In their own words, some WPP Fellows who have participated in the program:
"In no more than 300 words, please introduce yourself."
That's how it began just under a year ago when I applied for the Fellowship. Whilst the request is reasonable, it is of course, a deeply introspective and unnerving task. It forced me to ask myself: what do I really want? After graduating in English and gaining a certificate in Graphic Design, I'd spent a year considering careers in various things - book cover design, or writing short fiction, or maybe starting a body art business, or human rights law. I realised at some point in that year that my biggest problem wasn't the lack of jobs, or endless internships, or graduating into the recession. It was rather that I didn't actually want to decide on any one thing. I wanted to craft stories and talk with pictures, have the buzz of working with a start-up one day and a global corporation the next.
Maybe I was afraid of commitment but we are our choices and I didn't want to make the wrong one. I've always been conscious of the fact that my options are only limited by my own imagination and as a result of that, an anxiety that I should be doing everything has always accompanied me. Today I'm at Landor Associates in London, on my first rotation, and though that anxiety to do everything is still there, I know now that I'm in the right place to experiment, question and explore. The Fellowship has given me the opportunity to redefine and reintroduce myself continuously over the next three years. It champions the vague, the curious, and the restless. Here, in no more than 300 words I've introduced myself, I urge you to do the same!
I am not quite sure when I realised it. Perhaps it was standing in a claustrophobic shed containing three hundred squawking hens whilst tentatively holding out my microphone as I interviewed a farmer and trying not to get my feet pecked! Or maybe it was scavenging the fruit and vegetable boxes at the end of a weekend market in Nantes with a freegan I'd discovered on the internet for a radio documentary on sustainable living.
These were just some of the highlights of my year working as a broadcast journalist for a French radio station in Nantes - and it was then that I realised just how much I enjoyed asking questions. And just how much I loved going out 'in the field' - quite literally - to meet people from different walks of life and to discover their stories.
When I think about it from this perspective, the fact that I ended up working in this industry does not seem so accidental after all. Being able to combine my passion for telling creative stories whilst scratching my itch to quite simply 'sell stuff' made the WPP Fellowship, in particular, a great fit.
So what stories have I discovered and weaved whilst working as a first-year WPP Fellow in a strategist role at the media agency, Maxus?
I've been privileged to hear the personal and intimate stories of menopausal women in order to explore the cultural tensions between 'ageing' and 'menopause' and I've been able to use those stories to examine how skincare brands can speak to the emotional aspects of menopause that many women go through.
My running trainers finally saw the inside of a sports centre this year when I interviewed gym-goers and the editor of Men's Fitness
magazine to understand how wearable technology is changing the way we approach health and fitness.
But my favourite story by far has involved me time-travelling back to my childhood of Enid Blyton tales involving imperious pixies, enchanted trees and treacle puddings for our work on National Book Tokens. Through reliving my own childhood reading experience, I look forward to telling the story of how one online retailer, Grinch, stole Christmas and how book tokens brought back the magic. The End.
I'm a Dubliner with French roots and insatiable, short-term curiosity. Just about anything fascinates me for five minutes to five weeks and then gets replaced by something else. As I write this I'm really into bike maintenance and the question: "what makes a social cause matter to an individual?" One of those is for a client... I'll let you guess which.
My career kicked off in the international aid sector, which involved a lot of unconventional settings, and even more unconventional tropical illnesses. Many aspects of life grabbed my attention during that time, but one particular observation endured. Whether it was in post-earthquake Haiti or rural Congo, communications - the profit-driven, the political, the philanthropic - seemed to be profoundly impacting people's lives, and sometimes changing them for the better.
I came to WPP to learn from the sector that creates so much of the marketing we see in the world. During my first year I've worked on everything from a global anti-slavery initiative to America's greatest department store as a planner at JWT, the agency many say invented the discipline. Its been a blast, I'm learning every day and can't wait for what's to come.
One tip. If you're reading all these bios, feeling intimidated, and wondering why on earth WPP would pick you... apply! I can guarantee you every one of us felt just the same way.
