Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Rejoining the working world...some thoughts as a return-to-work mummy

The day is finally here: my maternity leave is over and today I started back at work! It's been a memorable, intense, incredible experience over the past nine months. I couldn't put it all into words if I tried, but I felt like I needed to write some kind of summary of what life has been like here in the Lucraft house. It's not my intention to become a mummy blogger long-term, or at least not to use this blog for that purpose. But this post is a one-off post, since being a mummy for the first time has given me plenty to vocalise about. It's aimed at others who might be in my shoes, but hopefully makes interesting reading for anyone working with someone returning to work after having a baby. I'm breaking it into sections to at least give people an opportunity to skip over and enjoy headlines if that's preferable.

1. They are not lying when they say how hard it is having a baby
The actual having part, i.e. the child birth part, is such a small part of the story. I didn't believe that until the event happened. The hardest part comes when you get home. The first two or three months at home with my baby, Tara, were so very very challenging, and nothing prepared me for how hard I would find coping with my own post-birth trauma and with a very small colicky infant. I was incredibly lucky to have family all come down and support me, and to have my husband at home for six weeks. We learnt together very quickly a myriad of ways to keep our little one more comfortable; mostly this consisted of bouncing her whilst walking up and down the room. This became known as the 'velociraptor walk'. I can only apologise to people that visited us during this period. They saw a lot of 'grumpy baby'. The good news about colic though, is that it really does turn off like a light switch. Once the colic disappeared, we have the most amazingly happy, social baby who laughs and smiles all day long.

2. Support for feeding new babies is just dreadful
Our labour ward staff were just wonderful and I really did have a good birth compared with some of the horror stories I've heard. Midwives are amazing people and combine kindness with immense physical skill so well. But from the point that we left the recovery suite onwards, I can honestly say I've been frequently shocked by how bad breastfeeding advice for new mums is, and I'm afraid Midwifery falls down here. There is zero consistency in message, and there is far too little time or support available to help us novices get started. From the maternity ward to home visiting staff to Health Visitors to other healthcare practitioners, I could write essays on the different advice we received on feeding. At one point in the space of a week, one midwife told me our baby had tongue tie and another a day later that she didn't; a GP sent us to A&E for slow weight gain, only for the Paediatrician to send us home telling us she was fine. It's latching that's the problem advised another; it's supply said someone else. Feed her on demand, says one; feed her no sooner than 3-hourly intervals, says another. I spent countless hours wondering whether I was doing the right thing, with so much conflicting advice pouring in from all sides. It's no wonder so many don't continue to breastfeed for the recommended six months. For the record, we have a healthy happy 8 month old who has gained weight steadily since birth, and piled it on since starting solids.

I know I'm not the only one who experienced trouble getting started with breastfeeding. I also know that I experienced more problems than many, so perhaps my assessment on the messaging and support is unfair. But hey, this is my summary of my experience. If the WHO really want women to breastfeed for six months exclusively, then a lot more resources need to be put towards helping us first-timers get through it.

I don't want to get drawn into the discussion on breastfeeding in public, but it would be a mistake not to mention it at all. All I have to say is that my baby needed feeding pretty much constantly for much of the time I was breastfeeding (I stopped at six months). I fed her wherever and whenever she needed it, and felt no shame doing so. I wasn't ever made to feel uncomfortable and I fed her pretty much everywhere: trains, cafes, parks, restaurants...the list is endless.

3. It really does get better
Everyone told me this, but to start off with I really couldn't believe them. The days were long, my baby cried a lot, and I was just trying to get through the day. But then things got better! And I was having a great time! By the time my maternity leave was drawing to a close I couldn't bear the thought of not being with my little girl all day. Now she is just so much fun, and our days have been filled with laughter, trips out to see friends with babies, and time spent with loved ones.

4. It goes so fast!
When I realised that my time at home was nearly up, it was devastating. I couldn't believe how fast the time had gone and spent a good chunk of time sobbing, wishing I could wind the clock back a few months and enjoy that time all over again. My advice to new mums is to savour every minute.

