Creative Lives — Reed Words’ client services manager Laura Potter: “It’s not the job title that’s important, but whether you enjoy it”

Posted 23 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

With up to 15 live projects on the go in any given week, it’s safe to say that Laura Potter is the lynchpin (aka client services manager) at Soho-based brand writing agency, Reed Words. After moving to London to work as an editor but finding the reality too isolating, a charmingly written description encouraged her to apply for the job. Today, Laura’s varied and multifaceted role sees her regularly meeting with clients all over London (and sometimes overseas), while also keeping tabs on the workflow in the studio. If that’s not enough, she also co-hosts her own podcast on the side. We find out more about Laura’s career journey, and which Parks and Recreation episode she recommends for anyone looking to land their dream job.

Laura Potter

Job Title

Client Services Manager, Reed Words (2014–present)

Based

London

Previous Employment

Editor, Thames & Hudson, (2012–2014)
Assistant Editor, V&A Publishing (2008–2011)
Editorial Assistant, Canadian Literature (2006)
Programming Assistant, Arts Umbrella (2005)

Education

MA Literature, University of Toronto (2011–2012)
BA Literature, University of British Columbia (2003–2007)

Inside Reed Words

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job? 
The term ‘lynchpin’ gets bandied around when my colleagues try to sum up my role. That’s because we’re a small team, and so my remit is broad. At a big agency, my role would often be split between an account director, studio manager and project manager.

It’s probably simplest to say what I don’t do – which is write creative copy for our clients. That’s left to our creative director and team of writers, while I look after (drum roll) briefings, proposals, workflow, client interface, scheduling, budgeting, negotiating, billing, problem solving, admin, editing and business development. The team do some of these things too, of course, but writing is their priority.

I know I’m doing a good job if our clients are happy, the writers are happy, and we’re delivering brilliant creative on time and within budget. Plus new business keeps flooding in.

“I look after (drum roll) briefings, proposals, workflow, client interface, scheduling, budgeting, negotiating, billing, problem-solving, admin, editing and business development.”

What does an average working day look like? 
My commute from north London to our Soho studio takes about 45 minutes, though some mornings I may head straight to a client’s office for a briefing meeting or workshop. Sometimes I attend those alone, but more often I’ll have our creative director or another writer with me. 

It’s my job to keep everything moving in the studio: proposals, briefs, projects, writers. That makes planning the studio workflow for the day top priority when I arrive. To do that, I quickly sift through the latest emails, update our workflow summary on SmartSheet, and quiz the writers on where they are with certain projects. At 10.30am the entire studio stops work and I lead a stand-up meeting where we agree the day’s plan and deadlines.

The rest of the day is then a balancing act to make sure I’m taking the time I need to review client work or write a proposal, while still ensuring emails are being answered promptly, the writers have everything they need, and practical admin is under control. Staying on top of all these moving parts means my day is always changing, and the best-laid plans are in constant need of revision. Client meetings are a welcome break. I couldn’t spend all day in front of my computer, and meeting clients all over London (and sometimes beyond), is one of my favourite things about my role. 

Copy for University of California, design by Mucho

Copy for University of California, design by Mucho

Copy for University of California, design by Mucho

Copy for University of California, design by Mucho

Copy for University of California, design by Mucho

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How did you land your current job? 
A conversation with a recruiter led me to the It’s Nice That jobs board (now If You Could). I was looking for opportunities beyond the publishing industry that still fit with my experience as an editor and project manager. 

Reed Words was advertising for a studio manager/project manager/lynchpin at the time, and Mike had written a charming job description that won me over. I applied, interviewed and got the job. 

Where does the majority of your work take place?
I spend most of my time in our studio, or in one of the ‘break-out’ spaces within the building. Some of that time is spent on the computer, but I’m also on the phone speaking with clients, chatting with the writers, and attending meetings. Every week, I usually have 3-4 client meetings that take me into design agencies, start-ups and big corporates around London. Sometimes we get to travel further afield too. 

How collaborative is your role? 
My role is almost entirely collaborative. Keeping close tabs on the writers’ workflow means regular check-ins throughout the day on briefs, scope and deadlines. I also work closely with our clients to understand and plan their projects, then ensure everything runs smoothly thereafter. Even when I sit down alone for a few hours to write up a proposal, I’ll usually loop in another member of the team to talk through my thinking. 

“I know I’m doing a good job if our clients are happy, the writers are happy, and we’re delivering brilliant creative on time and within budget.”

