance, but there are certainly some similarities. For one, being a backup dancer is being part of a team, where everyone needs to move in sync to achieve an amazing end product. Moreover, dancing is a creative expression, but also the perfect combination of art and science. This certainly rings true to a lot of what we do at R/GA from a creative standpoint.
And many argue that Beyoncé is the best in the business, she’s world-class – which is certainly something I can also say about the team and business I’m lucky enough to lead here in London.
How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.
After university, I started working for a magazine publishing company in their sales and marketing team on a number of gardening titles and quickly picked up the skills of the job. The job, however, didn’t make me jump out of my bed, and I soon realized that I didn’t want to be talking about selling the space – instead, I wanted to create the work to fill the space.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Every day on the walk to work, I would go past George Patterson’s office in Sydney. At the time, the agency was known for so many iconic pieces of work, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that. I got a job offer for an entry-level position at the agency. At the time I took a huge pay cut and started at the bottom. It was worth it to work in a field that I really wanted to be in. I was an account executive working on the largest telecommunications company in Australia.
I figured out early on how many years it would take me to get to a point where I would be able to lead a company. I was laser-focused on this for years – literally from the day I started at the agency. I worked hard, said yes to everything and always tried to work on the most complex projects, which at the time were not sexy at all. I cut my teeth working on large-scale direct marketing campaigns, and building CRM and technology platforms, and eventually got into campaign work.
I did everything from launching the first social accounts for Qantas Airways to working on the launch of the first A380, and from repositioning the largest bank in the country with a new brand positioning to building a bespoke CRM/technical platform for a large telco.
Years later I eventually got the managing director job. While I had achieved my goal, I remember it being difficult in the first year and it was full of highs and lows. A mentor once told me that being managing director is one of those jobs you can’t prepare for until you do it, and they were so right. I wouldn’t do things differently at all. I have had some great and not-so-great experiences, but from them all I have taken away new things and continued to evolve, and that’s what made me the leader I am today.
OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
You can look at it this way; I am a coach of a world-class sporting team, but instead of trying to win a match, my job is working to get all the right people into the right formation to correctly tackle our client business challenges.
Being senior vice-president, managing director of R/GA London means I’m responsible for driving forward the growth and success of the agency and ensuring we continue to produce our best work for our clients. We talk about humanizing technology, and that’s a large part of what I try to do for our clients. Whether it’s designing and branding a completely new virtual bank, or creating programs for Nike to educate women on how to sync their training to their menstrual cycle, my role is making sure we continue to be the best agency at combining technology and creativity to solve both human and business problems.
Lastly, and most importantly, I feel a huge amount of responsibility to make sure our company, and our industry, is a much more equitable and open-minded place that encourages, not restricts, diversity. I remind myself on a daily basis to never lose sight of making sure that our work and all we do here is truly inclusive.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
I’m not sure I could say my parents fully understand the ins and outs of my job. But they know that I love what I do and that I work with exciting clients to make cool things for people to experience. They’re proud that I have been able to chase my dreams. I really am lucky to have such a supportive family that instilled the values that are core to how I lead my life today.
What do you love most about your job?
I love so many things about my job and I feel lucky to actually say that and mean it. I love that it’s forever changing and that I don’t have all the answers. I love bringing teams together and getting fired up around a common goal. Most of all I love that I get to spend my days solving complex problems with great people who tackle issues in different and exciting ways.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
Make sure you enjoy the industry – you have to lead change, inspire and bring people together, and loving the industry you work in helps as a start.
Learn as much as you can about the business you’ve just joined. As you advance in your career, your role could change and you might double down on a certain discipline such as creative or client services, or get exposed to new parts of the business such as new business, commercials and operations. You could also get more responsibilities such as leading and managing teams and dealing with clients, and it is paramount that you understand your agency’s services to fully help the business and potential clients.
Finally, I don’t believe there is a natural path you have to follow – but I would definitely say start somewhere where you can get exposed to lots of different problems, clients and people. Use that as a springboard to work out what you enjoy and then if you want to specialize or not. Within those roles continue to be on the front line with clients, get exposed to the commercial parts of the business and have experience leading and working with as many types of teams and people as you can.
What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?
There will never be a perfect time to join. Something is always happening. Despite the chaos, now is actually a great time to join if you want a career in this industry. While these are uncertain times, the pandemic has created opportunities to innovate and encourage diversity of thought. It’s also no secret that businesses are now looking at talent differently more and more, which brings exciting opportunities itself.
Be curious and want to learn, raise your hand and get involved and remember what we do each day is to get as much data and information to make the right set of decisions around recommendations, and then create brilliant things. The most important thing I would say is to be bold, ambitious, gain confidence and remember everything is possible.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?
I lead with my head and heart. It’s a real balance as a leader, but I have a very authentic leadership style and I believe it’s one of my strongest assets. You need to manage being firm but fair, and having a deep understanding of your team and the individuals that make up the whole is important.
Who should those who want your job read or listen to?
Listen to yourself. Having confidence in this job comes from within; and no matter what you read or listen to, you will have to do the work yourself. I’ve obviously also been privileged to learn a lot from people such as R/GA’s founder Bob Greenberg, and our current chief executive Sean, for example – so never miss an opportunity to listen to your mentors and bosses as you progress up the corporate ladder. Outside of R/GA, the last book I read was The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier, which was great.
Last week we caught up with Graham Drew, who wears many hats as chief creative officer for Grey Malaysia, global executive creative director for Carlsberg and a member of the Grey Global Creative council.