The application process for the WPP Fellowship is a lot like the showjumping finals at Crufts.
Would-be Fellows have to leap through a number of hoops and contort themselves into all manner of intellectual positions in pursuit of the prize. And whilst the process left me panting, I greatly enjoyed it. The depth and variety of the questions I had to answer – first in writing and then in person – convinced me that the Fellowship’s approach to developing ‘ambidextrous brains’ was the right (and left) one for me.
A Fellow’s role differs from business to business – what unites us is the diversity of our experience. In my three years on the scheme, I’ve worked as a campaign planner at a major London ad agency, a digital strategist at a Singapore-based media agency network, and an account manager at a digital agency in New York. Training is similarly tailored: depending on the demands of the role he or she undertakes, a Fellow could learn to write copy or code.
The structure of the scheme itself is simple: a Fellow works at three agencies, across three marketing disciplines, often in three countries. With just twelve months per rotation, the challenge to the Fellow is to assimilate and add value for their host agency within a relatively short time frame.
I found that the best way to do that is to volunteer aggressively. In London, I asked for as broad a batch of projects as my managers could assign me. A brand strategy revamp, several pitches, and an app development initiative were some of the highlights.
In Singapore, my title was ‘digital strategist’, although I ended up devoting the lion’s share of my time to designing, building, and selling a pair of data and analytics systems that suck in millions of social, search, and retail data points from around Southeast Asia every week, then spit them out in glorious, highly comprehensible technicolour. The systems, now approaching their first birthday, have been used in pitches and planning around the media agency network, and they rank among my proudest achievements.
Although there have been challenges along the way, I am fortunate in that I have always been able to count on the support of my managers and mentors around WPP. One of the greatest advantages of the WPP network – which is about as global and as multidisciplinary as a network can get – is that there is always an expert on hand to assist you in finding a solution to any problem.
As can probably be inferred from the above, there are many reasons I like working for WPP. Chief among them, though, is that I never really feel like I’m working ‘for’ WPP. On the Fellowship, the relationship between the parent company and the employee is distinct from anything offered by other graduate schemes I have come across.
Indeed, this is where the point of difference from showjumping at Crufts becomes apparent: in that esteemed dog show, the canine competitor is obliged to follow a pre-determined path, led by its master. On the Fellowship, we are expected to work in operating companies in a largely independent capacity, forging our own path – and, ultimately, the future of WPP – by applying the diverse skills we have learned to an ever-evolving set of challenges and opportunities. The scheme’s encouragement of entrepreneurialism is both professionally rewarding and personally exciting.