When working with others it is all about exceeding expectations but you must also manage them!
Name: Tristan Ripke
Course: BSc Psychology and Business
Placement Position: Digital Marketing Executive in PPC Advertising
Location: Croud, Shrewsbury, UK
Post #5: Final
Your placement is a journey of personal and professional development. At least that is what it has been for me. But you are the one going on placement soon, so let’s talk about what you may encounter by looking at what I have taken away from my year.
I have spent some time reflecting because it did not immediately occur to me in what ways I have developed. But in the end, my list became quite long. To keep things clear I will focus on two important areas: dealing with challenges and effectively using your free time.
Starting with challenge, throughout my year at Croud I have faced many, and it was not always easy. There have been high-pressure situations where my mistakes had the potential to harm client relationships forcing me to sort out the causes really quickly. Other times I had to prioritise and think on my feet while being pulled in many directions. All of this and more have helped me further develop an ability to deal with challenges that are coming my way, prioritise accordingly and (instead of giving up on bad days) persist and overcome the situation.
Next, I have mentioned in my first blog how you must be very careful with your time. With regular, long working hours, I was forced to become very efficient at doing chores and keeping up around the house. This meant I had time to travel during weekends, and have some spare time during the week. I have been noticing myself applying a few lessons learned from work. For one, I am doing small tasks whenever there is some time available. Like this morning, while I am writing the blog before work I am about to do some chores as well. Secondly, I focus a lot on prioritisation. A simple to-do list helps me note and rank things I want/have to do in order of importance to me. It helps me get the jobs done and keep my head organised during my time off. Wherever possible I then let things work in the background (like the washing machine) to get more done at once.
Just like the personal skills, I have grouped my thoughts on professional development into work skills and knowledge.
A big lesson for me was the need to re-prioritise within the hour which is an integral part of agency life. While you do have your tasks to work on, there is a constant stream of requests coming in from different clients, each with its own relative importance. So, while you go through the day, you have to constantly evaluate new requests against what you are already doing and either drop what you are working on or put it on hold until you can address it. This requirement was very overwhelming at first. It can very easily pull you in a million directions. Fortunately, as I learned more about the ins and outs of my job I started to see and understand the importance of tasks better and better. This, coupled with good task tracking and simple practice in the situation, gives you the ability to deal with these curve balls.
The next lesson is very simple but critical: manage expectations. When I first heard this in the second year, I was not too sure on what exactly that meant. But after needing to do it for a long time I have a solid grasp. For example, everyone has expectations for how and when a task should be done and everyone wants their work done fast. But most people are not unreasonable in their expectations and therefore you can explain to them when you will realistically have the work done by or what would be compromised if you would do it another way. I suggest you pay close attention to its significance in your work life ahead. It is a very simple concept but critical to working together with other people, be it clients, team members or other stakeholders.
Another big lesson was what the weight of responsibility and teamwork feels like when there is real money at stake. Everything is more serious and weighs more. While you definitely have some responsibility and must work in a team at university, the consequences of taking it lightly are not as high. If you miss a deadline the situation can be managed and damages to relationships with fellow students will not negatively impact your career. At work, the stakes are obviously different. You are dealing with real money, serious expectations and the risk of permanently damaging relationships if you are not taking things as serious as they should be. e.g. not having a professional attitude. That feels very different, even if (like me) you were taking responsibility and teamwork seriously at university. Living up to the new standards is a great challenge and makes you grow a lot, which is very satisfying.
Obviously, you also gain your specialist knowledge which can not only be used to advance in the given field but also open new doors by showing your ability to learn new things and operate within an organisation. Even if you find you don’t like your job or parts of it, make sure to take as much knowledge with you as possible. The good thing is that if you don’t like something you can always keep your eyes open for what is going on around you and see if there is something more aligned with your interests or preferences.
An interesting insight during my placement was how little can be done during a day by yourself, but how much you can achieve through persistent effort. For example, marketing an account requires constant work and it is not always clear on how your contribution helps to grow the account. But when you take a minute and look back on the year you see great growth. I find this rather motivating and important to keep in mind during times where you are doing something and feel like you are getting nowhere. Whatever you are doing may not feel like much but it is a part of the whole.
Finally, something I found very valuable is how my placement journey helped me experience and get a good understanding of how the different forces in a business can play out. From interacting with co-workers to performance management, over how promotions work, or simply better understanding what a job is and what it means to have one, these are fascinating insights.
As you can see, there is a lot to learn during your placement. Many challenges lie ahead of you as well as great moments of achievement. I suggest you embrace them. You will be a different person when you come back to university and your new professional attitude will help you tremendously. After all, your mindset and discipline are key elements to your achievements.
