In their own words, some WPP Fellows who have participated in the Program:
I am writing this from a hotel room on the outskirts of Yangon. Today was my first day as the head of planning at Mango Advertising in Myanmar.
However, I am the only member of the Mango Planning team! And yesterday I arrived in Myanmar for the first time in a country where I don't know a single person. But this is the joy of the WPP Fellowship. You arrive with two small suitcases and no idea where things will lead, and get thrown into the most spectacular opportunities.
My first day at Mango was spent on the set of a commercial for Horlicks. We were all crowded in a sweaty room watching a Burmese movie star telling 'her kids' to drink healthily. Later, I came back to the office and worked on a pitch for Mercedes-Benz, one of a flood of western brands rushing to Myanmar now sanctions have lifted.
My Fellowship has been full of these adventures. I've been to focus groups in freezing towns in Northern India to listen to young brides talk about marriage. And I have attended civil rights conferences in America to talk about issues ranging from HIV to abolishing the death penalty.
My Fellowship has taken me across the world. I spent my first year in Washington DC working for Blue State Digital (President Obama's agency of record), my second year in JWT Singapore, and now I am working for Mango Myanmar. I have met the most incredible people, and have been supported every step of the way by WPP. This is the greatest job in the world, but I just can't tell you what to expect.
When I was a child, my family gave me the name 'hot foot'. It is as if my shoes are literally on fire, they would tell me. I cannot stay still and constantly crave movement and change. When I had to think about committing to a single industry or career after college, the thought was terrifying. I did not want to settle for anything - become an academic? A business consultant? Go into fashion? Work for a non-profit? I had no idea. So how did I ever end up in communications?
The answer becomes clear as I reflect on my first year of the Fellowship. It is not one memory that comes to mind, one single moment, one single sensation where it all came together. Instead, I recall the sounds of a racetrack and a sports announcer explaining the rules, the excitement of a first time mother, the worries and the passion of small business owners, the layout of the teen section of a department store, and even the mimicking call of an avid turkey hunter. And that was all simply from working at Ogilvy in NYC. This year, working in Hong Kong at RedFuse, an integrated agency mixing both media and creative, my mind again gets to flip flop between different roles and, even after living here for months, I feel like I am just beginning to grasp the intricacies of Asian culture.
So, for me, it was these varied experiences that drew me to advertising in the first place. On any given day, a new project may open you up to exploring a world you may never knew existed, or one you never thought you could relate to. You meet people who love or hate the product or message you're trying to sell, and you are constantly faced with new business problems, new launches, and new kinds of organisations. What gets me excited about advertising is the balanced blend of academia, business and creativity that is rarely found in other industries. It is the perfect place for a 'hot foot' like me.
"Well, it's not all bad," said my 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' education for my career to be decided by which industries "hadn't cut back that much" and if I wanted to try something else, to look forward to more years of unpaid internships and uncertainty.
Thankfully, the WPP Fellowship was set up to offer an alternative to the industries 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 should be 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 across different channels and different markets.
I began at JWT London as a planner. Despite only being there for a short time, everyone was not only welcoming, but trusting and invited my input on huge projects early on. I was taken from intensive training with JWT's own graduate intake to writing strategy for global pitches and multi-million pound campaigns in just one year; not the hierarchical environment I had been expecting in my first job after university. (I was also given all the Kit Kats 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. Then, one morning, 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 Chancellor's car was blocking his shot, and I felt in no position to be giving parking tips on my first day.
No two people's experiences of the Fellowship are the same. Instead, they are shaped both by what you want from it and the unexpected opportunities along the way. I have colleagues who have helped set up new agencies in Myanmar or even written speeches for Prince William, all in their first three years. I can't think of any other industry where this is the norm. Take the plunge, fill in the form!
All of my most memorable accomplishments in life started with fear. I know there are amazing individuals out there who are able to march confidently, unafraid, into any challenging situation.
I'm just not one of them. But I've come to learn that there's an advantage to feeling that nervous churn of the stomach that comes with fear. It's that feeling that lets you know you're doing something worthwhile.
Standing amongst the other 30 Fellowship candidates in London, I felt it. Riding the elevator up to the Landor NY office for my first rotation, I felt it. Flying across the globe to work at George Patterson Y&R Melbourne, I felt it.
I'm now in my third and final year at VML London and it's rare that there's a week in which I don't experience it. The Fellowship gives you three years to put yourself outside of what you know: new disciplines, new skills, new people, new cultures.
How much you learn and take away is a direct result of how much you are willing to step into the unfamiliar. For me, I entered the Fellowship after doing two years at the VCU Brandcenter, a graduate advertising program. During that time, I developed an addiction to the terrifying thrill of being pushed beyond my abilities. I couldn't fathom that thrill ending. I wanted to keep chasing it. Badly. So why did I apply for the Fellowship?Because it scared me. In fact, it still does.