5. Using my KIT days was really worthwhile
I used up all but one of my Keep In Touch days to make my return to work easier. And it really was worthwhile. For me, I would have been returning to a brand new team who I didn't know at all. Coming in for a day every few weeks made it possible for me to get to know these people, and to feel connected to what was being planned for the year ahead, rather than coming in blind to plans I had no involvement in. It also helped me feel happy about coming back to work, because the KIT days were all positive experiences. I know I would have had a lot more anxiety if I hadn't done that.

6. Fighting the mummy guilt is hard
We have chosen to send Tara to a nursery four days a week. I know it will be good for her in many ways. And yet on her second day there she caught a bad cold and in her second week there she caught gastro-enteritis. It's impossible not to feel responsible and wonder if returning to work wasn't terribly selfish. Friends have helped me get through this, reminding me of the social skills she will learn at nursery, not to mention the stronger immune system she will have in the long-term. But I won't pretend I haven't cried about this too.

7. Everything I said before about support networks is still true!
Before I started my maternity leave I wrote about how much I valued my husband and his role in enabling me to return to work. It's all true: I couldn't do it if I didn't have an equal partner in all our childcare responsibilities. We both share the getting up in the night, we both share bathtimes and bedtimes, and will both support each other as we need to. I wouldn't cope if I had to do it all.

8. Going back to work feels great
So yes, I'm sad not to be at home with my baby, and I'm always going to experience some guilt that I am not the one providing all the childcare. But at the same time today felt completely good. I got to spend time contributing to an industry that I'm still passionate about, doing work that is rewarding. It's all good so far.

That's it on the mummy blogging. I'll get back onto blogging about Marketing, PR and communications from here on in...at least for the most part...

Hello from Tara!

Friday, 18 April 2014

I'm going to be away for a while, but I'll be back...

It's been a while since my last blog. There's been a lot (and really, I mean a LOT) going on.

Some of the intensity of the last two months was anticipated. I knew things were going to be busy. There are a lot of books lying around my house right now that look like this:

I'm having a baby. Soon. It's been a largely trouble-free pregnancy and I feel incredibly blessed. Over the moon doesn't quite describe how elated we've been in our house. Not just me and my husband, but the whole family, from siblings to grandparents, has been brimming over with joy. It's been an amazing experience being able to spread so much happiness around.

What I hadn't anticipated or factored in was quite how busy I would also be at work. For anyone that has read this blog before, you may realise that I only started working at Palgrave Macmillan back in September 2013. However just six months later, at seven months pregnant, I was appointed Head of Open Research Marketing for Palgrave and Nature Publishing Group jointly. Whilst I wouldn't necessarily recommend starting a new job that late in pregnancy, it was a fantastic opportunity and I'm so excited to be a part of what is a constantly evolving area of scholarly publishing. The last six weeks have been a roller-coaster ride, learning about a new area of the business, and getting a new team in place as quickly as possible. All that whilst care-taking my old team through this period of change too.

As I say, being that busy by itself would have been exhausting. Doing that whilst heavily pregnant, with no access to caffeine or wine to get me through the stressful days, has been astronomically knackering. I've barely seen friends, my weekends and evenings have been spent mostly sprawled on the sofa, whilst my husband or parents have fed me and cleaned up around me. I've constantly felt guilty about this, and am eternally grateful to them for being so understanding.

I've blogged in the past about how passionately I feel about why, as a woman, I want to be able to continue to grow in my career without that being a barrier to having a family. Why should women choose one or the other? Why is it always women stuck with that decision? I know Cheryl Sandberg's Lean In isn't to everyone's liking, but for me, reading it back in the Autumn of 2013, it made so much sense, and I've been recommending it heavily to female colleagues ever since. She recognises that there are women, like me, who don't see starting a family as the end of the line for their careers. And she talks about how recognising that herself, she made it possible to have both the career and the family life she wanted.

Making that decision relies on having two things:

One is having the support around you to enable you to take that decision in the first place. For me, that's  been the support of my husband, who has constantly encouraged me to go after a fulfilling work life. Whilst we both wanted a family, and recognised that there are going to be challenges for us as we figure out what work-life balance looks like, he knows that the responsibility of parenthood doesn't lie solely with me, and we're planning on working as a team so that I can succeed both at home and work.

