A Week in My Life: Tamara Littleton, Founder and CEO of The Social Element
Tamara Littleton founded The Social Element, a global social media agency based in Marylebone. She also co-founded Polpeo, a crisis simulation company, and now shares what goes on during a week in her working life.
I start the week with budget meetings. They’re more fun than they sound, because my two board directors, Wendy Christie and Treena Hales, are in London for the week. We have an almost entirely virtual working environment at The Social Element - most of our 300-strong team work from home (Wendy lives in Aberdeen and Treena in Valencia) so we look forward to our face-to-face meetings, which happen in our hub office in London.
Wendy is the heart of the agency and our Chief People Officer. Treena is the COO and the engine. We have worked together for well over a decade and it’s such a joy to work closely with people I trust and admire.
In the evening, the three of us go to a Funzing talk: “Investigating Jimmy Savile, exposing a monster.” It’s a fascinating talk by Mark Williams-Thomas, the journalist who first exposed Savile as a paedophile.
I have been involved in child safety for many years, and it was horrifying to hear just how much power Savile had to influence the media and hoodwink the organisations he was involved with. It’s an important story to tell, so we can all make sure it never happens again.
The thing that really struck me was that his victims had no voice. Cases were buried, complaints ignored. I hope that in today’s world of social media, their voices would have been heard much sooner.
Tuesday brings another round of budget meetings, including hearing recommendations from our Chief Services Officer, Blaise Grimes-Viort, on scaling up his team. We see Blaise as the brains of the organisation as he’s usually got one eye about five years in the future. He’s currently recruiting for strategists, creatives and content producers which is a big growth area for the business.
By lunchtime, we’ve agreed on the numbers and we meet up with Kate Hartley, co-founder of my second company, Polpeo, and head to Bao in Fitzrovia for lunch. I think a good team should enjoy sharing food together, and Bao is my latest obsession. We walk there - I’m trying to get my steps up so always try to go for a walk at lunchtime.
In the evening, I meet up with a group from the Supper Club - a network of entrepreneurs and business owners. We meet regularly to share ideas, challenge each other, and today’s session - over dinner at Fancy Crab - is to discuss leads and hold each other accountable for the actions we agreed the last time we met.
Every Wednesday starts with a business coaching session. It’s a way for me to regroup and focus on the things that are really important. Afterwards, I meet a content production agency called Goldsand, to share stories and advice. We both have a consultancy-first model and it’s useful to share approaches with similar agencies.
Back to the office for coffee with Christine Townsend, a tech entrepreneur who also works in crisis management. It’s great to see her - she’s over from Austin where she lives - and which she tells me, is fast becoming a new Silicon Valley.
In the afternoon I have a debrief with my team about an RFP that we didn’t win. We don’t pick over mistakes, but it’s always worth looking at what we can do better, and what we can learn. We talked to the brand after our pitch and the feedback was lovely. We learned that while we weren’t right for each other on this particular project (they’ve kept their incumbent agency which has an office very close to where they are), they want to introduce us into other areas of the business that fit better with what we do: more strategy and consultancy.
We didn’t previously ask for feedback and losing a pitch would upset us. But if you ask the right questions and get honest feedback, you realise that sometimes there are things out of your control and you can identify other opportunities that are better suited to you. It might sound strange but overall that meeting was really positive.
Then I have my weekly two-hour tactical meeting with my full Exec team, led by our inspirational Chief Commercial Officer, Ashley Cooksley, based in North Carolina. We use Google Hangouts to check in on any pressing issues and get a quick update on what we’re all up to. Then onto The Office Group to renew the office here for another year.
In the evening, I meet up with our most prolific networker and Chief Marketing Officer, Emma Harris, and we head to one of the brilliant Marketing Society Braver conversations. Today we hear from Paula Nickolds who is the first female MD of John Lewis being interviewed by Craig Inglis, Chairman of the Marketing Society and John Lewis’ Customer Director.
Given that Craig reports into Paula and they obviously have a great working relationship, it’s a really insightful interview. I’m a member of the Marketing Society and find it a brilliant forum for meeting CMOs of brands and getting to know what their priorities are.
Having been fired up from the Braver event last night, I’m feeling pretty un-brave today. I’m working from home because there’s a leaky pipe somewhere in my house, which means all the floorboards have been pulled up. My cat disappears under the floor, and I run away from an enormous spider. My girlfriend gets rid of the spider and rescues the cat while I try to appear professional and in control on a video call with my PR agency.
When my heart rate has returned to normal, I meet with Lisa Barnett, our Director of Crisis and Communications, about the structure of a crisis workshop that we’re delivering for a client. Then onto a team webinar which we do monthly; this one is on passion analytics which is a new culture initiative we’re introducing. It’s run by the rather fabulously named Institute of Passion, in conjunction with The Happiness Lab. Together, they’ve created ‘passion analytics’ - a daily email that goes out to all the company asking them three questions about their happiness (anonymously, of course).
We work hard at creating a strong culture, and this means we can track how happy people are against company milestones. It’s like a mental fitness tracker - if you know what’s going on over time - you can do something about it.
Our marketing team then share a preview of our new website that we’re launching soon which focuses on the core of what we do - creating genuine human connections. I leave feeling uplifted and inspired.
I finish at 5pm which is earlier than usual, to visit Dana Mead, my executive assistant, who’s recovering from minor surgery. I’m completely lost without her; she runs my entire life!
Then home to Walthamstow for choir practice. Singing is the way I wind down, and we’re rehearsing for a performance at the Walthamstow Garden Party, part of the London Borough of Culture celebrations.
I spend the morning working on the script for a video to accompany a campaign we’re launching shortly called ‘Social Overwhelm’ to help brands simplify their social media.
Our research shows that many global brands feel they’ve lost control of their social media, and a lot of the work we do is to make it more manageable and measurable. Then I’m off to see one of our biggest clients, and from there I go straight to Liverpool Street to catch the train.
I’m taking the afternoon off to spend the weekend with a group of friends. We’ve planned lots of good food, good wine and long country walks - the perfect end to the week.