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A year and a half on – by Neil Costello

“Do you know what; I’d like to have a shot at that”, those were the words that came forth when I was briefed on the inaugural Marketing Academy scholarship over a year and a half ago.

I was not long back in the working environment after a huge period of personal reflection following a tumultuous year in 2009, an aneurysm bursting on the brain had overhauled my life just months after tying the knot and a wonderful honeymoon on the west coast of Barbados – you could say that things had certainly taken a little turn for the worse as I signed disclaimers against all sorts of horrible implications from surgery about to take place under the skull. Months of recovery later, astonishingly supportive colleagues and workplace, and here was a truly fresh opportunity staring me in the face.

Several rigorous selection processes late; including the realisation that a suit, even a Paul Smith one, was not the clothing of choice in an agency environment of dogs, sunglasses and dripping with creativity and style. So the journey began.

Now I’m not going to preach how incredible the scholars, mentors, coaches, sponsors and our founder are; you see they all know that really, that’s why they’re involved. What I am going to preach about is putting the learnings into practice.

Before we get started, between you and I, the period of personal reflection touched on was the very serious contemplation of moving out of the pressure of the corporate environment, the turbulence of financial services and marketing. Yes, leaving this fantastic profession to pursue a life less frantic perhaps.

A year and a half on and I’ve made the right choice to stay. The Marketing Academy taught me more than I could ever imagine. Every day, wherever I go, I carry the learnings, literally on a dog-eared piece of paper in the back of my Moleskine. On this piece of paper are the qualities of, and advice from, inspirational leaders and scholars that I couldn’t hope to meet just year and a half a go. I’ve interpreted this advice for me and adapted it within my own marketing leadership approach.

I coach mentees the thinking I have absorbed, particularly from my fantastic coach Caroline Montagu, to give back to my organisation and I have watched them flourish and go onto bigger and better things. I guarantee you there is no better feeling than seeing this happen in the workplace.

Now I find myself living the learnings and I’ll list the ones that have resonated and impacted the most, those that I hold dear to my heart and that I try to instil no matter what the pressures of work become:

• “If our lives lack a clear sense of meaning, if we are not engaged in some larger purpose, we will not be fully satisfied, regardless of whatever else we may have.”

• “Use behaviour that you expect others to model”

• “Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination”

• “When you feel yourself coming in from the edge, reach for more. Don’t be afraid to sh*t yourself a little bit”

• “When choosing roles you need to understand..
 What is their vision for the role? The bigger, the bolder, the better
 Will you have the ability to take people with you?
 Will you have the ability to execute your thinking? The ability to make the change you want”
 Define the job – don’t let the job define you”

I have more, plenty more, and I wish I could attribute these to the specific mentors but a dented memory has stifled that. These are however the ones that hold true with me.

The trick I have found is to constantly applying your learnings to the point that they will become your natural behaviour. You’ll intuitively know when it’s happening and you’re really living the values as those around you will let you know, one way or another. As I’ve said; and more than ever, I now mentor several junior members of our organisation; this not only ensures others can be influenced positively by the Marketing Academy but also enables me to regularly check in on my own leadership behaviours – ‘sharpening the tools’ I believe the textbooks call it.

And so to close, I want to share what a member of my team wrote in a leaving card as I move into a new role that I fundamentally believe would not have been there for me to pursue without the Marketing Academy; I hope she won’t mind, “Thank you for all your support Neil, for believing in me, you have given me so many opportunities and I can’t thank you enough, I can honestly say you have been the best leader in my 9 years with the company”. Now I can honestly say that would not have been written about me a year and half ago and that is exactly why I get up for work and continue to tackle the challenges that marketing in financial services and this economic climate brings. Right there in one sentence. It’s emotional and personal trumpet-blowing stuff; so it should be.

So there you have it. My year and a half journey that still only feels like it’s just starting, a phenomenal opportunity to learn from the best.


This post was written by Marketing Academy Alumni, Neil Costello – Aviva

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The Scholarship – a 9 month, free, part time program for 30 of the UK’s fastest rising stars in Marketing, Advertising, Media and Communications.

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12 month full paid Marketing Apprenticeship for young adults who because of challenging backgrounds, lack qualifications or poor life choices are normally overlooked for this kind of work experience