ARMLife Interview with Maria Yiangou
ARMLife provides an inside look into the talented people who work at All Response Media. For our first interview, we sat down with Group Account Director* Maria Yiangou to explore her experiences working in media and her journey with ARM.
AR: Tell us a bit about yourself?
MY: Although I was born in England, I grew up in Cyprus and only returned when I was 18 to study. I fell in love with London and I do not think I could live anywhere else. Coming from a tiny Island, it was so different and exciting. I love that I can easily find new places to explore, foods to eat and pop-ups to visit. It is a very accepting city and I love being here.
AR: When did you start at ARM and how long have you been here?
MY: I joined All Response Media nearly 7 years ago when I was 24. I had completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Law but realised it wasn’t the path for me. Media sounded interesting so I decided to explore it.
A couple months after finishing a Master’s Degree in English, I saw a job advertisement in The Guardian for a grad day at All Response Media and signed up. Thankfully it was a success and soon thereafter I joined (ARM Director) Aldona Cornish’s team in London as an offline media executive where I worked on the SunLife account.
AR: What word(s) best describes you?
MY: That’s a good question. I think if I had to choose a phrase it would be “fiery by nature”. I am so passionate about what I do and this has helped to get me where I am. I always do the best I can and I am very involved in my client work.
AR: You mentioned you started out in offline. When did you move to digital?
MY: At that time, All Response Media was much smaller and I had already started working across both online and offline. When an employee left, I was handed the newly won giffgaff account, which at the time was just starting out. For a couple of years, I balanced my offline work with SunLife and my online work with giffgaff, but when giffgaff began to take off, I decided it made the most sense to fully invest my time in online.
Though I was excited, it was sad leaving the SunLife and offline team. We had all invested so much of our time into growing the account. Kris (Archer) and Aldona provided such wonderful personal and professional development and I learned how to hold my own, negotiate and service our clients, which proved to be pivotal in my career. It was great getting exposure to these key offline skillsets as it gave me a sort of edge once I moved to online.
AR: giffgaff is now one of ARM’s largest clients. What was it like growing that account?
MY: The turning point was when our main contact at giffgaff, Kim Faura, requested I run the account. I had developed a strong relationship with him due to our similar working styles and as a result I had the vote of confidence I needed to get stuck in and grow the brand.
It has been really rewarding to be a part of giffgaff’s journey to becoming one of our biggest spenders. Having worked with giffgaff from the beginning, I really do know the account, from the basic set up all the way up to the commercial strategy. Both ARM and giffgaff have grown considerably in my time here and I credit giffgaff for being one of the catalysts for my journey and career growth. Looking back, I don’t know if I would have moved into online if it wasn’t for that.
AR: How has it been seeing the online side of the organisation grow from when you first started?
MY: It has been both exciting and challenging! The main challenge was adapting our response driven approach to an online proposition. Our Head of Digital Strategy, Nick Cudahy, changed the shape of online at ARM and I feel lucky to have had the ability to help build this department with him into what it is today.
AR: What has been one of your most proud achievements at ARM?
MY: For the last two years, I invested a lot of time into a training proposition for the online team. I am very passionate about our people and as a result felt it vital to create a structure to allow them to grow, develop and learn. Through hard work and processes, we have created the tools for employees to achieve amazing things for themselves and for the agency.
We have training weeks, workshops and even study hours where team members step away from their day-to-day to learn something new. We also support employee’s desires to seek out external training as well. It’s the little things that make a difference, like scheduling all of the PDRs for the year and keeping to the dates.
We also created a social council that is made up of different members from different levels within the digital team. Whether it is making sure everyone knows which pub to go to after work or planning activities such as a treasure hunt around Farringdon, this group ensures that social is a regular part of our job.
AR: How has this training initiative benefited the team?
MY: Those structural changes have created a more functional working environment with “we are in this together” mentality. This mentality, which runs throughout each level of the organisation, creates leaders who want to develop people.
Additionally, we have fluidity within the organisation where people can seize opportunities to get stuck in, try new things and widen their careers. For example, Terry, our Lead Technical Operations Analyst, was able to form his own team around his passion for tech, though his background was in PPC.
Similarly, our social council helped create a more open and welcoming environment. Teams may not always work together closely but a social get together is an excellent way to bring them together. It definitely makes a difference.
I love being in a position where I can provide people with the opportunity to discover what they are passionate about. I have been able to devote more of my role to this, which has been great. That being said, it has been a growing experience for me too as we have had to evolve and change the training programs to fit the needs of the company. One of the biggest benefits of ARM is that its agile and smaller nature allows for these changes to be made.
AR: Tell us about a typical day for Maria…
MY: To be honest, my role consists of very atypical days. Depending on which team needs some extra support, I will step in and play a heavier role to make sure our clients are looked after.
Generally, I focus on macro level strategy such as how to move things forward, maintain client relationships and motivating the team. One-on-ones have become a bigger part of my day as I continue to take time out to sit down and check in on people within the digital team.
AR: If you could give one piece of advice what would it be?
MY: The piece of advice I would give, and what makes All Response Media unique as well, is to take advantage of the resources around you. If you want to learn something new, drop someone a line and let them know. People will be flattered and happy to help! There are great opportunities to speak to people you admire who can teach you more. Specifically, ARM functions in an open plan office which differs from a lot of agencies as well as the fact we’re all physically on the same floor. There are directors sitting on the floor, all you need to do is ask for their advice.
AR: What is one fact that no one knows about you?
MY: I am a massive book nerd! I am one of those people that will judge you if you say you are a massive Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter fan and haven’t read the books. My favourite author is a guy called Neil Gaiman who chances are most people have read his stories even if they don’t know it (Coraline and Stardust anyone…?) and I just find reading a great form of escapism and relaxation. Everyone needs something to help them “get away” from the real world and that’s my thing!
* Maria has since been promoted to Associate Director.