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Marketing and Communications Leader Series ep.5: Jen Barham

Welcome back to EMR's Marketing & Communications Leader Series, where we dive deep into the journeys of exceptional senior marketing and communications practitioners. Join us as we take a closer look at how they got started in marketing and the strategies that led them to success in their industries. In this episode, EMR's MD Tom Brockton interviews Jen Barham, Group Chief Marketing & Corporate Responsibility Officer at DC Advisory. Tune in to hear more about Jen's journey and insights. 

Could you describe your journey to becoming a marketing and communications leader?  

The journey has been, one of quite a traditional career development piece, but also a journey of self-discovery, I would say. The traditional career piece. 

I had my first marketing role at what was Barclays Capital, as a full-service marketing executive for their multi-asset class e-trading platform. So very traditional, very good exposure to building a global brand. And then as you said in your introduction, have since had positions in law, tax, tech, and private equity and latterly investment banking. I think they've all had one theme really, which is the development of a global brand proposition and how to deploy that on a local basis. And the journey of self-discovery, I think is something we'll come onto in just a bit.  

What inspired you at the outset of your career to be keen to pursue a career in marketing?  

Marketing wasn't something that I thought “That's me, I'm going to go into this particular field”. My degree was in English Literature. And I would say, as with all my family and friends, I've always been a storyteller. So the idea of crafting the written words, of developing a narrative, of being impactful and impacting people's buying decisions, all kind of came together really when I had that first marketing position. I also do paint portraits on the side. So that artistic bit was a little bit of extra creativity that really kind of came together with what a full-service marketing role involves.  

 I really enjoy working with smart people, being intellectually challenged and responding to pressure and deadlines and deliverables. So all of that creative stuff, the marketing, and the aesthetics, sorry storytelling and aesthetics, putting that into a high-pressure environment like an investment bank with quite technical subject matter is probably what's kept me in marketing.

It would be interesting to know what you feel are the three or several most critical factors for success as a leader within marketing and comms?

I think this is true of any leader, irrespective of industry or expertise, the first one is vision. That's for the brand that you're building, for the team that you're leading, and for your own trajectory. Once you've got that vision, being willing to proactively seek the opportunities to deliver that vision, irrespective of what that involves, that's probably number one. Number two, any communications professional will tell you that you need to listen as well as speak. So that's listening to your target demographic through client perception studies, and analysis of consumer behavior, but also internally your stakeholders. What are they frightened of? What are they trying to achieve? And your team members, the people you surround yourself with, those experts in the field. So all of those things I think need to be factored in when you're developing a strategy to deliver the vision that I mentioned. Identifying the things that you don't know and finding ways to get to the answers. That's probably the most powerful tool. So that would be number two. And then the third one I'm going to steal from Barack Obama. Because I'm sure it's been repurposed on LinkedIn about a million times. Work out how to get stuff done. It's really simple. Tell people what you're going to do, do it, and then tell them you've done it. And do that over and over and over again. And you'll fast become that trusted advisor, that go-to person and people will add to your responsibilities. They'll see your capabilities.  

What would you say are a couple of key challenges that you have faced and conquered or challenges that you feel have come up on multiple occasions?  

I think for any vision function you need to be able to demonstrate ROI. It's this age-old thing, whether it's through analytics, metrics, data, you need to be able to say, this is how we add value, or this is how we anticipate X suggestion is going to be useful or commercially viable. So that's the first one. I'd say latterly, asking for help. I think there's an assumption that when you get to a sort of senior position, you're all seeing and you're all capable and you're at the top of the chain, so you must have the answers for everything. But what I've learned is through building a team who have their own sectors of expertise, liaising with peers in different functions, and seeking out mentorship. That's all critical to continued development. And the most senior people I know, those people that I aspire to and look up to, aspire to be and look up to, they all ask questions. And recently we've built out the team here at DC to have a real expert in PR delivery, a real expert in events delivery. We've brought in an ESG director who is a guru in sustainability there are so many parts that we don't know. So asking for help, I'd say, is a key part.  

Back to that vision comment, prioritizing. With any full-service marketing role or in fact any kind of leadership position, of course, we can get stuck in the weeds. I'm still learning this. I'm still on the journey of letting go of the small things, particularly if you've built it from scratch. You feel very, it's your baby. You want to look after it. You want to nurture it. But learning to keep that focus on the big picture and just facing the realities of time. You cannot simply be across every tactic, every small deliverable. You have to let it go. So I think that prioritization is critical too.  

How do you manage to balance your demanding role with your personal life? 

Work was my priority. My personal life came second. But in the past few years, I think certain life events have forced me to develop strategies to adjust, and that really, it was coming to the conclusion that to be useful to anyone or anything or any business, I have to put my own oxygen mask on first. 

Recognising that I can only really give to others what I have internally, whether that's compassion or energy or direction or experience, burnout is not a sustainable place to be or a happy place to be. So, moving to live a life in more technicolour, which actually happens if you invest in your personal life. I think you bring so much more to your role, and to the team members that you have, and it helps to foster that kind of uniqueness, which I think, helps to move into a more senior position. 

On a more tactical level, I have some strict rules in place for myself now, because it is self-governance. Things like email start and finish times, obviously with exceptions, but weekend working, how that plays out, how many meetings I can reasonably do within a day. It's about facing the realities of time and making sure I've got my own oxygen mask on. 

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be? And what advice would you give to young aspiring professionals that are looking to advance their careers within marketing and communications? 

It is a journey of self-discovery as well as career development.  Any role, any profession, any industry, any job title. If I could go back, I would spend as much time focusing on the cultivation of my authentic self and confidence and self-belief as I did on the metrics of success and being promoted to the next level, because those two are fundamentally necessary to make you the best human being, that you can be not the best professional, the best human being. There are a couple of things I think that I would suggest doing early. Rewire that negative voice in your mind. No one is more unkind to us than our own narrative, and you develop those very early on. They are backed up by evidence time and time again throughout your adolescence, your first job, your second job, and your career trajectory. The neuroplasticity that our human brain affords is amazing and you can operate with self-compassion. It takes work, but that will help take that next step forward, that's probably number one.  

Number two, don't fear your stakeholders. It's really easy when you come into a position in lots of professional services, financial services, businesses, it's marketers versus fee-earners or this kind of group of people that are sustaining the revenue generation for the business. It's very easy to feel intimidated and feel less than. So, recognizing that they are human beings, that you can connect with them on every level. Vulnerability as well, as shared vulnerability really does breed connection. That's a really valuable tool and something it's worth doing from the ground up. You can always learn something from everyone.  

The third one, there is always a temptation at every level to say, I can do it, I'll do that right now. And then you go away and figure out how to do it and sometimes you'll find you can't. I think being honest about your capabilities, where you need support, where you need training, and where you need advice, really helps. But that also translates to that part about being the best human being you can be. I think being honest about who you are and what you stand for, where you've come from, all of those things. If you can be your authentic self, you're going to be as productive as you possibly can be as well. And that's your superpower really, because that's what makes you, you.  

Listen to the full interview above and follow EMR to hear the next episode in this series. 

If you missed the previous episode with Dominic Elliott, Group Head of External Relations at Holcim listen here



  





  





 








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