Life lessons from marketing industry leaders: battling the global pandemic


By Jessica Houston – School of Marketing Ambassador

Last year the world came to a dramatic stop when the pandemic hit, and we were all told to stay at home.

With that came ambiguity and the need to adapt. In what has been a tremendously difficult year, we wanted to provide people with inspiration and optimism for their journey into the future whatever that future may be. As a result, The Places We'll Go Show was born. 

Hosted by Ritchie Mehta, Founder of School of Marketing and Mark Evans, MD of Marketing at Direct Line Group (and not to forget our fantastic producer Jordan Harry) we invited some of the marketing industry's leading experts to talk to us. The Show's anchor point is to remind viewers that you will be happy, content, successful and fulfilled, but not every day. It's the undulations that give you energy and make for an exciting journey. This idea weaves through every Show where we have honest discussions about how our guests have made it, not despite the ups and downs, but because of them. 

There have been so many great takeaways that we couldn't resist pooling some of them into a blog. So, with that in mind, let's revisit some of the highlights as a reminder to help you remain positive, hopeful and productive in the months ahead. 


There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.

The brilliant Magnus Djaba, Global President at Saatchi & Saatchi, was one of our first guests and brought to life what we were all feeling so consciously. He reminded us of a Lenin quote: "there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen". And it is true. We were (and arguably still are) going through those weeks where decades are happening, and people have had to adapt in the face of adversity. He said: "good leaders are those who think a lot before they speak and recognise there is no one right answer for the majority anymore. Everyone has their own set of unique circumstances that leaders need to recognise, understand and consider when making decisions for their people". 

One thing that stuck with me was that we are learning on a personal and national level that it's always better to fix a problem correctly in the long run. How many times have you tried to fix something via a shortcut and have ended up spending a lot more time at a later date having to go back and start again? What a great reminder and lesson for us all. 


We need to break down the mental health taboo.  

Mental health has been a taboo subject for many years. Over the last 12 months, we have learned that more than ever, it is essential to be kind, prioritise your wellbeing and help others who may be struggling. We invited Jack Green, Professional Athlete and Founder & Wellbeing Consultant at Olywel to talk to us. His story is a fascinating one, and he openly shared his battle with mental health and some of the lessons he has learned since finding help. He said, "Mental health is a continuum, and we all have our ups and downs, but it's about recognising these and managing them. We need to remember to let go of things that are not in our control and accept that it is ok to be vulnerable. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable with those closest to you and be conscious of how you respond to others and accept vulnerability. Understanding this is key". 

He also talked about 'measuring based on effort' meaning it's not always about the result but the effort and time you put into doing something and enjoying the journey. The final nugget was around turning 'hard work into smart work'. Many of us have never been so busy in our careers, yet we need to find time for self-care more than ever. Finding ways to work smarter and manage your time effectively is vital. 


Appreciate the small things in life, and focus on what matters

One of my favourite lessons from the brilliant Carrie Longton, Co-Founder of, was to appreciate the small things in life. It may sound simple, but the last 12 months have undoubtedly exacerbated this lesson for most. Life is precious, so we need to appreciate the time spent with loved ones and focus on what matters. 

If we think about this in a business context, it also rings true. As marketers, I think we can often get wrapped up in all of the new shiny trends and sometimes lose sight of what matters to the customer. Mark Ritson quite rightly said, "Marketing's role, to connect with customers, hasn't changed despite everything". Something to think about with your plans heading into 2021: how can you supercharge the things that matter for your people, customers and society? 


Don't conform to self-limiting beliefs

Keith Weed, Ex-CMO at Unilever, told us a brilliant story about not conforming to self-limiting beliefs. In his mid-30s he decided he wanted to move to France, but didn't speak the language and had failed his French O Level at school. In the UK it's drilled into you that you're either a scientist or a linguist and they never cross. Keith's strengths were in maths, physics, chemistry, and the analytical side, which meant by definition, he couldn't speak languages. But, low and behold, he moved to Paris and learned to speak french! 

The lesson here is to push and test the parameters of your beliefs. Keith reminded us of the Eddison quote, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." Mucking up is part of learning, and you learn more from your mistakes, so don't be afraid of this. 


Creativity wins 

One lesson that has shone brightly through many of our shows is the notion that creativity wins. Yet, creativity is difficult in the circumstances we find ourselves in. We aren't interacting with others. We can't bounce ideas off each other quickly, and we haven't experienced different environments that would usually act as stimuli. 

For Jon Wilkins, MD at Accenture Interactive and Chairman at Karmarama, constant curiosity and desire to learn the new experiment and be creative is key. He urged us, "to love the new stuff because if you don't, you'll get stuck. Suppose you can open your mind where everything new and challenging motivates you. In that case, you will keep going and growing and find exciting opportunities". 

Craig Fenton, Director of Strategy and Operations at Google, also amazed us with his ability to juggle many priorities and keep creativity at the heart of everything he does. He explained, "the ability to remain agile and open to change, to embrace a life of learning and imagine a future that is different from today, and go and create it, is a superpower. The skill and comfort to operate with creativity in an ever-changing environment will separate the great from the good". 

I think the underlying lesson here is for everyone to find room to express and nurture the creative side of your brain and remain open-minded to the possibilities of the future! What better inspiration to finish on.

You can watch all of the replays in our latest thinking section.