We’re taking a trip to Crispin Porter Bogusky today, to speak to London MD Helen James.

She admits her friends think her job is ‘Madmen-esque’ – so hopefully they’re reading this and will get a better idea of what her average day looks like.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I head up the London office of Crispin Porter Bogusky. We are a creative agency delivering change for brands in the UK and globally. This means that most of my time is spent leading our team, ensuring we are delivering real value for our clients and finding and attracting the very best talent so that our clients end up with the very best creative minds focused on their business challenges and opportunities.

helen james

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

In London, I probably sit at the centre of the organisation – working closely with our team and clients to ensure we can deliver high quality thinking and creativity. I am in the lucky position of getting to work with everyone in the agency and our brands. Our structure is relatively flat with very little hierarchy, meaning our team operates in a nimble, fluid and more efficient way.

I report into our Global CEO, Erik Sollenberg. Erik is based in Boulder, Colorado, and we try to get together quarterly. I plan my trips around the ski season, of course!

Although we are part of the MDC network and part of the CPB family, we operate very independently. Erik’s vision is to have autonomy in local markets and so our leadership team have real empowerment and freedom to do the right thing for our clients and team.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

In truth, a bit of everything. It goes without saying that I need to be strategic and creative to help our clients solve their business problems in interesting and surprising ways. Probably the most critical is people skills. Most of my time is spent helping my team and our clients to deliver real value to their brands. My role is to alleviate any pressure and ensure my team can do their very best. I think decisiveness is another important skill. Our industry and business move quickly and so we have to be best positioned to also move quickly and take advantage of cultural trends to ensure the brands we work with remain compelling for people. Finally, and probably most importantly, you need the ability to know where to put your energy. This is definitely something I’ve become so much better at over the last few years.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Variety is a key theme: I try to get a mix of spending enough time with my team, balanced with time with our clients. I still get a real buzz from solving problems – strategically and creatively – and so I’ll always protect time to get stuck into the creative process. I’m also strict about protecting enough time to focus on the bigger picture of running the business – looking at our proposition and how we can refine it to make it more potent for our clients.

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

Love – Helping brands solve really complex business challenges in truly surprising ways.

Sucks – Less of a ‘sucks’ and more of a ‘makes me laugh’ I guess – but it’s non-industry friends who think my job is quite Mad Men-esque and that that’s what the business is still like. For better or for worse, it isn’t!

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

To keep it simple, I have four key metrics that I keep everyone focused on and regularly track:

  1. Client happiness – Are we adding value to our clients’ business and is working with us an easy and enjoyable experience.
  2. Creative effectiveness – is our working getting better at solving our clients’ business problems.
  3. Culture – are our people happy and are they able to do their jobs brilliantly? Importantly, are we keeping our top talent motivated and inspired and attracting the best people into our business.
  4. Commercial – is our business growing.

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

My team. I love it when we hit the right pace and rhythm, and everyone is smashing it. It’s the best feeling in the world.

How did you end up at CPB, and where might you go from here?

I’ve grown up in advertising. Before joining CPB, I spent the prior 10 years at BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) where I got to move around the business doing brilliant things with brilliant people, so it didn’t really feel like 10 years. I learned a lot and am grateful that I am able to put all of that experience into my current role transforming CPB London.

From here. Who knows? For now, I’m excited by our new team at CPB and the momentum we are building, so I’m focused on ensuring we deliver value for our clients and upping the creative output from London.

Which advertising has impressed you lately?

I’m really proud of one of our clients, The Glenlivet. Since our pitch in March they have delivered on the brand platform and launched a bold, distinctive new brand world which looks killer (if I say so myself). Our launch film – Breaking Walls – demonstrates how The Glenlivet have broken the conventions of an old-skool category to push things forward. Did anyone say I had to be modest?!

What advice would you give a marketer starting out?

As we step into a new decade – one that already looks challenging culturally and commercially – I would encourage confidence. I don’t mean arrogance, ill thought-through confidence, I mean passion and belief in the best, most interesting ways to solve problems. One of the ways we help marketers have this confidence is through using real-time live testing to help learn and validate strategic and creative platforms through the development process, rather than after it’s done. We are finding it so helpful to get to the best work and gives marketers that little bit more confidence to make the decision.

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