Creative Lives — Freelancing, failure and creative freedom: Communications consultant Naomi Oluleye
With a background in anthropology, London-based communications consultant Naomi Oluleye draws on an in-depth knowledge of humans and cultures to connect with brand audiences. Whether she’s working on a new strategy, campaign or simply coming up with ideas on WhatsApp, possessing a mega-mix of skills is key to working across marketing, planning and production. She’s worked with Evian on everything from media management to writing, and even helped produce their charming Baby&Me viral videos with Maria Sharapova and Rizzle Kicks. After recently quitting her job in order to work for herself, Naomi is currently organising a panel discussion with leading creative women who have done the same – all in the hope of inspiring others thinking of taking that similar, albeit scary, step.
Freelance Communications Consultant (2017–present)
Account Manager, Quintessentially (2016–2017)
Account Manager, Common Industry (2015–2016)
Account Executive, Exposure (2014–2015)
Communications Internships, Blue Rubicon, freuds and Peretti Communications (2012–2013)
BA Anthropology, Durham University (2010–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I help brands, start-ups and individuals reach their commercial potential by creating culturally relevant marketing campaigns and strategies. My job is very varied; it includes providing account management services, developing communication strategies for go-to-market, and developing marketing communications for a launch or event. It also involves coaching founders and visionaries, helping them to develop their narratives for their target audience.
What does a typical working day look like?
I’m a morning person so I’ll get up around 6am, head to the gym and then spend 10 minutes meditating with Headspace or Jody Shield’s mediation episodes. I always listen to Radio 4 whilst getting ready for the day ahead. My typical working day starts with desk research, and reading cultural affairs, trends and reports online – what has recently been referred to as ‘cultural scanning’. I consider this to be very important for keeping up with the latest changes and trends in behaviours, cultures and the creative industry, as a lot of it informs the work and recommendations I give clients. After that, I’m either in meetings with clients, potential clients or working on client projects. I also freelance at agencies a few days a week, so on certain days I could be doing what is more a ‘traditional’ 9–5 day as an account manager.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
Either at one of the Soho Houses or in a client office.
How does your freelance work usually come about?
Predominantly through recommendations and people I’ve worked with before. I think it’s my energy, passion for projects, interest in working with ‘change makers’, and my management skills that make me right for the job. I take my clients’ successes personally.
“Anthropology is all about people. I help connect brands to their audiences, so my knowledge of humans and cultures plays an important part.”
How collaborative is your work?
Very; I’m a big believer that ‘no man is an island’. I really believe that they should be involved from ideation all the way through to the end of a project.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Most enjoyable: meeting amazing, innovative people who are trying to do things differently. It makes me proud when my clients are happy with the work I produce whether that’s a strategy, campaign or simply an email with a brainwave. I enjoy the creative freedom I have, but the most mundane task has to be accounting and invoicing; chasing an invoice can be very stressful! When you freelance, you don’t have an accountancy department so it all depends upon you.
Would you say it allows a good life-work balance?
I believe it has the potential to allow for a reasonable life-work balance, if managed properly. There are upsides and downsides to every situation but I try to make the time to do other things outside of work such as travelling with my boyfriend, hanging out with friends, reading, and visiting exhibitions.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
My work with Sam Francis, the founder and director of Find a Balance, a social enterprise which helps young people with mental health conditions. I’m helping Sam to create an effective marketing campaign and strategy to generate awareness of her business and get more people talking about mental health, which has been very rewarding.
“Things are not always going to go your way. As a freelancer, you learn new things everyday which means you’re bound to make mistakes.”
What skills are essential to your job?
Being a hybrid and being able to use multiple skills whether that's influencer marketing, communications planning or account management to bring a project to life.
Are you currently working on any side projects?
I always have a few ideas. I’m in the early stages of planning a panel discussion on how successful women quit, pivot and relaunch their careers. I was really inspired by author Wendy Sachs’ book “Fearless and Free. How Smart Women Pivot—and Relaunch Their Careers” and after quitting my job to follow my passion of working for myself, I really want to host a discussion with leading creative women who have done the same to show people that it’s okay to quit in order to do what you love.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Macbook; iPhone 7; Google Docs; Aspinal Notepad and highlighters!
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Very useful. Anthropology is all about people. It’s the study of human societies, cultures and their development. I help connect brands to their audiences, so my knowledge of humans and cultures plays an important part.
What were your first jobs?
I did several communications internships between 2012–13 at freuds, Blue Rubicon and Peretti Communications. I think internships are very useful as they help you work out what you like and don’t like and they are a good stepping stone to creating a network in an industry you want to succeed in.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
Three people have been significantly helpful. My first director, Aime at Exposure, was a good mentor who taught me about process, which has been helpful to my current work. Secondly, my last director before I left Exposure, Tash Vickers taught me more about my recognising my own worth in terms of knowing what I bring to a team. Tash also taught me the art of managing and the importance of emotional intelligence and creating a happy team. Lastly, my most recent boss Aaron Cole at Common Industry (who is now at Wieden + Kennedy) helped me to harness my selling power and taught me the power of ideas – also that being multi-skilled is a good asset.
“Having an established network and contacts is so important; it’s your bread and butter when working for yourself.”
Was there a project you worked on that helped your development?
I worked on the evian ‘Live young’ activation for Wimbledon in 2014–15 which involved working with evian to produce viral videos such as Baby&Me, and working with talent such as Maria Sharapova and Rizzle Kicks. From hosting celebrities at Wimbledon, managing media and the photographer to writing, toolkits and production and event briefs. I learnt everything about account management, and as it was an inter-agency campaign it meant I had the opportunity to learn about how media agencies and social agencies work together.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Take everything off email and jump on the phone. I’m currently working with Deborah Rey Burns who is Founder of Propela, the UK’s leading representation agency for creatives and we use Whatsapp voice notes to discuss and agree points, which works quite well.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Learning that things are not always going to go your way. As a freelancer, you learn new things everyday which means you’re bound to make mistakes. I love the quote, “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal”.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes and more! Every day is truly different and I’m constantly learning, growing and developing new skills.
What would you like to do next?
I think the next step would be start my own agency.
Could you do this job forever?
Yes definitely, I don’t think I’ll ever properly retire.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I guess there isn’t a set natural progression for freelancers; you can always improve, get more clients and become better known, but if you don’t want to continue freelancing, you could move into an agency or in-house role or even look at running your own agency.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a freelance communications consultant?
Never underestimate your current role and the relationships you’re building, as all the people you meet will become part of your network. Having an established network and contacts is so important; it’s your bread and butter when working for yourself. I’m still in touch with people that I interned for who then recommended me for jobs. Make sure that wherever you work, you are on top of your game as that will never go unnoticed. Lastly, network like crazy and don’t let anyone say you can’t do something because you can!