My campaign: When Karen Blackett left the perfect job to join a backstreet corner shop

Her colleagues at Zenith were mystified by her decision to quit the 'perfect' job, but she had to find a place where she could truly be herself.

Early on in my career I made what I was told was a "brave" decision to leave the media agency that I had joined less than six months earlier. "It won’t look very good on your CV" was the most common piece of advice I was given.

At the time, Zenith was a top-three media agency and I was working on one of its most prestigious accounts. On paper, this was the right job: managerial experience, a prestige account, a top agency, a track record of growth, career progression, a pay rise. But I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because I couldn’t be myself. There was a particular way that I was meant to answer briefs, write presentations, present and socialise.

They just couldn't understand why I would leave to go to 'a backstreet corner shop' agency

I had a realisation – like a truck hitting me at full force – that what is important to me is to work in a culture that truly celebrates difference. At that time in Zenith, I couldn’t bring my whole, real, authentic self to work. I was miserable.

I remember resigning to what seemed like a million people and they just couldn’t understand why I would leave to go to "a backstreet corner shop" agency that was not even on the map. As far as they were concerned, I was throwing away my career and an amazing opportunity. 

But that backstreet corner shop was a team of misfits and mavericks, a bunch of people who were hungry and humble, passionate, smart and, my god, they were fun. Yes, they were small (fewer than 50 people at the time) and not ranked in the top 20, but what I saw was a diverse, talented team where difference was celebrated. I found an agency where I could be me, a place where I could grow. My love story with MediaCom had begun. When we became the largest media agency in the UK, I just smiled.

Karen Blackett was a senior planner at Zenith in 1996; now she is the UK country manager at WPP


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