Here's to hoping I never lose that feeling.
After deciding that I had contributed all I could to documenting the historical evolution of certain Asian languages, in 2010 I embarked on a new career as part of the WPP Fellowship.
Somewhat older than most of my fellow 'Fellows', I was enthused by an organisation that placed a value on intangibles and diversity rather than any pre-determined models. I spent my first year as a planner in the design agency Coley Porter Bell in London, working on a variety of FMCG and luxury brands. In such a boutique agency with a principal focus on package design, I was fortunate to be on first name terms with the whole design team and thoroughly enjoyed seeing my written thoughts be developed and then brought to life visually.
My second year was in the sprawling metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil, working as a planner in the advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather. There, I found myself working in a planning team equivalent to a sizeable chunk of my whole previous agency. My principal client was Kraft, although in Brazil this meant chocolate and beverages rather than cheese. Suddenly, my output was no longer driven principally by package design but by the whole media space available to advertising. This exposure was further bolstered by the fact that all media planning and buying is conducted in-house in Brazil, and so I was able to witness it first-hand.
For my third year, I have taken a role as an account manager in GroupM ESP. As the tactical 'Entertainment & Sports Partnerships' arm of the GroupM media companies (MEC, Maxus, Mediacom, Mindshare), my current role consists of strategising, negotiating and managing talent and brand partnership deals for IKEA and Texaco through activations ranging from television integrations to music tour sponsorships. With the end of my third year on the Fellowship now drawing to a close, I am very much looking forward to continuing in my role here at GroupM ESP.
Before I even knew that the Fellowship existed, I was living and working in Beijing, doing marketing and PR for a luxury travel company. It opened my eyes to the cultural nuances between different travellers to China, and I slowly realised that I actually belonged agency-side, working on communications strategy across different cultures and markets. 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.
My cultural curiosity drew me to The Futures Company in New York, where, in my first year, I managed insights-led trends and innovation programs for clients and contributed to internal knowledge initiatives. From work on Chinese gift-giving culture and urban transportation in America, to brand affinity in emerging markets and innovation in the personal wash category, 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 strategies for some of the world's biggest brands at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town. On an 'average' day, I might work on beauty, beer, and beans - and learn loads about the South African cultural context in the process. As a side project, I've been exploring African mobile innovation with our COO to understand the incredible technologies and developments across the continent, and what they might teach the rest of the world. Couple this experience with Cape Town's reputation for carefree, beachy living, and it's not a bad gig!
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, a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.
It's hard for me to hear the word 'ambidextrous' (as in ambidextrous brains) and not think about sports, because the truth is that I am actually ambidextrous. Before the Fellowship, I spent 17 years competing in the sport of fencing, in which I am a solid left hander, but whenever I have tried new sports, I have actually had to stop and figure out which hand to use so as to embarrass myself the least. Curiously, I feel the same sensation every day in my current role, because each time I approach a new challenge, I've got to decide which side of my brain I need to use to best get the job done (and embarrass myself the least).
My path to the Fellowship was an untraditional one, although, it seems there are no traditional paths that lead this way. After competing at two Olympic Games, and having the good fortune to win a Silver Medal in Beijing in 2008, I found myself on a whirlwind tour working to help the sport of fencing better align itself with commercial opportunities. It was then that I began to realise that the marketing space was the perfect intersection of my degree in psychology and my love for great strategy. And so, it was through the perspective of an athlete that I set about looking for a professional experience that could deliver the same elements that I had designed into my training program: diversity of environment and experience and, above all, great coaching. With a little bit of luck, late one night, I stumbled across the Fellowship website, and it was clear right away that, if there were an Olympics in marketing, this was where one should train.
It's hard to believe that I am now closer to the end of this journey than the beginning. I completed my first-year role as an account planner at JWT, New York, where I had the unique opportunity to work on Brand USA, the United States' first ever unified global tourism campaign. My second-year role has been as a senior client manager at Landor doing corporate brand strategy, for clients as diverse as Dell, Verizon, Champion Athletic Apparel, and KCG (financial services). Nevertheless, even though I approach my final year, I'm truly excited because I know that WPP has always intended this experience to be just the opening chapter of our adventures in marketing, and the best is yet to come.
When looking back over my first two years of the Program, it's hard to pinpoint a favourite moment. There have been the opulent ones: sipping champagne with Madame Ogilvy in her chateau in France. The fulfilling ones: watching a group of young students I mentored win their first pitch. The stressful ones: printing out the leave-behind for a million dollar pitch after 24 hours straight in the office. The proud ones: having my first thought leadership piece published, and subsequently being highly commended by the Atticus panel. And the downright bizarre ones: charging towards the finish line in a seven-legged race strapped to five of my Chinese colleagues on a man-made beach in Shanghai at our company sports day.
