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How are you feeling now on a scale of 1-10?
Today is definitely an 8. I’ve been as low as a 2 over this past year, and particularly recently: this current lockdown has felt never-ending at times. My mother died of Covid-19 in April of last year, so have had to live this pandemic in a very personal way – the statistics we see each day directly relate to me and my family. And that can be tough at times.
Who hasn’t felt the challenges of the past year? ….and having employees I feel doubly responsible. And then add clients to the mix and it can feel overwhelming at times. I went to London last week for two days and came back with such a spring in my step. Running a live event for a client, seeing people, having eye contact with someone that isn’t down a computer screen – it felt great.
I started Mallory Group in 2016 with Jimmy Toller and I loved being part of a team with him – someone to challenge me, push me, to celebrate the wins and commiserate the losses with. Jimmy made the really tough decision to leave the business in October 2020 – I knew it was coming for a while and we had been in discussions about it for nearly a year. I think this pandemic has brought real clarity to some on exactly what they want to be doing, what they want for their lives and their family. He’s been consulting for us, so we have been in touch regularly, but of course not as much as before, and that’s been a real wrench. I miss having someone to share work with but I’m very proud of what we have achieved together and also excited about the pivot in the business (now focussing much more on PR and communications in sport and purpose and less on partnership sales). But being on my own does certainly add pressures.
Who was the last person you spoke to before me?
Alicia Glenn – our account executive. She joined the business the day that London went into lockdown. She arrived as an intern at 2pm and left at 5pm with the office plants. She tells me they are still alive …
I really feel for her – for anyone who has moved into working life this last year. Missing out on the camaraderie, the office chat, the lunches together, as well as the learning on the job, what you pick up just from being around colleagues more senior and junior. She’s doing really well though, but we all can’t wait to get back into one space some time soon.
Are you working from home or the office?
I’m working solely from home. For a while last year colleagues were working from here as well, but that all stopped once again late last year. I’m looking forward to getting back in the office a few days a week – it’s important to come together as a team.
How have things changed since Covid?
We are all working from home and seem to be incessantly on calls at times it is hard to find the time to do the actual work!
Where do you work? What’s the environment like?
I am very lucky in that I have a home office with a big window that looks out over the front of my house, so I can see trees, hear the birds, enjoy the weather, even when stuck inside. It also means I can keep an eye on the deliveries as they seem to be coming thick and fast these days – no more having to go and collect a parcel on the weekend.
Who do you share your ‘home office’ with?
I’m a single parent of three teenagers but luckily they all have space in their rooms to work, or they move to the kitchen table. So when colleagues aren’t here, I share my study with my Peloton bike. I bought it on a whim in December 2019 and it’s been a godsend. I’ve met a great (virtual) community of women I regularly join in 8-week long challenges and having it here gives me no excuses not to exercise.
Life is very busy whilst also outside of work being very boring at times. Each weekend, I’ll say to the kids ‘what shall we do?’. They all look at me with a roll of the eyes … ‘Same as last weekend ….’ is the reply, which basically means nothing much at all ….
Who are you looking out for at the moment?
I feel very responsible for the welfare of my team – it’s been tough for them, the transition in the business, the Covid-19 pandemic, regular work pressures, as well as managing everything that is going on in their personal lives. And also I carry my three kids’ welfare really heavily. It’s been hard going through this as a single parent – I know I’ve made mistakes and I keep reminding my kids that I’m just human and, unfortunately, don’t have all the answers but I love them and am here to support them. Similar words and ethos I hope that my colleagues have had from me.
How have you changed as a manager? As a person?
I have always liked to give people free rein and really encourage them to take initiative, which does come with making mistakes at times, but that is ok, it’s all part of learning. I like to empower people and give them space, but always have time and am ready to support when required.
What I miss is hearing the general ‘chat’ in the office as that’s often a time to throw in a bit of guidance or support, when you overhear someone sharing an issue or challenge, or perhaps a phone conversation. We have a team Slack channel that is where most of the chat goes and I keep an eye on that, piping up if I feel I can add something of use.
How do you run a meeting?
I try to come into each creative meeting with ‘What does success look like?’ as the first thing we look at. If we don’t do this, then it is easy to get distracted and lack focus.
I have read quite a bit recently about people turning off their cameras on conference calls having got ‘Zoom fatigue’, but actually I really like seeing people’s faces and their reactions. But I should give it a try – perhaps we’d all focus more if we had to ‘just’ listen.
I had a call this morning with Dominic Bliss, a freelance journalist. Alicia had originally made the connection and introduced me to him and rather than send an email and arrange a meeting, I just picked up the phone. We spoke for nearly an hour – the first thirty minutes was about our families, Covid, vaccines and mountain biking. And only then did we get on to the topic of how we could potentially work together. It was my kind of meeting – like the ‘old days’ when you would meet a journalist for a coffee, creating relationships, developing a bond, working collaboratively on story pitches. I still get such a buzz from meetings like this and I love seeing positive client coverage in print or online. More meetings like this, please!
How would you describe your work/life balance?
