'How I Made It' featuring Holly Larsen of Way To Blue

How I Made It: Holly Larsen, Regional Director UK, Way To Blue

For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully you'll pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.

In the first interview of this latest series, we sat down with Holly Larsen, Regional Director UK at Way To Blue, to find out how she made it in the communications industry. Read on to find out all about Holly's big break, toughest challenges, and what keeps her sane on the crazy days.

Holly Larsen

How did you get into communications?

While studying English & Film at university, a friend of mine had raved about an internship at PR firm Borkowski, so I decided to see what PR was all about and apply for internships too. I was offered a role at Harrison Cowley, which later merged with Trimedia PR and then Grayling, meaning I was part of three growing and changing businesses and learnt a lot. I had strong writing and organisational skills and I loved the fast-pace of digital communications, plus meeting clients. The industry just suited my personality.

Tell me about your big break. 

I moved from Bristol to London to join a film marketing specialist agency called Think Jam. I worked on the first social media campaigns for the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises, when social was still in its infancy. It was exciting work and put me on course for a leadership role where I soon became a digital marketing specialist.

What keeps you sane on those crazy days?

From a home-life perspective, I’m very fortunate that I have family nearby and my husband takes a lot of accountability when it comes to childcare. In terms of the working environment, I have a supportive team above and beneath me. I think getting the right balance is about prioritising and because we have a family-approach to work, everyone mucks in at Way To Blue. If everyone on the team is feeling positive, it’s much easier to achieve common goals.

Do you have a mentor or someone in your life who inspires you to succeed? 

Not a singular mentor as such, but I am inspired by meeting others at events run by The WED Network (Women in Entertainment & Digital) on Facebook. Although not a personal connection, I can’t help but admire Sheryl Sandberg. I read Lean In several years ago and it really opened my eyes. I noticed that I would get side tracked by people-pleasing and not putting myself forward in situations where I should have stamped my authority. From that point I really took responsibility for driving my own career. And it works when you have confidence in yourself!

With the knowledge you now have, what career advice would you give your 20-year-old self? 

Have more self-confidence. Have more self-belief. You don’t know what other people are thinking so don’t project your own fears and insecurities on them. Your biggest enemy is your own mind; it can talk you out of doing things and persuade you not to do things that may just change your direction or path. Have conviction in what you believe.

As a female leader, tell me about your experience of getting to the top? Have you faced obstacles that you weren’t expecting?

I had a baby last year which was the biggest challenge I’ve faced in terms of my sense of self and my identity. I was told time and again that my priorities would change, and I’d be less focused on my career. I’m happy to report that couldn’t be further from the truth – I am more motivated, more driven now that I have a baby. The first question anyone asks is, “are you working full time?” I’m sure men are never asked the same! I’m very lucky that I’ve come back into Way To Blue, which is a forward thinking agency and has a flexible approach to working hours and respects talent over working schedules.

I’m also glad that I’m now in a position to say to other women, “It’s not something to fear.” It can work out. And if you are at the right employer, then you’re lucky. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky – that’s how every workplace should be. 

What are the top 3 things businesses should do to improve diversity in the workplace especially from a gender point of view?

These are really standard, but they don’t happen enough across the board - flexible working hours, better training and education, and more focus on wellbeing and mental health. We are fortunate as our CEO Adam Rubins is a big believer in mindfulness.

Name one technology that you could not live without.

It has to be my phone. Way To Blue is a global communications business and many of our clients are truly international, so I need to be available for our US and Australian teams sometimes out of UK hours. To be able to stay connected culturally, we use Slack, an internal office messaging system, which is far more efficient than email from an internal communications perspective. You can also have a lot of fun with GIFs!

How can people future proof their careers?

With a really healthy blend of consumer, film and entertainment marketing specialists, we look for people who understand the broad marketing mix – so someone in PR who can sit down with a marketing director talking about media buying and see the connections is our ideal person. The sector as a whole needs people who are ambitious and entrepreneurial and who want to work across multiple disciplines. You’ll always need specialists, but you also need people who are curious. A lot of our clients are looking for an integrated solution and as an agency that’s what we provide, so people who can understand that mix are priceless.

How will AI affect your industry?

I think advances in technology always have a positive impact on our industry and on people’s careers. It’s an opportunity for our staff to upskill, become more strategic and offer a higher level of insight to clients. My feeling is that the creative industries can only thrive from improved technology because you always need the human touch in strategic thinking and true creativity to deliver. AI provides us with the ability to deliver more comprehensive and robust responses to client briefs, thereby improving the level of service – which can only be a good thing.

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Curious to know more about Way To Blue? We also interviewed their CEO Adam Rubins for the blog back in 2016.

Or find out more about our work placing the top PR and communications leaders across the UK, Europe, and Middle East: PR and Communications Recruitment

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Author: Alice Weightman

As Founder and CEO, Alice established Hanson Search in 2002 and has since gained a reputation as one of the leading search professionals in senior appointments across communications, developing an incredible network globally.

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