Q&A with our newest Pickle: Pamela Agar
Here at Pickle Jar we’ve been working with schools, colleges and universities for nearly a decade, and our latest recruit has been doing that for even longer…
Pamela Agar, our new Managing Director, has just joined us after 16 years at Imperial College London. She’s spent several years as the Head of Digital and Creative Media at the College, leading on projects that have resulted in awards from the likes of CASE, HEIST, EduStyle and the Webbies – and now we get to make the most of her expertise!
Pamela has taken the bold step of moving from working in-house to joining an agency, so we gave her a couple of weeks to settle in before bombarding her with questions for this blog post. We thought that was just enough time to get to grips with everything…
Hi Pamela, welcome to Pickle Jar. Before you joined us here you worked at Imperial College London for 16 years. You obviously enjoy it, but how did you come to work in HE marketing and communications?
I’ve always been drawn to the education sector. I worked on the telephone fundraising campaign at the University of Warwick when I was a student there and temped at the University of Reading in their admissions office during university holidays. After graduating, I then took a year out in Canada and ended up getting a job at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, working in their student services team, shortly moving onto their industry liaison office, and even worked in their Botanical Garden!
I didn’t really intend to but I ended up with all my work experience within higher education, and I loved it!
When I saw an advert for a management training scheme at Imperial College London it seemed perfect. I spent an amazing three years moving around every six months across the College administrative departments. As a trainee, I got involved in big projects like the College’s rebranding and its graduation ceremonies. So, when an opportunity came up to spend an elective placement in the communications and marketing team, I jumped at it – and ended up staying there for over a decade! I worked on so many different projects and initiatives, right from events management to managing Imperial’s Centenary celebrations, from website redesigns and magazine publications. My final role was leading the digital and creative team. It was a long path, but I found the right place!
How did you end up getting involved in digital projects, was that something you really liked?
I was working in general project management across the communications team back in 2006 when the College announced it would be launching a major website redesign for the first time using external agencies. At the time, we didn’t have any sort of web team, so my Director asked if I would lead the project just to “keep it on track”. I knew nothing about web design and management, but very quickly discovered that I absolutely loved it. I immediately moved from simply coordinating the project plan to rolling up my sleeves and getting involved in all aspects, learning as much as I could.
When we launched the new site in 2007, the College thankfully acknowledged that we needed to grow our capacity in-house to keep the site fresh and leading, so a new Head of Digital role was created and a team built around it – and I got the job! From there, the role grew to incorporate social media, video production, photography, branding, design, and editorial. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time – and that’s really defined my career moving forward!
Since your time working in the sector, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
It’s been such a long time there have been so many changes, but I really think it is the growth of digital. I got offered my job at Imperial on my very first mobile phone, which was one of those black and white ones that just sent text messages and that was it. When I did my research for the interview, there wasn’t much of a website to look at and I don’t think it occurred to me to even look for it! I ordered their annual report in print and talked to people.
It doesn’t feel that long ago to me, but now every part of my life is governed by technology, almost everything I need to do involves the internet. It has had such an impact on the sector, on student experience. It’s just become so fundamental. The job I’m doing now didn’t exist when I started work in 2000, so I find it amazing that I’ve witnessed that and been a part of it.
Is there anything that you’ve seen recently that has caught your eye and you expect big things from?
It’s not necessarily something that’s caught my eye recently, but I am really interested in the place of long-form content online. Perhaps it’s because I spent so much time at Imperial working with news writers and on print magazines, but I really value the depth of commentary and perspective you get from longer articles. I really noticed it during the Brexit referendum – I was really drawn to individual perspectives and opinions on channels like Medium. While I love the immediacy and brevity of social media channels like Twitter and Instagram, I think there’s real value in focusing time on high-quality writing. And there’s certainly a real opportunity for more universities to demonstrate their expertise and contributions through the kind of quality editorial and opinion pieces online that you generally see in their printed magazines
Working for an agency is completely different to working in-house, what skills have you brought across from Imperial that you feel will really benefit our clients?
It’s only been a few weeks, but it is clear things are going to be very different. I hope that my understanding of being in a large, complex organisation will really help me help our clients navigate internal politics and achieve buy-in. I know how hard it can be to initiate new projects and persuade people to take the time to help you when they are all so busy.
I know my experience of managing big, multi-channel projects, working across departments will help me manage and juggle priorities and deadlines to make sure that all of our clients’ projects are right on target and as good as we can get them.
Are there any projects in particular that you are looking forward to getting into?
I love all kinds of projects. I really enjoy ones that are across multiple platforms and have an added challenge to them that involve several audiences or different kinds of channels. I like the complexity of that. I love seeing how things fit together. In my last job at Imperial, I was managing both the print and digital teams and I really enjoyed making sure we were getting the most out of different channels and platforms.
I’m also looking forward to exploring different kinds of organisations. After spending 16 years at Imperial, which is a very distinctive place, it’s going to be fascinating tackling very different content and strategy challenges.
Is there anything you were restricted to do by working in-house that you are now looking forward being able to do?
When you work in-house you are alway so busy dealing with the ongoing day-to-day challenges and responsibilities. It can be really hard to make time to get into the detail – to properly undertake audience research and really think about the longer term strategy. I always found that frustrating – that’s why I brought consultants in! So I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and being able to think in a more in-depth way about strategy and creative ideas.
When you aren’t working at Pickle Jar, what can we find you doing?
Well, anyone who follows me on social media will know that I have two small children under 6. So most of my time when I’m not working is spent running around after them! We like exploring London and being outside, and when we can, going on trips outside the capital. Life is pretty busy! The only time I really get to escape from the business of work and family is through music. I love singing in a chamber choir, Chantage – it’s the only time in the week when no one needs me to do anything and I don’t look at my phone, so I really cherish those few hours on a Wednesday evening!
If you’re interested in what we do at Pickle Jar Communications, get in touch with us for chat.