Community Success! Jack Newton’s work experience at JCDecaux

If you’ve ever wondered what to wear to your new job or how a meeting in front of executives looks compared to how you’ve felt about the presentations at uni, we’re happy to share Jack Newton’s blog post with you. He was the Silver Winner of the JCDecaux LifeStart Challenge.

As a result of winning Lifestart + JCDecaux’s Challenge “Design an outdoor advertising campaign to encourage students to take action”, I was awarded a weeks work experience within the company, at their Head Office in Paddington, London. I wrote this blog half whilst I was working, and half since, but have gone through and changed all the content to past tense, just to make it less confusing.

I wanted to let the community know what I got up to, just in case anyone was on the fence about submitting an entry to a Lifestart Challenge. In short, it’s well worth it. Not only did I gain skills from the process of completing the application, but the week itself was (literally) a life changing experience. To find out why, keep reading…

Monday 25th June

I woke up at the alien time of 7am, realising at that moment why I spent my 3 years as a student trying my best to avoid it. Luckily, my bosses for the week suggested I work the hours of 10-4ish, as I was travelling from Rugby, which was a commute of around 1 hour 40 mins. This sounds bad, but in reality it was actually fine (for the week at least), as I enjoyed some naps on the train, and had time to do some work if I wanted to on the way home (more on that later).

I was excited and, whilst nervous, wasn’t feeling the dread in my stomach that I remember from my first days at school. I’d wanted a big fancy job in London for a while, and somehow here I was. The nerves were definitely aided by the fact that JCDecaux had put together a timetable of all the meetings and appointments I had during the week and sent it to me prior to starting, so I knew exactly what I was going to be doing. This removed a lot of the doubt, all I had to do was just show up, meet people, and learn.

My week was split: one half contained meetings with various departments and bosses of various teams, in which I was set to learn all about how the company’s gears worked both independently and with each other. The other half involved the completion of a mock outdoor advertising campaign. This would let me work with the departments as if I were a real client wanting to fulfil the campaign idea that won me the LifeStart JCDecaux Challenge.

By the end of the week, I was told that I’d have a completed design and would have spent a mock budget (which was £150,000) on placing this design all around the country. Of course, this was all hypothetical – except that my actual design would be featured on a bus stop outside the office for an hour on my last day!

So, with all that set out in front of me, I was eager to get it all done, but first I had to decide what to wear. I know it seems a minor detail, yet it was actually one of the things I’d stressed about. All I was told was that they wore business/office wear, and I was advised to get some chinos and put on a nice shirt with a jacket. Seems simple, but I couldn’t get the little voice of my Sixth Form headteacher out of the back of my mind. This was a man who forced us to wear full suits every single day, and would give us detention for not wearing the blazers whilst walking through the halls, even on hot days, because “you won’t get to take them off in the real world”. Man, do I hate him now. Not only was my blazer off within 5 minutes of walking into the building (this was the start of the heatwave), the dress code simply revolves around looking smart. So guys were dressed in a variety of different shirts and, as I’d been advised, chinos or smart trousers. Much more relaxed (whilst still smart and professional) than my Sixth Form would have me believe.

At 10am I’d arrived, dressed comfortably and smartly, in a very cool waiting area, ready for my week to begin.

One of the most beneficial meetings of the week was my second meeting of the day. It was with the Insight team, who are responsible for helping their clients understand the consumers they were targeting with their campaigns, and have access to a huge range of first hand and third party data to do this with. I was working with them in order help plan my mock campaign. I met with them a couple of times over a few days to figure out where in the UK my target audience were most likely to be, what type of environment they were most likely to see their advert in (i.e. a Shopping Mall or a Train Station?) and even what political issues were most important to them (due to the nature of my campaign). This was among the most valuable set of meetings for me, because I learnt about a job I’d actually enjoy doing. I may never have sought the role out if I hadn’t had this experience, as I didn’t know it existed. It’s always bugged me that as students we are expected to know what we want to do, but many of us end up in jobs within departments or division that we’re not made aware of until we’re actually there. So, if I’d have had to leave after just one day of this experience, it would’ve been worth it, because I could actually answer the question “what do you want to do with your life” with a lot more specificity than the day before.