Rounding it all up, my placement at Croud has been an invaluable experience, teaching me so many significant things. I have met many great people and developed as a professional. The company itself is fantastic, as it is growing immensely and has a special culture.
Last but not least, let me leave you with an invaluable tip given to me by people far ahead in their careers. Instead of doing what people ask you, find the underlying problem and solve that for them to make things more effortless.
It has been a bit over six and a half months since I have started my placement and I think this is a good time to look back and reflect on the path I have taken and where I am heading, especially as a lot has been changing for me.
Looking back at 2018, the large theme throughout the first few months of my placement was around developing my PPC (pay-per-click) expertise. I trained in all the major account related tasks such as optimisations, expansions and even my first steps with client reporting. It was a fun time in which I learned a lot of technical skills. However, the most recent development is what I am most excited about.
After the new year, when I came back to work from my holiday, my training wheels came off and I started taking on proper responsibility for the clients. I became responsible for a part in the weekly report for one big client, was given full ownership of the promotions process and started getting more involved with daily account management with help of the Croudies. After one month I can already say that this has further refined many valuable skills such as being able to concisely summarise complex data, clearly communicate, and manage projects.
Let us dig a bit into the detail so that you understand how this comes into play starting with concisely summarising complex data. This ability is essential to writing our weekly client reports for the previous week’s performance. As part of PPC advertising we get a lot of data from Google about how people interacted with our ads. This can be quite overwhelming at times, especially as we get insights into 10+ markets for one of our clients. The job is to look at the data and extract what is most important to communicate so the client can make informed business decisions. For that you cannot only regurgitate the data. Instead you have to tell a story with insights which can look something like this: “We have seen clicks increase through campaigns that target X product searches, likely due to the start in sale. Consequently, our costs rose [because we pay per click] but our sales and revenue are also up which indicates that the offers are likely appealing to the customer. This resulted in an increased return on investment (ROI) because revenue rose more than cost.” From there we can go into a more detailed view to highlight additional nuances of this overall trend. Most important is that we did not dwell on click through rate (CTR) or average order value (AOV) which was not relevant in the given example and would have bloated the insights.
Now, my clear communication is further trained in various ways, the main one being that I have to regularly communicate with clients, Croudies and other stakeholders. This helps me understand how to speak to them and how to express myself in a way that is not misunderstood and directs their focus constructively. This is especially important when it comes to the promotion process.
Due to the reactive nature of retail clients we work with, promotions are a big deal. This means that we usually have a lot coming in throughout the week and sometimes all at once. My job is to make sure we are supporting these offers throughout our PPC activity which can take the shape of ad copy, or ad extensions – both are critical ways of advertising the brands in the search pages. As Croud works closely with the network of digital marketing experts, and my team alone serves 14 markets with about 9 languages, it requires close co-operation between me and the Croudies. While we often create the advertisement in-house, it is the Croudies who translate it and do the quality assurance before they implement it. My job is to make sure that every market is set live as soon as possible, which requires me to build, develop and coordinate a trusted team I can rely on. As I have also got responsibility over everything to do with daily maintenance of the account, which also lies with the netword, I am spending a good amount of my time training some of the Croudies on the specifics of one of our clients. That is a really fun and insightful experience.
Now, bringing everything together, I have learned the technical side of PPC to become an expert within my responsibility. This then evolved into me becoming more client-facing and doing more project management than actually executing the work and taking on the promotions and daily maintenance work. But where is it going in the future? One thing is already clear, besides further developing the old, we have taken on a new client and are in the process of putting together the strategy on how we will engineer the account to deliver top performance. This is something I am looking forward to. I also see myself taking on more client communication as my placement further advances. As for the rest? I will wait and see what comes my way.
In the past, I have spoken about the importance of culture and your work location. However, recently I have been thinking about the impact the size of the organization has on your placement experience. Obviously, I do not know what it is like to work in organizations of various sizes but I have heard some things.
Take my now graduated friend as an example. She worked in a start-up for about half a year as part of her placement. There she got a tremendous amount of responsibility really fast. She had to figure things out and was relied on to keep the company going. Now I do not know what that feels like but I imagine it being a whole lot of pressure and stress. I imagine it like being thrown in cold water without knowing how to swim. You have to learn really fast. Otherwise, you have a big problem. On the flip side though, I imagine that you develop really fast because of all this pressure to just make it work. It’s probably an experience you won’t get otherwise. So depending on your personal taste it may be worth looking deeper into.
Croud, on the other hand, is a scale-up. They are an award winning independent digital agency which is making a mark for themselves in the digital marketing space. Consequently, they are growing fast, bringing on high profile clients and needing to expand the in-house talent and processes. Because things are constantly developing and the company takes a very participative role, there are many opportunities to get involved and contribute.