I have actually really enjoyed one aspect of lockdown which is that when my kids are home-schooling, I don’t have to get up early and take them to the station for school, so I can wake naturally with the light, exercise, have breakfast with the kids, read the papers and get to my desk and it still is just 0900. Whereas before, we were all up and out the door by 0730 and I’d be doing most of the above (bar the exercising) on the train. So my days are often more productive. But also, it is easy to let home life seep in to work being at home all the time, so I do try to create boundaries. I ‘go’ to work, shut the door in my study and try to do home calls/home work over a lunch break or after work. I think when running your own company you are always carrying the business with you – it’s always in the back of my mind, which is hard at times; it’s difficult to switch off.
What does your daily routine look like? How do you run your job and your life?
We have a full team meeting at 0930 every morning. I always like to hear a ‘win’ or two from the previous day, rather than just looking through the to-do list for the day. We also might just talk about something in the news that is on our minds. This week we all shared about what a week it has been for women. IWD on Monday, the Meghan/Harry interview, the terrible news of the murder of Sarah Everard. We feel vulnerable and I think it is really important to talk it out. We were also discussing just this morning about the Palace’s comms responses to the H&M interview and what we would do, from a professional POV. One of my colleagues said that she would love the challenge of transforming the Palace’s comms – I wished her all the best in that ….!
I then try to do my ‘quiet’ work in the morning: strategy papers, press releases, journalist pitches, creative work etc as the afternoons are often full of back-to-back calls. We work for an offshore sailing team based in Rhode Island and they are five hours behind – so from 2pm the calls kick in, often back to back to back until 7pm. It can be exhausting.
When my kids aren’t at home I often find I am fully up to pace at about 4pm and will push on through until 8 or 9 at night with a short break for exercise. I get so much done in these hours – I am often buzzing and find it hard to switch off.
Early mornings or late nights?
Both. Depends on the deadline. But I often go back to my desk when the kids are in bed and prepare for the next day. Write my new list, review what I have done, and clear out my inboxes ready to go again.
How do you focus?
Sometimes with difficulty if I am feeling overwhelmed or don’t have a list to focus my mind. If my inbox has exploded and I don’t know exactly what I need to accomplish then I can find myself floundering. I run multiple lists – online, in my work book and also on a fresh, small piece of paper, I write each evening what I must do the next day and it sits right in front of me as a constant reminder. I also have post-it notes to jot down the quick thoughts and stick them all over my screen. Ripping them off when completed and recycling them gives me a great boost.
I also try and get outside at least once a day, even if it is just stepping out of the back door and breathing in some fresh air. I’m looking forward to it warming up so I can do morning yoga on the lawn – it was a great way to get ready for the day.
I do find it hard to focus on the many online calls and my usual practice of taking meticulous notes and minutes from a meeting has slipped somewhat. I’m putting a sticky note on my screen right now to remind me to get back into that.
How do you cope with stress?
I find stress beneficial sometimes – it really drives me on and keeps me focused. I have a good therapist who helps me to be kind to myself – I can be quite punishing as I have very high expectations for myself. Sometimes doing something my best is good enough. And exercise is an important one. It can be hard to get going, but I never feel worse after exercise; once I am on the bike or out on a run it really helps me lose the stress and see things from a new perspective. I run with no headphones so I can hear what’s around me – nature, but also the thoughts in my head – and I can rationalise and sort through them. Exercise also really helps me creatively.
How do you unwind?
Cooking with the kids is a great one. They stand like flamingos in the kitchen, on one leg, on their phones, but at least they are around. I love hearing their chat (which is mainly focused around the quality of the toilet facilities at their school …. does anyone else have this?). We talk a lot about politics, the environment and sustainability as that is a large part of the work that we do for 11th Hour Racing Team. Exercise, walks and an excessive amount of TV watching as well. I’ve finished Netflix and Amazon Prime, but daren’t buy another subscription in case I don’t resurface until 2022.
Who do you consider your mentor to be?
Steve Madincea – he’s been a huge supporter and champion of Mallory Group particularly over the past year, through our changes as a business and on a personal level. It’s great to have someone so experienced at the end of the phone for those stupid questions, to help with a bit of clarity or when you just need someone to have your back.
If we started this year again, what one thing would you change?
Do I have the superpower to eradicate Covid? No? OK, then one thing I would change is making time each week to get together with colleagues with no agenda. I haven’t done that enough. In fact, that’s another sticky note – I’m going to arrange a walk with Alicia who lives near me.
What one thing will you take with you into the ‘new normal’?
We have always offered flexible working – it was important for me with my family as picking them up/dropping them off at school was something that mattered to me and I wanted others to enjoy it as well – so that will definitely continue. Continuing the increase in our network of associates is also something for the new normal – there is so much strong freelance talent out there and I really enjoy working with these experts who augment our team. There used to be such pressure to be a ‘big’ agency – to have lots of staff. We have our core team and then bring in experts when we need the input or support. It’s really effective and delivers high quality work for the client at a much more affordable price.
Who are you speaking to next?
Sam Mallinson, the Head of Communications at E1 Series. A new client with a really different method (in a positive way) of working. I have never worked with a client who is so collaborative in his approach. That’s not saying our other clients aren’t collaborative, as they are and we are treated as an extension of their inhouse team, but he comes at it from a totally different 90-degree perspective which is great and it’s keeping me on my toes.