Thursday 28th June

Fast forward a couple of days and my head been turned by a few different possible future careers, between working with startups after chatting with JCDecaux’s startup division ‘Nurture’, to wishing that my very amateur Photoshop skills could rival the great design works that the creative teams had shown off. However, I was still very intrigued by Insight, and after working with them some more, my campaign was coming along nicely. I’d been aided in putting together a list of the sites across four major cities where my campaign message would be most influential, which I would later work with the sales team to ‘buy’ a portion of those sites for a 2 week period with my £150,000 “budget”. At this point, I was also preparing a presentation which would summarise my entire planning process, which I was going to present on Friday. Remember how I said I was nerve free at the start of the week? Well, I tried convincing myself I was chill about presenting to a few of the managers I’d met that week, but as Friday approached I was learning that this was a lie.. but more on that later.

What was most interesting about this day was my meeting with a man called Steve Cox, who headed the Marketing for JCDecaux’s Airport division. They deal with tasks such as placing advertising in Heathrow, for example. I went in knowing nothing about this division or how advertising in an airport was different to advertising anywhere else; after just an hour and a half I came out with a new found insight into an area which greatly matched my interests, both as a psychologist and a data nerd. I found myself confronted with a wealth of information into how this department operated, and even a job offer to work with them!

This is where the cheesy line referring to a “life changing experience” comes from. Prior to this meeting, I was dead set on going back to Bangor University to complete a Masters, and now (and I’m getting ahead of the timeline here a bit), after a good few days of um’ing, ah’ing and talks with the managers I’d met and my friends/parents, I am set to start a job as an Insight Executive with the Airport division in August!

So if you’ve seen a LifeStart challenge and put off entering so far, it’s really worth a go….

Friday 29th June

Hit with a lightning bolt of inspiration after the job offer, I spent the entire train ride home (in addition to a good few office hours) creating a presentation that would really impress. The nerves I’d been fighting were again replaced with excitement, which only got supercharged when I came into work on the Friday morning.

They’d actually put my campaign on the bus stop outside the office! Obviously I took the first opportunity I could to take a picture:

This was incredibly exciting, and I can’t thank JCDecaux enough for the time they’d spent not only in helping me create the campaign, but the forgone cost of using a space they could have sold to clients to make my campaign a reality.

But, I wasn’t finished yet, as I still had my presentation to do.

The presentation was surprising in its format. School and university had prepared me for standing at the front of a room, in front of a big board, talking at my audience for 10ish minutes, and having questions asked at the end. The reality of this presentation was a lot more relaxed than that. I instead sat around a conference table, flicking through the slides on my laptop as I led a formal discussion about them with people who, although were heads of departments, felt very much like colleagues at this point. This felt a lot more comfortable and natural, and led to open discussion and feedback about my ideas. The experience was very similar in format to my pitch at SONY HQ a few weeks later (which I may talk about in another post), so I’m left wondering if – much like how my Sixth Form dress code didn’t quite match up to the reality of the “real world”, if the presentation practices at university were a bit outdated when compared to the business world? If you’re reading this and have had experience of presentations like this, please let me know what you’ve thought about them compared to presentations at uni, as I’m curious what your experiences may have been…

The presentation went well, and I went home that day satisfied that I’d learnt so much more than I thought I would have that week, excited for the future, and very, very tired…

All in all, I had a hugely inspirational week, and have learnt a lot about the industry and myself. And I don’t think it’s too cheesy to say that this experience was life changing, due to my current task of having to cancel that house I’d signed for in Bangor for next year, and instead negotiate rent with my mum.

Thank you so so much to everyone at LifeStart and JCDecaux for organising this amazing experience. And if you’re reading this and haven’t got involved yet, what are you waiting for?

If you have any questions about my experience, the out-of-home advertising industry or working in London/commuting, please get in touch with me! I’ll try to answer them as best I can, as I’m sure I’m about to learn even more about all of those things.