For me this is perfect. Beyond learning about my specific job, I have signed up to become part of the new business development team and also contributed to the training material we use. That way I am able to further develop my skills and really benefit from my time here. Just to give you a few more examples of how I could have gotten involved, I could have also contributed to internal listening groups, become part of the company marketing video, helped refine the onboarding process and more.
The point is there is so much to get involved in yet, unlike in a start-up, where nobody has time to explain things, a scale-up like Croud provides you with a lot more structure and training for the responsibility you take on. So while reaching out into new areas you also learn from experts at the same time.
Finally, there are big corporations. Unfortunately, I do not know too much about them, but I expect the dynamic to be very different again. I would imagine that you are more detached from various parts of the business just due to the sheer size. At an organization like Croud, on the other hand, I can just get up and speak to almost everyone in the business in the same office and if they work elsewhere I can just message them on chat. I do not imagine the opportunities to be too limited though. While there probably is a clear path through the placement there will probably also be opportunities to branch out a little.
I think the best idea is to explore all three options. Ultimately, companies are very different and therefore it is a good idea to have a look around in the industry you are interested in. Maybe even reach out to some employees if you feel really keen. It’s up to you.
In last month’s blog, I took the opportunity to tell you about what I deem important when choosing a placement based on my personal experience. This month I would like to take some time to speak about my experience at my placement in a bit more detail.
If you would like to imagine what entering the world of PPC at the beginning of my placement felt like, think of an unknown foggy forest in the early morning. You do not know where you are and you can barely see your surroundings. But you cannot just sit around idle and expect to move forward. So, you must find the right paths that lead you to food, water and shelter. Yet you are in the middle of nowhere and paths are leading in every direction, so you do not know which one to take. Fortunately, you are not fully alone. There are people around and while they have their own things to do they are willing to give you directions and tell you what to watch out for. But memorising everything is difficult and, while you try your best to remember everything they said, you come off the path and get completely lost; not knowing where to go to get to where you are going. But there is always someone there to find you and guide you back on the right path. They take you back in the direction you should be going and point out important markers such as funny looking trees and stones you can use for orientation. This continuously happens and it is important that you focus on the small progress you make. While you get confused over and over again and keep getting lost, slowly there is a map of your surroundings forming in your head. But the fog is thick and your map is very small and patchy so you keep getting lost. Yet, over the days, the more you walk the paths you know, the more you pick up on and the more the map slowly takes shape. Now you know where your shelter is and you can reliably find water. With this, your confidence increases and you are able to look up and around a bit more and start joining the others for walks further away from your shelter. You notice the green moss on the trees and the ripe berries hanging just above your head. Even on familiar paths you still discover new things. Suddenly you realise how paths cross at times and how you can combine them to get your chores done. The more time you spend in the forest, the more it fills with memories and details and understanding. The more time you spend in the forest the faster you get to know it and the faster you expand your mental map.
And so over the past few months, I have progressed from understanding basic PPC concepts (such as the auction that happens every time someone searches for something on Google) to more advanced knowledge about my role including granular audience targeting and analysis. The forest is slowly coming alive to me and the fog is gradually lifting. By combining my new skills, I can do various tasks myself and I am also able to evaluate and correct the work of others. But the forest is large and the area that is familiar to me is still quite small, so I continue to wander into new territories such as understanding the clients’ needs and to provide them with the information they need to deliver on their business objectives and much more. I tell you, the feeling you get when you finally understand something and do not have to rely on the help of others for everything, this creation of the map where you have a detailed understanding of every tree and every turn is incredibly satisfying and rewarding. Exploring the forest, a bit more every day is what makes going to work a lot of fun.
Along the way, I even understood something about myself: I really enjoy analysing data and drilling down into it until I understand the nuances that result in a phenomenon such as an overall increase in conversions for a particular day.
Now, something that has changed a lot is my lifestyle. As I said before, I was very active in my second year, yet I was also very flexible. I could choose how long to spend on something and when I would do it. I could go to the gym whenever I felt like it and hang out with my friends regularly. That has changed. My days are a lot more structured as I must go to work every day. Unavoidably I structure my free time around it. I do my grocery shopping during my lunch break, I go to the gym after work. I spend a lot of my free time during the week doing chores such as cleaning, washing and ironing my clothes, taking care of my responsibilities towards university, cooking, etc. There is less free time and there are days where I do not get more than one hour of entertainment (like watching Suits). Instead of being able to have fun whenever, that has all moved to the weekend. And if I am honest with you, that’s enough for me. If you enjoy your job and seek out the things about it that you enjoy the most, life is easy and the new rhythm is just that, a new rhythm and nothing bad. The great thing is that, unlike at university where you may have a deadline or exams looming and have to pull all-nighters during the weekend, I go home from work and can completely forget about it if I want to. The bottom line is that your lifestyle at work will be different. But that is not for the worse. An exciting placement can be rewarding enough to easily make up for less personal time and flexibility.