The other is having the confidence not to hold myself back by getting caught up in 'working mummy guilt'. Ok, I haven't actually got there yet, but what Lean In gave me was the belief that you can be successful in your career without hurting your kids. If anything articles I've read during my pregnancy suggest that working mums feel more fulfilled (assuming they want to work) because they're not resentful of having given something of themselves up just because they've had a baby. They are therefore much more mindful of quality time when they are at home, and don't therefore have any less a satisfying relationship with their child just because they chose to go to work. I want my daughter to look at me as a role model and see that she can be anything she wants to be. Being happy both at work and home will help me be that role model.

Having said all that, having now started my maternity leave I can say I'm very very glad to be concentrating just on one job for the time being. And having received this from a colleague this week (very apt for a marketeer), I'm bracing myself for the challenge of starting the 'toughest job in the world'!

So, if it's quiet on the blog for a while longer, you'll know why...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Enough about the Facebook anniversary, already

All day long, on every communications channel, I have been bombarded with news about Facebook's anniversary and what it means. Happy Birthday, Facebook. Now, how about a little perspective...

Recently I came across this post via Twitter about the landscape for social networks in 2014. This maps just how broad social network use globally is. Yes, Facebook represents a very significant percentage of this map, but let's not forget just how diverse the world is.

There are some channels represented on the infographic that just don't ring as accurate to me. I find it hard to believe that some of these networks have the same active usage and engagement in 2014 as they had in their heyday. Size alone isn't interesting, or at least shouldn't be to us digital marketers. Instead, what we ought to be looking at is how active these populations are, who and how users are interacting on these sites, and how are they growing?

More to the point, what are the reasons we choose to engage with these social networks? One thing I'm certain of is that we join different sites for different reasons.

Yes, Facebook is dominating the size chart, but how many users want to receive business communication on there? I know on a personal level I still find adverts and sponsored posts on Facebook annoying. Posts from businesses, unless they're providing me with real value rather than just content updates, tend to irritate me too. What I do want from my time on Facebook is real engagement with my friends, near and far. It's helped me maintain friendships over greater distances than I could have otherwise managed. Their ten year promotion, #‎FacebookIs10‬, is actually a really smart promotion that is getting widely shared. And the reason why it resonates is because these are our personal stories. That's what Facebook means, from my point of view. I know that this won't be everyone's view, and I know some marketing communication on Facebook can be really effective, but I'm going to maintain some scepticism here.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Evolving exhibitions

It wouldn't surprise me at all if my contribution to this Marketing Week roundtable on conferences had gone unnoticed, given how little I am quoted, but nevertheless it was an interesting event.

The key takeaway for me was how creative some industries are being with trade shows and conventions, thinking far beyond the traditional display to offering real added value to attendees. This can be in the form of great speakers that fit in with the exhibition itself, or by finding new ways to drive engagement. My favourite story was about the company who produced some kind of environmentally friendly material (I forget what, exactly) but who decided to dedicate part of their stand to a micro pig. Needless to say, their footfall was off the scale - who could resist a micro pig?

Photo credit: Flickr lwpkommunikacio

If I am brutally honest, I just don't see this level of thinking going into conferences in my sector, and there is little appetite from those who drive these forwards to make a change. But I do think events like these can and should evolve. Why, in 2014, should we as exhibitors be tied to the same old dreary book displays? Let's think outside of the box! Let's find new ways to get attendees to engage with our brands!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Commitments for 2014

How does one commit to something? They say it takes 60 days of doing something every day for it to become a habit. It's just how you manage the endurance test of that initial period that is difficult!

It's the time of year that many of us are making our annual commitments. A new year, a fresh start. Actually, by 6th Jan many of us have probably already thrown in the towel!

I'm being fairly ambitious with my New Year's resolutions, but equally I know they are all achievable and I'm confident in my ability to stay self-motivated to keep on track. This is in stark contrast to my husband who is actually pledging money against his goals via beeminder.com as he knows he can't keep self-motivated without some third party assistance. I have no beef with this, so long as he doesn't give away too much of our money in the process...he has been warned!

So what is on the list for this year? I've had a three month break from pretty much all my good habits whilst I adjusted to a new routine, and now that I'm feeling more confident at work and have the benefit of two week's relaxation behind me, I'm ready to dive back in. I'll be back doing regular reading around marketing, PR and business. I've got a lengthy list of titles lined up and welcome other suggestions. I will be blogging about what I'm learning along the way as it always helps me digest knowledge better. I've also got a new Coursera MOOC coming up, which I'm really looking forward to.

