A Week in My Life: Rachel Forde, UK CEO at media agency UM

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UM has seen a host of new clients, including JustEat, A+E networks and Premier Inn, join its roster since Rachel Forde became CEO in July 2018.

She shares what a week in her working life is all about...

Monday

A 7am landing at Heathrow isn’t a typical Monday start, but we’ve just returned from half term in South Africa. OMG, I want to go back already. My nickname to close friends is ‘Judith Chalmers’, and yes, I am showing my age, but holidays are very special to us. Specifically, spending time with our girls.

A ‘typical’ Monday is ‘Mummy Day Monday’. I have a part-time role in theory but I sometimes end up working all day from home. Whatever happens though, I still get to do drop off and pick up from school and hang out at the school gate. When I get to scoop up my youngest with a hug and a snack, I can try to be a brilliant mother – even if it is only one day of the week.

When I do get time home alone, it’s often spent catching up on emails and/or calls and preparing for the week ahead, and today is no different. I do try to be ‘mindful’ and fit in a last-minute Thai massage when possible. Today I come out feeling pulverised, but I can only assume this is a good thing?

After I’ve fed the girls, the red-eye from Cape Town is just about kicking in… I jump into the shower at 5.30pm, force myself to dress up and get a car into town. I’m co-hosting a client table with Caroline Foster Kenny (my boss and fellow WACLer) at the Savoy WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications) Speaker dinner. Tonight we’re hearing from Met commissioner Cressida Dick, she’s a role model for women - and men - in any industry.

Tuesday

This week, it’s FWD Festival – a three-day event hosted by IPG Mediabrands, UM’s parent company. There are all sorts of talks and panels designed to keep us up to speed on industry trends and challenges, helping teams do the best possible job for their clients.

I start the day off by moderating a client panel and quizzing Mattel, Premier Inn, FSCS and J&J about what’s keeping them up at night. I’m pleased to report it’s not UM. We cover a broad range of topics, from social media marketing to short-termism. What’s really interesting is that despite being in an industry that feels like it’s evolving almost on a daily basis, clients’ needs haven’t changed. They still value trusted partnerships and above all they want us to help them remain one step ahead of the game.

I then go along to a fireside chat with Just Eat and it’s nice to be in the audience this time. Later I speak at one of the IPG Mediabrands ‘Business Updates’ sessions, which looks back over the year to date and the challenges that lie ahead in 2020.

Towards the end of the afternoon, I sneak off to The Lounge – a space that’s been set up by our in-house Mental Health Champions – where I’m able to get a cup of tea and 10 minutes peace.

Wednesday 

Our brilliant au pair Maria already has breakfast waiting for the girls downstairs after they’ve got dressed. My husband and I kiss them goodbye and leave at around 7.30.

We generally travel to work together as we’re both based in Farringdon. I can’t say we’re particularly chatty though and the commute usually finds us on our phones working through emails.

Nine to twelve flies past – I have a catch up with our EMEA regional leadership team, a sit-down with a client, followed by a presentation from our UK senior leadership team. The latter includes an update on our internal satisfaction survey. 

As you can imagine, these stats are all important to me. One of the benefits of working in an open-plan office is you do get a sense of how people are feeling. However, anonymous surveys are a good gauge as well and I’m very pleased that my hunch was correct. I’m catching up with Michael Brown, our new recently created partner for insight and cross-culture, tomorrow, he’ll be over the moon about one of the standout stats - 87% of employees believe that their team values individual differences.

Lunch (and dinner) is spent in the office with the pitch team.  We have a big presentation on Friday and we’ve been working up to this moment for the past five weeks. 

We order food as the first rule of pitching is to keep the team well fed and watered. After sushi, it’s show-time. There’s a real sense of being in it together - this is so important as open and honest feedback is critical to success.

By 11pm we feel we’ve cracked it and we can go to our beds feeling calm.

Thursday

I start the day with a breakfast meeting with a client. It always feels good to kick off the day with good conversation and a change to my usual cornflakes!

Back at the office, I have my bi-weekly catch-up with Caroline Foster-Kenny. There still aren’t enough women in senior positions in this sector and she is without a doubt the leader we can all aspire to be. She is a huge support to me and I value her sage advice. As well as being one of the nicest people in this industry, Caroline – or CFK as she’s known in these offices – also always looks impeccably turned out.

The rest of the morning is taken up by a meeting with IPG Mediabrands’ new ad tech unit, Kinesso, and a sit down with Michael Brown, one of the big brains behind our UK by UM research series that looks at stereotyping in advertising. Although we’ve had some great results so far, we must keep the study fresh and offer our clients a new perspective.

Lunch is again spent in the office with the pitch team for rehearsals. We’re finished much earlier this evening, so they can all go home and relax before the big day.

Friday

Every Friday morning, I catch up with UM’s EMEA President Chris Skinner. It’s important to ensure our messages are aligned and we’re offering our regional clients a consistent service. I give Chris a quick update on everything that’s happening at our London office.

One final punch through of the pitch deck, and it’s time for Friday 15. This is my favourite time of the working week, as the whole agency comes together for an informal chat about what’s happened since Monday sharing work and what they have achieved.

It’s a real collective celebration (we even have a gong to chime) and it’s a great opportunity to shine a light on those who have embraced our entrepreneurial spirit and gone above and beyond what’s expected.

Most Fridays, I try to have lunch with a media owner – very often the best ideas come from conversations, not written briefs. But not this week. Instead, the agency claps us out of the building, it’s a tradition to cheer on the pitch team. Everyone in the agency has been involved in some way, and it means as much to them as it does to us. Fingers crossed…