Going Global: The Benefits of International Work Experience
One year ago TracyLocke gave me the incredible opportunity to leave the comforts of Connecticut and transfer abroad to our latest and greatest office in London. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only foreigner, but one of many in our small but mighty agency. Now, day after day, French, English, Italian and German chirp all around me as client calls are taken and projects are presented. And according to the United Nations, this is just a fraction of the staggering 232 million people living and working in a country in which they weren’t born.
So, what’s driving creatives like Australia’s Dave Droga and South Africa’s Tony Granger to uproot their lives and move to Saatchi & Saatchi’s UK office? And why is TracyLocke, along with 60% of other global employers, seeking talent outside of its own borders?
The Benefits of International Work Experience (From Someone Who Knows):
Moving to the UK proved to be quite challenging, but it also increased my ability to adapt in ways far beyond what I thought possible. Although I didn’t have a language barrier to deal with, learning and acclimating to the daily differences was exhausting. In my first week alone, I learned the true greatness of an electric kettle and how to make a proper cup of tea that wouldn’t offend my colleagues— easy, right? Okay, how about trying to erase 25 years of using Fahrenheit, just so I could participate in basic office small talk about the weather? Or design an experiential event with a new set of metric dimensions that mean nothing to me? I’m still working on that one.
Marketing is all about understanding the world around us so that we can adapt to it and make positive changes for our audience. Take Budweiser’s recent modification of a series of adverts from the 50’s and 60’s that had originally showed women in roles subservient to their husbands. To celebrate International Women’s Day, illustrators Nicole Evans from Australia, Dena Cooper from New York and Heather Landis from L.A. revised the ads to champion gender balance and female empowerment. Their ability to understand and adapt to the world’s ever-changing political climate and channel their varied experiences and viewpoints into an impactful campaign can be credited in part, I believe, to their combined international work experience.
On my very first day at TracyLocke London, I was greeted by many of my colleagues with ‘Are you all right?’ to which I responded, ‘I don’t know, am I? Am I bleeding?’ while quickly looking down at my clothes and grasping my skin in search of open wounds. You see, in America, the only time anyone would say this to you would be if you were in distress, say, after an untimely tumble. I quickly learned that this phrase was a simple pleasantry that meant the same thing as asking someone, ‘How are you?’
In marketing, understanding who we’re talking to enables us to better communicate with various audiences. For example, P&G’s ‘Thank You Mom’ Olympic advert (the one that demonstrated how moms are behind many of life’s successes) managed to reach every region in the world with true clarity. How did Wieden + Kennedy nail the communication? Perhaps it was their decision to appoint creative director, Sarah Hoffman, who has global experience from Portland, Amsterdam, London, New York and Delhi. Hoffman had lived all over, gaining invaluable insight and awareness of different cultures to create one advert powerful enough to connect them all.
When I moved to London last summer, I discovered that many of the ingredients I routinely used to make food did not exist here – like my beloved low-fat crumbled feta cheese from Trader Joe’s. Cooking became an issue. So, I gathered a list of affordable grocery stores from my colleagues at work, studied common UK recipes, and learned how to make a variety of new tasty dishes. Problem solved. This same sort of reactive problem-solving can be seen in director Mark Molloy’s 3-minute film ‘Apple At Work – The Underdogs’ where a motley band of lower-level office workers are given just 48 hours to turn an idea – in this case their round pizza box idea – from concept to reality for a chance to change their careers forever. Australian-based Molloy drew inspiration from his five years of work experience in London where he had to problem-solve daily in order to overcome adversity. I now put stilton cheese from Lidl in my salads, just in case you were wondering.
Living and working in a new city, different from anything you’ve experienced before, is intoxicating. Every gallery, pub, gig, food market, cocktail lounge and piece of graffiti serves as an inspirational breeding ground for cultivating new ideas. Creative director, Augusto Sola, originally from Argentina, said he moved to work at 101 London because he wanted to live in a city with a different, but vibrant, cultural scene. After absorbing the endless exhibitions available in London, he went on to create this funny two-minute film for the UK’s The Art Fund, which successfully demonstrated how one work of art can’t please everyone, but you can see everything with its National Art Pass. Sola used his new environment to positively influence his creativity, proving that working abroad pushes our projects further so we can create more than we could before.
The world of marketing is constantly changing at a rapid pace and now, more than ever, there is a need for international work experience to strengthen what we produce globally. We all have the ability to better adapt, communicate, problem-solve and create; we just need to take the jump and join in. PWC predicts that the number of workers who will take on global assignments will rise by 50% over the next decade. Agencies like WPP, BBDO, Ogilvy and now TracyLocke have all seen the benefits of employing international talent through fellowship programs and transfers already. You or your agency could be a part of the movement too. And take it from someone who knows, it’s totally worth it.
Written by Maddie Mafilios