As an undergrad applying for jobs, I always knew that I had to be in an industry that was creative, dynamic and intelligent. That's when I chanced upon a call for applicants for the Fellowship. I was one of those who really believed that I wouldn't get in. In fact, I almost didn't apply for it. What talents did I have? People my age had founded start-ups or NGOs while others had achieved some sort of fame for their skills. Me? I enjoyed observing people and the nuances of their behaviours. I thought I was pretty good at picking up such details. Little did I know that this 'talent' of mine would allow me to delve deeper into consumer insights in my first rotation, with The Futures Company in Singapore.
To gain insights for projects, I have interviewed experts from all over the world from a variety of fields. One day, I could be on a Skype call with a Nigerian urban planner while the next I could be speaking to an Argentinian development economist or gushing over the awesomeness of Amazon's drones with the head of a European business. Recently, I interviewed the anonymous founder of Rich Kids of Instagram to understand the behaviours of wealthy teenagers better. I have worked to identify trends that will impact Asia by the next decade. I also studied the differences between generations within the UK and Germany to decipher each of their unique purchasing behaviours. I basically spoke to, and learnt about, all kinds of people.
The Fellowship is unlike any other job or graduate program. Despite being the most junior member of an extremely senior team, I am entrusted with a lot more responsibility than many of my peers. I have also worked on published thought leadership pieces and regularly contribute to The Futures Company's 'trend & tonic' blog where I write about anything I find interesting. I can take on as much as I want to (and you always end up wanting to take on as much as possible because everything seems so exciting). I have mentors and supervisors who give me the space to work independently and yet, are intuitive enough to know when I'd like them to step in and guide me.
The main thing that excites me about the Fellowship is that I have no idea what I'll be working on over the three years. What I do know is that I'll be working on some really interesting, unexpected and inspiring projects. Most importantly, I will always be able to make a difference using whatever 'talents' I have.
10:55pm: I'm in the middle of Lord Mandelson's living room and Hugh Grant has just asked me to dance. I didn't even notice the Members of Parliament, foreign royals and industry titans mingling over a colourful array of canapés. I was too busy willing my salsa dancing experience from my Mexican hometown not to fail me. One thing was for sure - this was no ordinary office holiday party. But there I was, starting my second rotation of the WPP Fellowship and accepting his offer. After all, my grandmother always taught me to live as I danced: deliberately. And I wasn't about to sit this one out.
The WPP Fellowship is a job that constantly blurs the lines of what is possible and impossible. It is a tailor-made role that we never knew existed, but fits each of us like a glove. During my first rotation I conducted ethnographic research and focus groups with Hispanic women, watched a global marketing campaign come to life, developed an app to help you identify allergies and launched a new social good practice within the walls of the world's first advertising agency. But that was only the beginning.
This year I have collaborated with top decision-makers from every corner of the globe. I worked on a project brokering the future of natural gas exports in the Eastern Mediterranean and wrote briefs for Chairmen of multinationals looking to navigate rapidly shifting policy environments in Europe, Africa, and Asia. I met with Latin American Presidents, Ministers and CEOs to discuss the new growth drivers of the region and am now organising a Leadership Conclave for the top 100 European and Indian influencers.
There is no road map on how to navigate a seemingly limitless network of companies, cities and disciplines - but that's the beauty of WPP. You will never find a job like this in the world because it doesn't exist yet. The WPP Fellowship is a series of opportunities waiting for you to string them together into your dream role. That is why I still spend each day of the Fellowship enjoying every minute and accepting every dance. After all, it is now 11:00pm and there is always a chance I might turn into a pumpkin by midnight.
In those quiet times you get to yourself, when you'd have time to read a book or just sit on a park bench watching folk pass by, I used to wonder if I'd made a huge mistake. Resigning from a career I loved to become a home dad meant dropping out of one social sphere into another world, a world of mothers groups, swimming pools, nappies and night classes.
At my, shall we say, slightly older stage of life, the fears I held were rooted in the future. That basic human instinct of protecting and providing for my family was in full swing. It's funny how things turn out though. I've learnt, working for a recent client, that you make your own luck. Applying for the Fellowship was my equivalent of a Google moon shot.
