A chat with Lila
When she’s not finding the perfect words for every situation, our Project Manager Lila can be found juggling a million-and-one things in our Wellington studio. This month, we got her thoughts on the ins and outs of being a PM in the creative industry.
Tell us about your career path so far.
With a love for words and art, I settled on studying English Literature and Art History in Scotland. I then travelled around collecting a selection of job titles similar to ‘Project Manager’: public relations, event management, comms, translation, copywriting, journalism... At the core of all my experiences, there’s always been a thirst for connecting with humans (with sprinkles of language and organisation there too). Those jobs took me all over - from London, Italy and France to Australia and Canada.
Why PM in the creative industry?
In many ways, it’s the perfect combination of all my previous experiences. I’ve always struggled to pick one box to fit into. Here, it’s like having a thousand jobs! I get to work with clients from all sorts of industries, tackle new challenges and shepherd creatives towards a range of outputs. All in one day, we’re producing campaign videos, promoting an award ceremony and writing website content... And same goes for subject matters: from mushroom production and compliance to conversations around consent for rangatahi - you name it, I know it!
What do you think makes a good PM?
- Having a high EQ - using your ‘sixth sense antennas’ to create long-lasting relationships with all types of people (yes, even if they don’t understand your addiction to pickles dipped in mustard).
- Being a Jack(ie) of all trades - seamlessly herding cats, juggling complicated budgets, sorting through inboxes, taking calls…
- Having a genuine appreciation for creativity - giving you the ability to translate the work to clients and vice versa.
- Planning for every eventuality, then adapting when it all hits the fan - because, in ways, it always does.
- Maintaining a hopeful energy - you’ve got to get the train to the station and keep everyone on it, no matter how long or complicated the project is. If everyone’s smiling by the end, bonus points!
What project are you most proud of? And why is that?
This year, we were the campaign studio for the Designers Institute of New Zealand Best Awards. We had space to push the brief on this marathon of a project. It was dreamy - like being a kid again. Surrealism was always my favourite art movement, so all of the weird, wacky, colourful stop motion was a treat to digest (and a feat of mental gymnastics to produce).
Throughout the 10-month adventure, we faced some hefty challenges. We were designing for designers, while also wanting to showcase who we are as a studio. The quantity of deliverables and the standard to which they were delivered represented a mound of work. But those late nights munching on pizza with the team, paint splattered all over our arms, make some of my favourite memories at Strategy.
How do you navigate all of those relationships, from coworkers to clients?
Let’s be real, a PM is a wizard multitasker. You’re everyone’s orchestra conductor, translator, caffeine shot and shoulder to cry on. It's a beautiful dance - you get to be in the middle of all these creative humans, help them understand the challenge, mediate conversations and find the best way forward. It’s everything I love.
What influential moment changed the way you work?
A past manager told me to log all my achievements, so I keep a pride journal (yes, the cringe name is compulsory). Important milestones, rare compliments, notable emails: I screenshot them and keep them as a reference for those days I need to pitch myself or simply need a pep talk. That wee folder waves at me and says: “Hey boss, you’re doing pretty good”.
On the flip side, what’s a piece of advice you'd give to a project manager starting out?
Embrace the learning curve and have a thirst for feedback - no matter how uncomfortable it can feel. Having gaps in your knowledge doesn’t scream “you’re lacking”, it says “you’ve still got places to go”. Lap up the wisdom from those around you and revel in sharing yours - that’s where the magic happens. This goes for your whole career. I, for one, never want to stop being a student.
What have you learned from your recent adventures in training for a marathon?
There will always be niggles. The key is understanding whether the discomfort is something you need to stop and assess straight away, or whether you can roll through it gently. With running, that’s mainly to do with injury, but it applies to work too. For hyperactives like me, it can be hard to keep juggling everything while stepping back to rest. When you spend all day figuring out what clients and creatives need, making space to listen to your own mind is a tricky skill.
What are your favourite things that we do in the studio?
I love the inane amounts of non-work-related Slack channels we have. Our excellent selection includes a run_fun channel, a coffee art and review chat, as well as my most recent addition: a language nerd channel called “gaga for grammar” (I had an existential crisis about bullet points, what can I say).
Then, I love the collaborative nature of our workspace. People might not realise how close we all are (as friends but also…physically)! We have such unique personalities - being in a studio space where I can swivel over for a chat is a joy.
What changes do you want to see in the industry?
I think mental health needs to be a bigger part of the equation. Integrating it into project processes, allowing time for reflection and celebration, as well as understanding how different brains work. Most studios currently have good foundations, but I think we can do better to normalise the ebb and flow of mental health and how it interacts with the creative process.
Also - more women in leadership, more diversity and a more integrated cultural approach please!
Reading everything Greek mythology (aka, Stephen Fry's Mythos).
Listening to Franc Moody's funky, disco goodness. On vinyl? Even better.
Wishing I was on a French terrasse with my family and 5kgs of cheese.
Obsessing over whether "sub-brand" takes a hyphen or not.