How I made it: Nathalie Bernard, Managing Director & Co-founder of Hopscotch agency
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 pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
How did you get into communications?
Just by chance actually. When I was a business school student, I had the opportunity with a Junior Enterprise to organise an opening and media event for a local newspaper. I enjoyed it, I was in my final year of school, and I thought I could pursue into that field. I joined CELSA, and from there I got my first job in an agency.
What were the greatest challenges all through your career?
My greatest challenge was the creation of Hopscotch in 2000. The co-founders and I came from a network agency. We had the feeling that something big was happening with the internet and that it would change not only the way we worked and communicated but that it would have a major impact on our lives in general. Our first client was Yahoo, that was the equivalent of Google at the time, as Google didn’t exist back then. It seems so far back, 19 years…! We created everything from Yahoo, from nothing actually… with a clear vision: one foot in PR - it was our job - and one foot in the Internet – with Yahoo as a client.
Our greatest challenge then was to survive the bubble. We are still there so as an evidence we survived although we met some issues. Actually, we had been lucky to face the bubble very early, because we were working mostly with American companies. From the first wave of the bubble, we estimate we lost almost half of our clients’ portfolio in less a month.
We rebuilt everything a little differently, with the experience of what we had learnt from these internet companies, it was the beginning of digital communication which had nothing to do with what we know nowadays. We applied this to more conventional clients. It took us three years to recover and gain growth again, which then, was extremely rapid.
What are the qualities you need to be a good agency manager?
It is a mixture between qualities and shortcomings, which may be - at times - contradictory. You must be at the same time, daring but careful, inclusive and firm, focus on priorities and have an eye on what’s going on around you, because if you are not curious, you are dead. I always focus on this balance. Our job is public relations and the heart of our mission, is relation at the end.
We create relationships for our clients and most of all, with our team because the people we work with, are the most valuable asset of the agency. Your team brings the value of what you deliver, the enthusiasm you generate, as far as clients are concerned but also as far as competition is concerned. Our job is a job of non-stop competition, and the relations with our teams is key, this is the very heart of Hopscotch.
Relationship is the primary issue, whether it is in our everyday life as a manager, or in our work with our partners, stakeholders, our clients’ partners. In the end, the qualities of relationships allow to build strong ecosystems which support business, growth, ambitions and the strategy of our clients. I think that’s critical and that is the main thing!
What advice would you give to young people willing to start a career in communications?
Well, first of all, I’d like to say that it's a fantastic job and for many reasons. The first reason - like in every other job - is the continuing evolution of our work, because our clients change, everything has to be created, invented. We have signs every day that the world is changing, that communication is a priority.
Very recently, following the information leak about Monsanto, we had a debate about how people, stakeholders, and media see our job and… yes, our role is changing, that’s clear. So, welcome, everything needs to be re-invented. You can let your creativity run free!
Work in communications is also exciting - particularly in agencies - because you learn something new every single day. I don’t think you can enjoy that in many other jobs. For us, learning is nearly an obligation, and that’s what makes this job so attractive. A huge and evolutionary playing field.
In an evolutionary playing field, we are facing various situations every day, different areas, professional environments and corporate cultures which differ greatly ones from the others, but that very apprehension is thrilling because it provides an extraordinary window widely open on the world.
What are the three words which describe you best?
I am said to be conscious, inclusive, resilient - you must be resilient - give nothing away, be open-minded and curious, that’s the main things. And that’s what we expect from our candidates.
Did you have mentors all through your career?
Yes, I did have a true mentor, Jérome Lascombe who I set up Hopscotch with, that’s clear. I think each of us brought a lot to the other, because we are very different, so very complementary. Beyond that, we meet a lot of people in our job. I learnt a lot from demanding clients who push you to give your very best and go beyond. I have in mind the two founders of Expedia, we started Expedia in France together. These guys are extraordinary people, they taught us a lot, and challenged us. That’s mentoring as well.
Also, a long time ago, my first client was the National Jewellery Federation, and I worked with the two brothers, heirs of Christofle’s family. They were fantastic, I was very young, I was 24, and they fascinated me.
Is there an everyday tech device you couldn’t do without?
There are so many... It’s very hard. I think I would pick the Smartphone.
If you were not in communications, what would you do?
Not easy to figure it out. When I was a business school student, I was attracted by marketing, the idea of bringing a product, a service to real life, to users and innovate.
I am also attracted by HR, I recruited all the people who worked at Hopscotch. The mission can be thankless, but also very rewarding and exciting. It is critical because the choice of people we make is what makes the heart of the agency.
An agency is nothing but its teams. An agency is a team, ideas and results. But without a team, you have neither ideas nor results, so, in the end, we are back to square one. I am passionate about HR along with sustainable development, which remains a hot topic.
Would you like to add a final word?
I would like to say that agencies offer wonderful career opportunities, that we are happy to welcome candidates with open arms. Agencies are good places to get experience, and, more than that, we would like to keep the candidates with us for a long time.
I am very proud to have two partners who started as juniors with us. The positive and grateful aspect of our job, is to find the best person, put the right person at the right place, at the right time to know how to challenge them, to help them grow, while giving them confidence. That’s what is interesting and rewarding at the end of the day.