Looking back, it was my 'mistake' that helped me get where I am today, which as I write is a hotel room overlooking New York's Time Square, as close to the moon as I might feasibly achieve you could say.
I'll openly admit to not being the smartest person in the room, mind you when you're interviewing global CEOs and the like that's rather an easy task. But it's the baggage I carry and the life skills I've collected that have got me into those rooms.
In two years I've worked across categories from utility, charity and finance to FMCG, automotive and education. Ultimately what both my colleagues and clients value most in me has been that real, human experience. And it's what I'll always use to simplify business problems and help clients recognise opportunity when they see it.
So now, as I look to my third year of the Fellowship, those quiet moments are filled more with excited possibility than fear of failure. Move over Times Square.
Kim Ong Tan
Design and music have always been my life's two great loves. In the day, I practised as a product designer. At night, I performed with my band at local pubs and bars.
So, how in the world did I end up in Marketing Communications?I stumbled upon the Fellowship completely by chance - through a chance encounter with a Fellow in Singapore. We were both meant to collect our employment visas and somehow ended up at the administrative office of the Ministry of Manpower. By the time we arrived at the collection office, I knew all about the Program. It felt like destiny.
And yes, we became more than just random friends on Facebook. We later caught up in East London, the day before my final interviews for the Fellowship.
Fast forward a year - I'm at my desk at Ogilvy Singapore, writing creative briefs, planning million-dollar campaigns with strategists, and meeting senior clients from Singapore's largest telecommunications company, SingTel. Over the course of 11 months, I've worked on projects for some of the world's best known brands - from planning activation stunts for Diageo and Johnnie Walker to designing product launches for Lenovo, HP and Phillips to anniversary initiatives for Coke.
Earlier in June, I was roaming the streets of New York as I planned for my second rotation in the Big Apple. Later in July, I was packing my bags for Fellows training in France; at the Château de Touffou that belonged to the late David Ogilvy. In August, I was taking my 22-hour flight back to Manhattan for yet another exciting year.
The WPP Fellowship is mad like that. It's a roller-coaster ride that will change your life in more ways than one. And it all began with a simple and somewhat innocent question that popped in my head - "Should I apply?"
Before I even knew that the Fellowship existed, I was in Beijing, China, working in marketing and PR for a luxury travel company. I slowly realised that I was curious about working on communications across clients on the agency side, but the question, "where to next?" made me incredibly anxious. Any one choice - professional or geographical - seemed too limiting.
A fateful Google search turned this notion on its head. Upon finding the Fellowship brochure, I encountered an enticing mix of diverse roles, opportunities all over the globe, and the time and support with which to explore the industry. I was sold on what I considered to be the 'choose your own adventure' of marketing and advertising.
In my first year at The Futures Company in New York, I managed insights-led trends and innovation programs on everything from urban transportation to Chinese gift-giving culture. It was there that I learned first-hand the value and variety of research and insights.
For Year Two, I hopped on a plane to South Africa to develop local brand strategies for some of the world's biggest companies at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town. On an 'average' day, I worked across beauty, beer, and beans - and learned loads about the South African cultural context in the process. Couple this with Cape Town's beach-and-winelands lifestyle, and it was a pretty sweet gig.
This year I'm learning about media through the lens of both a media owner (VICE) and now a media agency (Maxus London). From content to consumer contexts, dayparts to digital out-of-home and everything in between, I'm exploring media's potential to be truly engaging, interactive and relevant.
On the Fellowship, you can carve your path through the industry in any way and anywhere you please. For me, it's been a relief for my indecision, a thrill for my curiosity, and above all, an once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.
Last month I found myself at the entrance of a gold mine in the Balkans. I was helping manage an election campaign, and mining was a big issue. I was ushered into a creaky old lift and the operator pressed down. The miners around me sang old mining songs as we descended. Eight hundred metres under the ground the lift stopped. We walked down dark passages until we found the main event. The country's Prime Minster was giving an underground press conference, and I needed to help manage the messaging.
This is what the Fellowship is all about. You find yourself in the most fantastic situations, and try to seize the opportunity.
