Do I need to work on my accent to get on in advertising?
A view from Megan Jackman

Do I need to work on my accent to get on in advertising?

After being criticised for her accent, Hazel May's Megan Jackman questions whether an accent can really affect how far you can go in your career.

"You should work on your accent :)))" – not the most pleasant e-mail to open up this morning. It was from a "gentleman" I met at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and it really riled me, or to use the vernacular, it "pissed me right off".

It got me thinking though…Do I need to work on my accent?

He did state that it was an "impolite suggestion", but he made the suggestion nonetheless. This isn’t the only impolite comment I’ve received about my accent recently. While in Cannes, another "gentleman" came up to my male colleagues and enquired quite casually, "Is she putting on that accent?" Why he didn’t ask me directly I don’t know, and why he thought I was putting on an accent I don’t know either. Did he think I was going to wake up the next day with an Irish twang?

"You just don’t hear anyone sound like you in this industry", he reasoned, later confessing that he grew up very close to where I did, where people sound like I do, but had received pronunciation drummed into him by his family and he was glad because it meant he could be part of the industry. Does that mean I can’t? Does your accent really affect how far you can go in your career? 

I was head girl of a prestigious grammar school, I have a degree, I’ve been at Hazel May for six years, worked on huge campaigns and know a bloody lot about what I do. But does any of that matter? If I spoke in RP would people assume I had these credentials already? Would I have to tell you? 

When studying acting at university I learnt to speak in RP. Now every week I read the guide voiceovers for various mood and pitch films that we work on, each script requiring a different accent or tone. I can put RP on when I need to but my native accent is what it is: a blend of the dulcet tones of London, Essex and Kent. Is it wrong to sound like that and work in advertising?  It seems that I have, rather unwittingly, exposed a pretty ugly sort of assumption. That somehow my accent affects my ability to do my job. 

Then again I work in the advertising industry, maybe I’m not advertising myself well enough?  Maybe I need to re-brand myself – find out who my audience is, what they want and then bend to their will? 

Or perhaps it’s better to embrace my own very personal brand identity, stick to my brand values, and say "Up yours!" to anyone who judges me.

Megan Jackman is production manager at Hazel May