New business lessons from maternity leave
A view from Jemima Monies

New business lessons from maternity leave

Buying all the products, kitting out the room, staying up all night... you might say working in new business is good practice for life with a newborn.

In fact, the parallels don't stop there. There's the two minute lunches or not having lunch at all, realising you haven't been to the loo all day and scrutinising every little thing. Not forgetting the copious amounts of coffee and cake (that's if you've got time to eat it). 

And then there is the client: demanding, hard to read and completely unaware of the lengths you’re going to please them.

At times you may get an intermediary giving you pointers, but mostly you're out on your own. And at 2am, when emotions are high and you're running on empty (for the third night in a row), you may ask yourself why on earth did we get ourselves into this?

But as the weeks go by, the business becomes more familiar, the strategy is starting to work out, the ideas are more exciting and you appear to be winning the client over. It could be wind from the dubious looking smoothies in the colour of their logo, but it may in fact be a smile. All the hard work has paid off and it turns out you actually quite like each other. A lot.

So what specific lessons did I learn along the way of the hardest pitch I'll certainly ever work on? 

The RFI:

It's no wonder the baby industry is worth billions of pounds. There is a product for literally everything. Shopping trolley snack trays, self-warming bottles, food dispensing spoons. It's a wonder the human race didn't die out years ago without a baby wipe warmer. As a first time mum I bought a long list of items that I thought I needed to have. But I learnt very quickly that there were very few things that were going to see me through the first phase. And personalised muslins definitely weren’t one of them. Agencies are guilty of listing everything they've ever done or etching their submissions in gold to make it through, instead of simply talking about what they do best.

Lesson learnt: Focus on the things that matter.

The Chemistry meeting: 

‘You don’t want to be doing housework when you’ve got that adorable face staring up at you all day,' said an old lady sitting next to me on the tube when my daughter was teeny tiny. It stuck in my head. How did she know that my innate OCD was a daily battle with the chaos and confusion that comes with having a newborn? Of course she was right. Tending to this little person mattered a whole lot more than keeping house. And while it's the role of new business' to make sure that the agency’s house is in the best possible shape, it's ultimately the people in it that matter. The right team, saying the right things, at the right time. Not rows of perfectly aligned, spotless desks. (That's not to say don't proof read the deck within an inch of your life).

Lesson learnt:  A little mess is OK.

The Tissue: 

Sleep (the lack of it) must be the most talked about subject between parents. It becomes an obsession, particularly for people like me who thrive on routine. I complained to my husband one morning when my daughter woke up even earlier than normal. 'She's not a robot,' he said. Tissue meetings often throw a spanner in the works. You had a killer chemistry, great follow calls and what you thought were some amazing tissue routes, but the client appears to have gone off you. They may just need a little retuning or you may have to go back to the drawing board. Either way, it will probably mean a few more late nights and a few disappointed people but it’s all part of the process. You just have to ride it out.

Lesson learnt: Don't be phased by unpredictability.

The pitch:

So you made it to the last round. Winning is of course the ultimate goal but each stage has had its challenges and mini successes. And if you don’t win, you should be proud of the hard work you put in and what you have taken away. You knew nothing about the business at the start and while you’re still certainly no expert, you’ve learnt a lot.

Lesson learnt: Take reward in every stage.

And then, you're often straight on to the next one. For me though, that's where the parallels stop (for now).


Jemima Monies is head of PR and new business at adam&eveDDB