My time in the Balkans is part of my final placement, working on a team that fights election campaigns around the world. My normal day involves everything from writing speeches, to preparing a candidate for debates, to singing the odd mining song.
Before this, I spent a year working at Mango Marketing in Myanmar. The country had long been sealed off to the outside world, until it suddenly opened up in 2012. I was sent there a year later to take up a role as Head of Strategy, and set up the country's first Planning department.
Mango's meeting room was filled with global brands hoping to enter this untapped market. Our job was to find their way in. My team and I would head out into the countryside, talking to villagers about everything from telephones to chocolate bars. I also unexpectedly found fame as the new face of a Myanmar whisky, looking to emphasise its Scottish heritage!
The WPP Fellowship can be whatever you choose to make it. Every year you arrive somewhere new, carrying two small suitcases and no idea where things will lead. You then get thrown into the most spectacular opportunities. WPP supports you every step
of the way. This is the greatest job in the world, but I just can't tell you what to expect.
There's a famous phone call often whispered about at Fellowship interviews. It's said that, should you be one of the lucky Fellows selected, you'll receive a call the morning of the following day. Hearing Jon Steel's voice on the phone was both a shock and a relief. I'd been offered something unique, a chance that I'd stumbled across whilst looking for a new challenge, but that had seemed so out of reach and unlikely that the news I'd been accepted - and was about to embark on a three-year international journey in an industry completely new to me - took a few days to sink in.
Now as I approach the end of my three years, I sense more than ever the powerful nature of the Fellowship experience. It's entirely your own; colourful and individual in its wealth of opportunities, challenges and geographical locations. From discovering at RKCR/Y&R in London, working as an account handler, that the campaign growth process is never perfect, rarely linear. To Shanghai, where I worked as a digital strategist at Ogilvy & Mather and understood that to achieve excellence is to question constantly, to leave no stone unturned and to support with unending positivity the colleagues around you. And finally, The Futures Company in New York, where to look forward I have to embrace zooming out, querying and probing to a greater extreme than ever before. Challenged by a group of exceptional colleagues to think bigger and to be bolder, in order to help our clients future-proof their business.
The next, post-Fellowship, chapter of my very own story has yet to be written. The idea of permanence seems foreign, but welcome - be warned, every time you move you leave a little piece of yourself behind! And whilst I know there will be new challenges to overcome, a new role, a different type of thinking, the last three years have shown me that new and different are not scary. They're opportunities to discover, learn and grow.
Emma Ashru Jones
"So, what's the plan?" asked the village chief to the doctor, as the three of us sat under a muslin canopy in the midday Sahara sun. I was working in Chad on a medical project for a nomadic tribe who would soon be arriving to visit our pop-up clinic. I didn't know the answer, but I had to figure it out pretty quickly. This was a feeling that became all the more familiar when I began the WPP Fellowship.
We needed to raise awareness among the nomads, to build trust with people who might never have been to a doctor in their lives. It was an advertising brief. Launching a new product for the world's biggest pharmaceutical company at JWT, I needed to do the same thing - move an audience through the 'media' that would reach them most effectively. We needed to understand the lay of the land - the cultural truths about this group - in order to make a lasting, positive impact. When I worked at The Futures Company in New York on a project for Oprah Winfrey to understand the changing attitudes and behaviours of her audiences in order to shape the future of her network, the message was the same. Listen before you leap and know the deeper needs of the people you are speaking to.
As I write, I'm working at Brand Union on a similar project for the world's most famous chocolate company to design packaging that visually communicates healthy portion sizes without making people feel guilty. On the Fellowship I've worked in three companies across four continents, on over 30 brands, but there has been one golden thread through it all: learning the principles of powerful communication.
"So, what's the plan?" It's an uncomfortable question when you don't have an answer. The Fellowship has taught me that sometimes not knowing is not a bad thing. That every time you start a new rotation it's a chance to get closer to the answer.
"Well, it's not all bad," said the careers advisor. "The banks and law firms are still hiring... and if you're feeling a bit creative you could even go for management consultancy." This was it, I thought. The culmination of 16 years of education for my career to be decided by which industries "hadn't cut back that much".
