The first five years of my media career: what I’ve learned so far

Joyce Tan, Wavemaker planning associate director and chair of GroupM’s Young Leaders Committee, reflects on how the first five years of her career have set her up for a career in media.

Five years is an early career milestone that leaves many of us taking stock, reflecting on where we’ve come from and where we’re going next.

I had a real ‘blast from the past’ moment the other day. Whilst spring cleaning, I stumbled upon a ring binder peeking out my shelves. After blowing off the dust, I realised it was my GroupM Graduate Program folder from 2018, complete with a welcome to Mindshare note from Katie Rigg-Smith!

Joyce Tan, planning associate director, Wavermaker

Has it been more than five years since I started out in media as a grad? That’s wild.

A lot has happened in this time, with many highs and lows that have shaped who and where I am now; we won clients and lost some too, we moved offices, my desk baby cactus died (sad days), we experienced a pandemic, we saw people come and go. Five years on, I couldn’t be prouder to still be part of GroupM. Earlier this year I traded in my purple Mindshare stripes for orange at Wavemaker and started the next phase of my career in media.

With 2023 wrapping up in no time, end-of-year reviews and 2024 planning in motion, I thought now might be fitting to pen down the three key takeaways from my five-plus-year media journey to date, centred around three key principles: patience, intent, and long-term thinking.

1. Your journey to plot, your story to write

Patience is hard. Trust me, I get it. We live in a world that celebrates achievement, efficiency, and immediacy. A world in which instant gratification has devalued the meaning of time and steady achievement. In our race to get ahead at the start of our career, we tend to forget that mastering our craft takes time.

I started my career working in Investment across all media channels. And yes, some of my tasks as a graduate were a grind. But there is value in consistently showing up, doing it, and building competence to achieve excellence over time. I truly believe that building firm foundations in our careers sets us up for success in the long run.

Ambition and patience are not antithetical; in fact, you can achieve more by being ambitious, yet patient. Be patient with yourself when you’re not seeing progress right away, and don’t lose heart if you’ve been told you’re not ready for that promotion just yet. Be ambitious in pursuing your goals, always curious, and commit to being a lifelong learner.

When you stop comparing yourself to others and go at your own pace, this will do wonders for you.

2. Be intentional about everything

This was a big one for me this year. Losing two beloved family members within the span of four months and almost losing my own life in a car accident shook my world. But if anything, it’s given me newfound appreciation of life and taught me the importance of being intentional in our life and career decisions.

Without intentionality, life can pass us by in a flash. Our careers are too important to leave it up to chance. Being intentional involves proactive behaviour and courage. It’s being deliberate in taking that step forward despite being afraid, showing up each day, setting boundaries, and prioritising how you spend your time as ultimately, it’s these accumulated small moments that make up your life. Across the years, I moved across teams and roles that allowed me to deepen my craft. From cross-channel media planning to implementation, comms and strategic planning, pitch work, moderating panel discussions with media partners and clients on the digital landscape, working across different client categories – all these experiences strengthened my capabilities and gave me clarity about how to craft my career path and the skillsets I needed to hone.

3. The power of playing the long game

Let’s do some quick maths. Say you graduated in your early 20s and plan to work till you’re 65. Now, that’s a solid 43 years to navigate. So really, it’s a game best played out over the long term.

Your career journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Growth is rarely linear; in fact, it can be gradual, intermittent, and painful. Four steps forward, a step or two back.

Already I can see that it’s the people I’ve had the privilege of crossing paths with that have made the greatest impact on my career – and will continue to throughout the next 40 years.

Chris Solomon and Maddy Leigh advocated for me since the start of my career and opened doors to new opportunities. Molly Fahey and Steve Thornton (my previous and current bosses) modelled what humility, excellence and authentic leadership looks like. I’m thankful to mentors Debbie Govic and Scott Laird, who have played a crucial part in helping me navigate through tricky seasons at different points of my career. Being part of GroupM’s Young Leaders Committee nCo also gives me perspective and visibility on priorities across our wider business, and how our work ladders up to a broader purpose.

Towards the end of 2022, I was coming up to five years at Mindshare and was ready for a new career challenge. It was my network that helped me find it.

Internal mobility is that sweet spot if you’re considering a different opportunity but not ready to pivot to a new industry altogether. By moving to another agency yet remaining in GroupM, I stepped into a new digital planning role, working alongside a brilliant team and clients, while being exposed to Wavemaker’s unique approach, diverse clients, agency values and leadership.

From Mindshare’s Good Growth to Wavemaker’s Positive Provocation, the fundamentals remain the same – world-class media agencies underpinned by GroupM’s central spine of data and tech tools and capability, brought to life in differentiated ways.

If you’re considering a career move, I highly recommend speaking to someone you trust within your organisation. Getting wise counsel from my trusted mentors and understanding what options I had enabled me to make an informed career decision. Remember, good leaders will always want the best for you and have your best interest at heart.

When you have the long game in mind, you’ll focus your energy, time, and effort on what truly matters and not sweat the small stuff. Ideally, you want to be able to look back on your journey 43 years from when you started, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, and be proud of how far you’ve come!

Joyce Tan is Planning Associate Director at Wavemaker


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