Helen Calcraft: My Life In Media

'The best thing is not answering to anyone and being in control of our own destiny. It's so liberating'

Sunday 07 July 2013 01:40

Helen Calcraft, 38, is managing director and co-founder of the advertising agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, which counts the Metropolitan Police, Tetley and Travelocity among its clients. In addition to overseeing her company's rise to become a Top 30 agency over the past five years, Helen has given birth to two daughters, Rosa and Maya. This year, she is president of Women in Advertising and Communications London.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

Sadly, I don't have an inspirational tale: like many people, I found myself with large debts after completing a drama degree, a father whose brow was becoming ever more furrowed and a strong desire to get my tush to London. Advertising was just after "accountancy" and "acting" in the careers A-Z and sounded fun. All a bit of an accident, really.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get and did you read it?

I remember ritualistic Sunday mornings where we all sat around the kitchen table until midday with various sections of The Observer. I come from a family of academics, so debate about current affairs did play a role in my upbringing, interspersed with far more serious topics like ear-piercing, height of heels and why my mum insisted on coming inside the youth club disco to collect me rather than waiting outside.

What were your favourite TV and radio shows?

Top of the Pops was an absolute must, usually for Adam Ant (he really was delicious), Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. On radio, it was Fox FM in the bedroom, in order to indulge my strictly private passion for Barry Manilow.

Which media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

Something unspeakable on Five called Hi Five with (you guessed it) five impossibly colourful, shiny Australians overenthusiastically singing their way up to 7am. Sadly, my daughters love it.

Do you consult any media sources during your working day?

I have Google alerts set up for my clients, which often come in handy. I also scan everything from the Financial Times at one end of the spectrum to Popbitch at the other. But no day would be complete without the Evening Standard.

When you're at home, what do you tune into?

I am a big fan of 24 and The West Wing. I miss Friends but I am making do with Desperate Housewives, and I have been listening to the Today programme all my adult life.

What is the best thing about your job?

Not answering to anyone, and being in control of our own destiny. It is so liberating because it allows us to live our personal values in a professional context and to remember that work should be fun.

And the worst?

The deep sense of failure when you realise you've hired someone who isn't right for the company and it isn't right for them.

What's the proudest achievement you have made in your working life?

My part in us becoming a Top 30 agency in four short years. Opening up an industry magazine and seeing that fact in black and white felt surprising, humbling and pretty fantastic.

And what is your most embarrassing moment?

The aftermath of something that I thought was just a bit of harmless fun: baring my bottom at a training day for women in advertising, only to have to deal with the interest of the industry press, the consternation of my partners, and the raised eyebrows of my clients - which continue to this day.

What is your Sunday newspaper?

I almost always buy The Sunday Times, but I increasingly rely on The Week.

Do you have a favourite magazine?

It's a toss-up between Heat, Now, Closer, OK!, and Hello! (I read them all religiously).

If you did not work in the media, what would you probably do?

Go back to acting.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?

To work with small children and cuddly animals and to look great in swimwear and evening dresses and to make the world a better place... Failing that, to still remain energised until the day I actually do retire.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Guardian Newspapers. She's brilliant at her job, she's a devoted mother of three, she inspires terrific loyalty, she has great humility and she bathes a room in sunlight whenever she walks in. She's living proof that you don't have to choose between being decent and highly effective.

The CV

1989: Joins advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO as a trainee account manager and ends up staying 10 years.

1996: Promoted to the board of directors.

1997: Appointed new business director.

1998: Adds studying for a part-time MBA at London Business School to her workload, graduating with a distinction.

1999: Leaves AMV BBDO with some friends to found her own agency, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy.

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