There are other things on the list too for me of a more personal nature. Basically, it's going to be a very very big year. I did mention I was being ambitious, right?! Here goes...

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Marketer knows best? Timing and unsubscribes

It's been a rather long blogging break - It's fair to say I have had neither the brain space nor the motivation to pick up the laptop in the evening and think about it. The last six weeks have been an amazing, if somewhat daunting, period of adjusting into life as a Marketer instead of a PR. It really has been fantastic though, and I'm so grateful for how supportive my new team have been.

The inspiration to get back on the blogging-wagon finally came this weekend. Into my inbox on Saturday morning came my first Christmas marketing email, courtesy of M&S.

My immediate reaction was "Noooooooo!!!!!! Way too soon to be thinking about Christmas." I posted this on Facebook, and immediately got a response from a fellow Communications professional to tell me to "Unsubscribe." This came as a surprise to me. I generally like the marketing emails I get from M&S. I like the brand and you can guarantee that I will actually be doing a lot of my Christmas shopping in there. So other than hitting the delete button I wasn't intending to take any action. Should one bad email campaign turn me off to all future campaigns?

I found myself wondering how many brands get it wrong, with trigger finger recipients like my friend immediately opting out from all future contact. Given the number of email campaigns a large business sends out, the risk of damaging those customer relationships with the wrong call to action is pretty high. So how to counter this?

Well, for one thing, one could compare the brand advocacy involved. For me, the "wrong message" (from my point of view being too early) didn't please me, but it only dented what is a strong connection between me and the M&S brand. For my colleague, there could have been a much weaker connection between her and the brand for the reaction to be so extreme. Building relationships is a huge part of what marketing and communications is about. Building up capital is achieved by getting the right messages out at the right time, and providing a pleasing brand experience again and again. 

The other thing I've been wondering about is more complicated and isn't really a counter strategy at all: was the "wrong time" for me the "right time" for the majority of M&S customers? After the initial shock of thinking about Christmas in October was passed, I found myself wondering if it was me that was in the minority. There's actually only ten weeks of Christmas shopping left. That's a scary thought, but I guess some smart marketer knew that, and that October was the absolute right time to get people started on their planning. So basically, that premise that Marketing helps the consumer figure out what it is they want might genuinely be at play here…

Friday, 30 August 2013

I'm moving on

I've known for a while but it's finally here.

As of Monday, I join Palgrave Macmillan as their head of Academic Marketing.

This is a big shift for me, one that I'm both thrilled and excited by. It's a new challenge and new adventure, one that I'm very ready for. 

It was very strange to say goodbye to SAGE this week after nearly 6.5 years. I set up the PR function from scratch there. I joined as a team of one, and left as head of a department with 7 people in the UK and a parallel team set up to match my own in the US. 

I'm certainly leaving with my head held high. I learned so much in that time, and have been fortunate to work on some incredibly exciting initiatives, not least of all launching niche social media network Methodspace, overseeing SAGE's major corporate communications push around the social sciences (ranging from the launch of Social Science Space, Social Science Bites and many many corporate partnerships), and managing some tricky communications initiatives including four major business acquisitions. It's never been quiet, and although it has often been challenging I have loved my time there.

Despite all that, I have been ready for a new challenge for a while, and having met with my new boss back in May, I knew this role would give me the opportunity to learn and grow. I'm very glad to have found a position within academic publishing that gives me the chance to build on the nine years of experience I have in professional communications, and apply that in a new arena. Marketing has a lot in common with PR, but equally there's a lot I'll be doing for the first time. That is daunting but also very exciting.

When I started out as a Marketing Communications Assistant back in 2004, I didn't specifically plan to end up in Education, but I can honestly say I'm so glad I did. What a rich, colourful and inspiring sector. I love being able to work with such a broad array of genuinely interesting people, each undertaking the lofty challenge of uncovering useful knowledge and sharing that with the world. I'm thrilled to be joining a global publishing team doing some incredibly interesting work and I can't wait to get stuck in.