Thankfully, the WPP Fellowship was set up to offer an alternative to the safer careers that vacuum up graduates because of their more structured programs. The Fellowship has a structure, but not one that defines the type of person you are when coming out the other side. There is no required reading list, no jargon to learn, no mandatory work experience. You just need a passion for brands and a curiosity to see how companies build them around the world in different ways.
No two people's Fellowships are the same. Each is shaped by a mixture of your own ambitions, the company's needs and sometimes by the most unexpected opportunities that arise from working in such a diverse and respected group.
I began at JWT London as a planner (and being given all the KitKats I could eat by the Nestlé team). The following year I went to Hong Kong to work on digital strategy for luxury brands at OgilvyOne. Despite my excitement at the new placement, a few months later I had a call from London saying there was an opportunity for a Fellow to work for the UK Government - in the Prime Minister's Office and Cabinet Office press team. Three weeks later, I was away from the sunshine of South East Asia, shivering, and being shouted at by a BBC cameraman on Downing Street. The Prime Minister's car was blocking his shot, and I felt in no position to be giving parking tips on my first day.
I subsequently moved around different departments and eventually finished up working for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, advising how we should communicate government policy on the digital economy.
You never know where your next move in WPP will actually take you, and so I cannot wait to start Year Three. I cannot think of any other graduate scheme where this is the norm. Take the plunge, fill in the form!
Haywood R. Watkins III
I was born and raised below the Mason-Dixon Line in the southern suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. Back home, in that picturesque capital city, my proud and affable mother in the course of her errands is attempting to explain to a makeup clerk, grocery store cashier, or bank teller what her son does for a living. Hopefully this clears things up.
During my first rotation of the WPP Fellowship, I worked at The Futures Company as a strategic consultant in New York City. While there, I conducted qualitative research, trend reports, and innovation projects with brands such as Ally Bank, Timberland, Unilever, Liberty Mutual, and Coca-Cola.
Today, I live in the midst of quaint bars and Korean cuisine on a small laneway in Melbourne, Australia's central business district. I spend the workweek with a small but brilliant VICE Media office as a copywriter where I've penned a bounty of phrases for pitches, ads, biographies, interviews, scripts, banners, flyers, as well as event and product descriptions.
Before the WPP Fellowship, I studied strategic communications at Virginia Commonwealth University's masters program, which is affectionately known as The Brandcenter. While studying, I interned through 4A's Multicultural Advertising Intern Program. Shortly thereafter I created ADCOLOR Futures on behalf of the ADCOLOR Awards and Industry Conference, which is a program that helps increase diversity within the field of communications.
Thanks to Jon Steel and WPP I've been given the chance to travel the world and do what I love for a living. Few people have the chance to do either. I'm eternally thankful to both for the opportunities the Fellowship has provided and continues to provide and as bank tellers in Richmond will tell you, so is my mother.
Before graduation, I found myself in the same position as my peers: in a university careers room listening to countless recruitment presentations. The 'job search' is daunting, especially after spending several blissful years at university where you are encouraged to explore new subject matters, try new things and meet different people every day. For any student, the idea of choosing 'one' career path is slightly terrifying. Although I had pursued several internships in the marketing communications field, I did not feel ready to specialise nor have my vision defined by one company. It was at this time that I discovered WPP, and the Fellowship.
The Fellowship grants you the precious time and resources to help define your view of this rapidly changing industry, as well as the part you would like to play in it. Over three years you are invited to work in three different companies around the world where each year brings different opportunities and challenges. For my first placement, I took on a planning role at JWT London where I wrote strategy for some of the UK's best-known pharmaceutical brands, food products and toilet paper. My challenge was to think inventively about the potential of a brand as well as the relationship it has with its consumers. I then changed positions, agencies, and continents and moved to New York to work in account management at AKQA, the technology and innovation agency. My daily language changed as I worked on social media strategies, content creation and became inducted into the ever-changing world of web development.
The refreshing part of the Fellowship is that there is no set path that you can take and there is no 'profile' that you should try to fit. You are genuinely encouraged to make the most of your three years by exploring new facets of the industry, team members, clients and ways of thinking. Every one of us has a different story to tell and we very much look forward to hearing yours.