Changing career from sales and management consultancy to digital marketing and social media

One evening in December 2008, I was sitting at home playing with my MacBook computer and started to record a video of myself talking to the screen. I decided I should create a video and send it to all JCI London members as a final thank-you message. JCI stands for Junior Chamber International and is a global network that I’ve been involved in for over 10 years.

Over Christmas, my cousin Joel helped me film and edit my video. I was so fascinated by Final Cut Pro, the software he used to edit the video, I decided I wanted to learn how to edit films and learn more about film production.

I had been working in the professional service team at BSI for eighteen months, selling big consultancy and standardisation projects, when the head of my team saw that I had lost interest in my job. (I am not that good at hiding my feelings.) I spent a lot of time negotiating difficult legal contracts and didn’t feel enthusiastic about dealing with more lawyers; it made me feel drained.

My boss went on a training course entitled, ‘How to develop talent’. The next day he confronted me and asked me straight out (imagine this with a French accent), ‘Sofie, what do you really want to work with?’ I was not comfortable being put on the spot like this.

‘I would like to become a film producer and work with social media,’ I replied.

A few days later I was told that there was a new role in the company, and it looked as if I had written the job description. The role was Marketing Manager with a focus on film production and social media. I was interviewed for the position and I started two months later, in the middle of 2009. Was this luck or coincidence? Or a result of my clarifying in my own mind and speaking up about what I truly wanted?

I was the first social media manager in a business that had a 100-year-old history and many long-established systems and processes to follow. But the systems and processes in place were not the biggest challenge – the culture was. I still believe that BSI is doing okay when it comes to digital development; but introducing and encouraging social media to be used by everyone in every team was a challenge. Of course, all marketers and social media enthusiasts thought it was a no-brainer to connect with everyone online, but the sceptics were more hesitant.  My job description was short and neat: to introduce new digital ideas. It was a challenge and I learned a lot about how creativity and innovation works in the digital world.

I had a great relationship with my new boss, Santa (yes, that’s her name), and our team performed very well. We continually learned all we could about new digital techniques. Working with marketing in an organisation like BSI means that you have to do things well, much better than average. To do it badly is an enormous risk for the organisation.

One of the new skills I had to learn in my new job was film editing, and I completed a five-day Final Cut Pro (FCP) editing course. If you have used FCP you know it’s a bit complicated. It was a super intense course and it was actually a JCI member who was my teacher. After the course I was able to apply my new skills immediately.

I also arranged for a former BBC film photographer to train people in our team in filming and thinking as a film director. She was an amazing teacher and got us all to understand what shots are needed when filming and small camera tricks. I loved this! One of the best and most practical courses I have ever undertaken.

At BSI, minor mistakes could potentially cause huge damage. I learned how to communicate with all our stakeholders, of which there were many. I set up and managed several websites and social media networks.

The most important thing I did was to train and educate all ten sectors’ teams in what can be achieved with the help of digital tools. Once educated, those who were apprehensive of the digital world felt the door open to a whole new reality. By sharing this knowledge, the way our team communicated with the rest of the business changed for the better. I had built new bridges between the teams and the whole organisation changed the way they looked at communication. Training can be a powerful tool.

 One of the more interesting meetings that I had as the internal film producer at BSI was with a production company from Belfast. All the meeting rooms were all booked, so we sat down in the BSI canteen – a sales representative, a film director and me. I had met with many agencies and very few of them got my creative juices flowing. But in this meeting I met Grainne – who is both a film director and producer. It was as if we had much to discuss and more to learn from each other. This was the beginning of a great working relationship and friendship. Grainne is a fantastic teacher and mentor. I love to surround myself with people like her.

When I began learning about film production, I felt initially very intimidated by people who had gone to film school. But the reality was not what I imagined. I met some great directors and producers at an event at the British Film Institute. What they told me was that you don’t go to a film school to learn how to make films; you go there to build up a network of connections. It made sense. Many directors and producers are experts on two things – leadership and creativity. Making a film involving hundreds of people is difficult. If you are good at it, you know a lot about people. From working with both directors and producers, I learned a lot about how to get things done and how to show your appreciation of others. You can’t produce a big project yourself; you have to involve a lot of experts.

After I had been in my digital marketing, social media and film production role for about two years, the company got a new managing director. All employees had to apply for new jobs – the whole organisation changed. I interviewed for the role as Website Director but didn’t get the job. The interview was more like a hearing than anything else, and I would have found it difficult working in that position.

Losing my self-confidence and finding it through public speaking

I totally lost my self-confidence after this interview, and to pick myself up I joined a public speaking club. I improved my public speaking skills and felt much better about myself. I now believe that becoming an effective public speaker is one of the best things you can do to boost your self-confidence.

With my newfound confidence, I moved on from my Digital Marketing Manager role at BSI to work as E-commence Manager for ITV online at the end of 2011. ITV is the biggest commercial TV channel in the UK and they produce amazing TV programmes. After I had been in my new job for about three days, I felt that it was not for me. It was so hard to have this internal conflict, but I got on with the job and reassured myself that things were going to be just “fine”.

It felt to me as if the organisation was afraid of creativity and that there was a distinct lack of digital knowledge, listening skills and leadership. Many technical things were not properly developed, which resulted in many issues. On top of this, all the people who made decisions about the systems had left the organisation, so there was nobody left to ask questions of. I was not enjoying working there and felt mentally drained. After about five months, I left, and I had to pick myself up again.

I always try, though, to see what I have learned to take with me to the next step. And the one thing I did learn from this experience was that you must get the basics right in your digital systems to get them to work with you and not against you. 

Sofie Sandell by the river Thames

Photographer Sandra Donskute

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