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
I love taking new briefs and then shaping a plan for how that project will unfold. I also love reviewing our writers’ copy and concepts, and giving them feedback  – or, often, just praise. Least enjoyable: Invoicing? But it’s also quite satisfying keeping tabs on the monthly forecast and billing. Fielding cold calls on the studio’s direct line? Yeah, that’d be it.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We have up to 15 live projects on the go in any given week, so it’s difficult to choose just one. But a recent full-scale brand voice project we undertook for a client in Gibraltar springs to mind. 

At the end of last year, our creative director, a senior writer and I flew down to ‘Gib’ to lead a series of workshops with their director of marketing and over 20 staff. They’re a great team of smart, fun people, plus we knew our work would make a big difference. The result was a new voice for the brand – what they say, and how they say it – as well as a set of guidelines showing that voice in action. We’ve just started rolling the voice out across all their customer-facing communications. 

Mike and Laura at work

At work

Laura at work

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How I Got Here

What skills are essential to your job?
Attention to detail, tact, flexibility. The ability to keep lots of things in your head at once, and a love for systems and planning.

Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance? 
Some weeks can get a bit busy, but it’s very rare for me to work beyond 6pm or on weekends. It’s not part of our studio culture to work long hours and never has been. If the writers are staying late, I always feel that’s on me. It’s my responsibility to keep tabs on workflow and make sure we’re on track to deliver within working hours. And if not, then I need to find a solution.

Do you run any self-initiated/side projects alongside your job?
Yup, a podcast. My friend Kate and I host the monthly The Book Club Review – ‘the podcast about book clubs and books that get you talking’. (Thanks to my colleague Afy for that line.) 

“It’s not part of our studio culture to work long hours and never has been. If the writers are staying late, I always feel that’s on me.”

What did you want to be growing up?
A book editor. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
My degrees in Literature taught me how to think critically, assess writing and communicate effectively – all vital to my role.

What were your first jobs? 
I worked a range of customer service jobs from 16 on, but my first ‘proper’ job was at 19 when I took a summer position at Arts Umbrella, a children’s arts school in Vancouver. It was paid (as all full-time roles should be), and I landed it through my university’s Arts Co-op programme. Unfortunately, I don’t think such programmes exist in the UK – they’re even rare among Arts faculties in Canada. As a Programming Assistant, I helped the Programming Manager with any admin or small projects related to the different art, dance and theatre courses the school was running at that time. 

Naming and copy for Bulb, design by Ragged Edge

Naming and copy for Bulb, design by Ragged Edge

Naming and copy for Bulb, design by Ragged Edge

Voice and copy for Personal Group, design by SomeOne and Else

Voice and copy for Personal Group, design by SomeOne and Else

Voice and copy for Personal Group, design by SomeOne and Else

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What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career? 
Moving to London. I had just finished my BA, I didn’t have a job, and no one would answer my emails until I moved here. I started out temping, which led me to the V&A Finance department, which led me to V&A Publishing. Temping is great like that – you never know what opportunities will arise, and where they’ll take you. It’s a good alternative to unpaid internships.

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I was a fact checker on the Cambridge History of Canadian Literature, which gave me an obsessive eye for detail. It serves me well when I’m editing.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
I hope I’m more patient now than I was a few years back. It’s important that I stay calm and flexible when everything’s going a bit mad.

“I had just finished my BA, I didn’t have a job, and no one would answer my emails until I moved to London.”

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
Yes, but that wasn’t always the case. Growing up I always wanted to be an editor and work in book publishing. It’s why I moved to London. But the reality didn’t suit me. Most of my time as an editor was spent alone reviewing and rewriting the same, often quite poor, manuscript for weeks at a time. 

Now, I get to review and discuss (exceptional) writing, work as part of a close-knit team, and meet with new, interesting clients every week. It’s a much better fit for my personality and interests. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
A laptop with a large desk monitor; SmartSheet; Wunderlist; Slack; Gmail; GoogleDrive and notebooks.

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
I’d like to continue to grow the reputation of Reed Words, bring on board more new, varied clients from around the world, and keep doing what I’m doing as the agency grows.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a client services manager? 
Remember it’s not the job title that’s important, but whether you enjoy the job. Sometimes we love the idea of a job and it can take a while to admit we don’t love the reality. 

One tip is to think about what you enjoy doing – working alone, or with others; at a big company, or a small one; on one focused task, or many – then see how you might pair that with what interests you. Recommended viewing: Parks and Recreation, season 7, episode 2, when April discovers her dream job.

This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Reed Words.

Posted 23 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Sophie Stafford
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design, Copywriting
Mentions: Laura Potter, Reed Words, Thames & Hudson, V&A Publishing

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