You may be able to tell by now that the placement at Aston is a big thing and I must agree, it is! Getting an early insight into a potential industry you’d like to work in is a real opportunity and I am happy that I secured something great.
My journey started by choosing to study Psychology and Business at Aston with the motivation to maximize what I learnt during my time here and take advantage of any opportunity that came my way. However, I know that this is not the way for everyone, and a lot of my friends love the party life and know all the Broad Street bars off by heart. A degree is a real commitment both financially and time-wise. Of course, that does not mean you or I cannot have fun, but I believe it was my hard work and engagement that allowed me to land a great placement.
So, what did this all mean for me? Well, right from the start I went out and sought any opportunity to engage and get involved. These ranged from becoming a student representative, getting involved with societies like Aston Bright Futures and TEDx to engaging with bseen and Aston’s professional mentoring scheme. I am convinced that all these things together gave me a great head start for securing my placement. And if you are motivated, I highly recommend you check these things out!
How exactly did these things help though? My engagement at the uni made me attractive to businesses, as I clearly stood apart as hardworking and committed and my mentor was able to give me tips and industry insights. In the end, I was able to secure two placement offers and chose to become a digital marketing executive in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for Croud, an agency in Shrewsbury. It was a combination of the work, the culture, the salary and the location that made me choose Croud over a placement in product marketing for Stanley Black and Decker in Slough.
Looking at each factor in turn, I would like to start with the location of your placement. I want to highlight how important it is to feel comfortable in the place where you are doing your placement. I have heard of people that have lived in places where they really were not comfortable, and they spent every weekend away. Well, Shrewsbury is a beautiful, idyllic town that has kept its old charm despite growing quite big. It is green with a lot of nature and charismatic old houses. A place where I immediately felt at home and can relax as well as having fun. If I imagine living in Slough, where my first impression was dominated by industry and an uninspiring main road, I am very happy that I live here now. So, when you are choosing your placement, don’t ignore this aspect. After all, there is more to life than work!
Now, the reason I chose Croud – I have been interested in marketing for a long time. In fact, it is a trend I saw. So many things I got involved in had parts of marketing to them. Plus, I believe that digital marketing skills are vital in today’s business world. The ability to make people aware of your offer and then bringing the message in front of them at the right time fascinates me. That is why I chose a placement where I’d learn a lot about those things and would be in a culture that encourages learning, innovation, performance and is also supportive and relaxed. Yet, funnily enough, that was not my first choice. Initially, I wanted to take on a placement in business consulting and project management, but all the companies I applied to rejected me. Nevertheless, I stuck around and won the jackpot in my opinion. I am telling you this so you know that you should not be defeated by a rejection. Luck is putting yourself in the situation where you can win, so eventually you will win. Maybe not in everything, but definitely in finding your placement! Oh, and just to make sure you actually consider it: my conversation with my mentor, who has been in the digital marketing space for years, proved priceless for me to get some initial insight. So, make sure you take advantage of this opportunity!
Finally, I would put the salary as the last decision criteria, weighing the least. The points I’ve mentioned previously are much more important but obviously you will have to sustain yourself and maybe use some of the money to enjoy yourself and save for the final year. Therefore, I find a decent salary important. My findings from researching and applying to plenty of jobs on ratemyplacement.com is that the market rate for placement students is around £17,000. Some placements pay more, some less.
What I have not yet spoken too much about is my job and some brief experiences from my first month. Really quick, being a PPC Executive at an agency is all about making sure that clients’ key performance indicators (KPIs) are met, which requires constant optimization and maintenance. PPC is responsible for the advertising on the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube, image ads on websites, ads on LinkedIn, etc. So, if the client wants to make X amount of money per month or drive this amount of awareness to something they are doing, I support my team in getting that done and advising the client along the way.
Fortunately, at Croud there is a network of marketing experts. Called Croudies, the bulk of their activities are around manual work like optimization and copywriting, but they also have many other responsibilities. Obviously, I am still far from being an expert, so at the moment I am doing everything myself before taking advantage of the network. But it is a lot of fun! Personally, I like to understand how things work and by taking such a “from the ground up” approach I can do just that.
It is quite an adventure and I will share more insights and experiences in my next blog. Please let me know if this was helpful, and what you would like to hear about next time. That would be really helpful.
In my opinion, the key takeaway is to make sure you get engaged this year. Oh, and do not leave applying for placements too late. That is the one thing I would do differently if I could, even though it did turn out great for me in the end.