Chances are I never would have experienced any of this were it not for the Fellowship. The nature of the Fellowship as such is that they cannot ever promise any two Fellows the same experience. What they can promise, however, is that you will have a more varied and richer start to your career in marketing and communications than almost anyone else. In my first two years, I have gone from exploring future growth for clients at The Futures Company in London to account managing the Fanta advertising business at Ogilvy & Mather in Shanghai. Along this journey, I have been offered training, mentorship, growing responsibility and the chance to experience a new city and a different culture from my own. WPP gives you the support and opportunities for you to sculpt your own career and make your own memories. And it all starts with one application. So my advice to anyone considering applying would be, just give it a go, because you never know where you might end up...
Four months after starting the WPP Fellowship, I asked for another Fellow's hand in marriage. She turned me down. My watch read three in the morning. It was raining. We were on a bus. There were thirty minutes left of the journey. It was awkward. Weirdly, we're still good friends.
Now, I'm not big on marrying, so finding myself on the losing side of the marriage game was a bit of a shock. But it made perfect sense. You see, WPP Fellows are generally rather wonderful. Often intimidatingly so.
The other biographies in this booklet are going to be impressive and will probably scare you. At the interviews, I met people who were experts on stuff like dying Burmese languages and advanced mathematics. There were others who already had successful careers in business or science or teaching. Fear not. The WPP Fellowship takes all sorts - even me. It manages to throw together different personalities, expectations and skillsets and somehow give everyone an opportunity to realise their ambitions.
Then there's the job. It's pretty cool. I'm currently sitting in Chicago, splitting my time between naming and writing (yes, I name things) and 'strategy' - which is, apparently, a real thing. I started in a two hundred-person agency in London then moved to work in a ten-person office in Chicago (we've since expanded to twenty).
Next year, I'll be a copywriter in an agency of a thousand people in New York. They have an entire floor dedicated to creatives. It's that mix of size and diversity that makes the WPP Fellowship such an intoxicating blend.
Just one tip: save the proposals till after
the interviews. You might look unprofessional.
Reading was the only thing I was ever good at. Which is slightly embarrassing once you're out of nursery, but there you have it. It was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. So it made sense that I studied English literature and language at Oxford where I could do all the reading I wanted and, after that, a lot that I didn't.
Each week was a new author and each week you'd ask your classmates who they were 'doing' this week. Jealousy would flare if they had someone who died young. Keats was the jackpot. Milton was definitely not. Once I 'did Dickens' in a week and I looked like one of his characters by the end of it: dirty, slightly unhinged, shaking slightly.
When I left, with a double first, I slept for about two weeks. And I didn't read a book for a whole year. Having maintained constant concentration for three years, my concentration span shrunk. I couldn't stick with a book. For that year, I didn't miss reading at all - but I did miss the stories. It was the stories that had sustained me through the hellish 'Dickens week' - and now I needed to find them somewhere else. After some time at the News of the World and at the BBC, I applied to the Fellowship.
It appealed because everyone on it has a good story. And without meaning to make it sound easy, the application is essentially 'tell us a story, and make it interesting'. If it's interesting enough, you get an interview, and you do the whole thing again with lots more people. Now that I've got a place (and trying not to flog the metaphor to death), I get to keep trying to write as interesting a story for myself as possible: Media or creative? Shanghai or Singapore? Account executive or planner? And next year? And the next?
Being a strategist at Maxus in my first year has meant I get to play with stories every day. I might be looking for the story in data, or trying to work out if the deck tells the story we need for a pitch, or I might be trying to take three different sets of information and trying to work out how we can tie them together. The UK Cannes Young Lions competition was the ultimate test and, with another Fellow, I won and went to compete in Cannes. Winning gold there against 30 international teams, and collecting a medal in the ceremony, is definitely my favourite story from the Fellowship so far.
If you'd told me five years ago that I'd be living in Shanghai and exploring the implications of China's socio-political environment on the digital landscape in order to inform my work as a digital strategist, I wouldn't have believed you. I came across The Fellowship at a moment where I wanted to take everything I'd learned from my experience as a teacher, arts educator and social entrepreneur, and put it into a wider context. I wanted to explore the world of business, but didn't want to sacrifice creativity and imagination. As soon as I'd read the words, 'ambidextrous brains', I knew I was on to something, and despite the voice in my head that told me it was way too competitive and I was unlikely to get a job, I threw everything into my application.
Two years down the line and I'm sitting at my desk on the 26th floor, at Ogilvy Shanghai, and considering just how far I've travelled both physically and mentally. The Fellowship is not only about understanding the business, it's about developing the resilience, confidence and cultural understanding necessary to work in the global, ever changing world of communications. A move to a foreign country where you don't speak the language certainly fast-tracks you in that sense! It also removes you from everything that is comfortable and familiar, and asks that you throw yourself head first into a new way of doing things. Be prepared to change, adapt and learn continuously, to make best friends in far-flung places and to look back at the application process and wonder what there was to be scared about.
As with so many things in life, the more you put in, the more you may just get out.
Haywood R. Watkins III
I'm a southern gent from Richmond, Virginia, currently residing in Brooklyn, New York. I spent my first rotation with The Futures Company, where I played an integral role in qualitative research, trend reports, and innovation projects on behalf of brands such as Ally Bank, Timberland, Unilever, Liberty Mutual, and Coca-Cola. I will spend my second rotation as a creative with VICE Media in Melbourne, Australia helping to make branded content for Levi, Converse, and Adidas amongst many others.
Before the WPP Fellowship, I studied strategic communications at Virginia Commonwealth University's masters program, The Brandcenter. In 2012, I created the ADCOLOR Futures program on behalf of the ADCOLOR Awards in order to increase diversity within the communications industry. I was able to raise over $750,000 with the help of several sponsors including Google, Microsoft, and The Home Depot. In 2011, I, alongside two other interns, developed the Social Tattoo Project with the hope of making empathy a little more permanent in the world one tattoo at a time. Ad Age, Mashable, and MTV covered the project and helped start a conversation around topics that the 24-hour news cycle had unfortunately long forgotten.
I am excited and humbled by the opportunities I have had and I am looking forward to continuing to grow both personally and professionally. I don't know the destination that life is taking me, but I am certainly enjoying every step of the journey along the way.
In many ways, it might seem strange to go from working at an investment bank, to working at an advertising agency in less than a year, and then onwards to a branding agency the following year, via being an economics tutor.
It's important that there is no single way to be a 'great graduate'. The best candidates in the eyes of the WPP Fellowship are those who've had diverse experiences and learned wherever they've gone. As you'll see from the other Fellows' biographies, there is no standard profile.
On the Fellowship, you're going to be thrown in at the deep end. If you're scared by that prospect, it's not for you. If you think 'I really want to learn how to swim, and quickly', then this would be a good approach for you.
In my first year of the Fellowship, I have been at a branding agency called The Partners, and I thought I knew what to expect. And in many ways I did - interesting clients, brand architecture, positioning, and picking up a completely new company culture. But I didn't know about - for instance - internal engagement, redesigning online engagement, what to do when your client is a supermarket and they want to take you to their local store to see how their packaging sits on the shelves, how to listen to feedback on a client presentation you just gave in their company cafeteria, or how to organise the office Christmas party. These are all things I've had to pick up as I've gone through the year. And although you'd think you wouldn't know how to deal with such unexpected tasks, it turns out that nothing is really that alien. Trust your instincts, remain gracious, and always, always, carry a notebook.
Possibilities. That's what the Fellowship has been for me. What projects will I get to work on? Where will I get to travel? Who will I work with? What am I good at? What could I be good at? The beautiful thing about choosing a career is that you might know where you're going. The beautiful thing about the Fellowship is that you don't. You get thrown into things on day one, and you find yourself that way. It's something that was promised me at high school graduation. And then again after earning my engineering degree. And then again as I interviewed for numerous positions.
See, as an engineer, I build things. I make the impossible possible. I dream big and I innovate. I make it happen. The only problem is, the real job felt anything but a world of possibility. Instead, I was only allowed to take conservative 'baby steps' towards anything truly innovative. My career path was predictable (and uninspiring). And my enthusiasm for making things possible soon started to lose steam.
Then one day I discovered the communications industry. It's an industry where the really good ideas can actually come to fruition, quickly, given the right purpose, smarts, and dedication. Luckily, I came across the WPP Fellowship, which immediately resuscitated my enthusiasm.
In my first year on the Fellowship, I was an account planner for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising agency in New York. Here, amongst other things, I explored the different ways physicians think about their role in patient treatment. I spent my second year as an account planner in a London ad agency, RKCR/Y&R, where I led the effort to make 'dad's brand' Vodafone more appealing to youth. Other brands included Revlon, Marks & Spencer, and Land Rover - not a bad portfolio to have all in one year. Now in my final year, I'm back in New York as a client manager for brand consultancy Landor. Here I work on corporate strategy. The types of projects I work on are all currently top secret as they concern new brand identities for some of the world's most famous and iconic brands. As for the things that I want to make possible, I feel inspired and empowered - with the skills, perspective and permission - to dream big for every account that I work on, both now and in the future.