It’s time to change tack and liberate your creatives

Career progression is no longer linear, enter the ‘Squiggly Career’ path

Mizzy Lees

Managing Director Mr. President


Across industries, the value exchange between employee and employer has shifted. It is no longer simplified to time and effort in exchange for cash - employees want and need much more. Add to this the emergence of the ‘Squiggly Career’ (coined by the wonderful Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper), career progression is no longer limited to climbing a linear corporate ladder, but is now more commonly defined by the individual; it's more fluid, it requires more freedom, more flexibility. It’s not moving around from job to job, but putting learning and development at the centre of your progress. By definition, it’s squiggly. These are two pretty major mindset shifts for employees, so it's fair to say that for leaders to get the best from their team a change in leadership tack is also required.

Ad agencies are in the business of generating ideas. This type of output has always been sensitive to the environment within which one ‘creates’ (or at least that’s what my instinct tells me, apologies if I'm undervaluing the niche environment required for making bread buns or widgets for example). There are so many nuances to an agency's culture to enable creativity to flow. In years gone by it was breakout areas, colourful scatter cushions and bean bags. These days it's less aesthetic and more about ‘the feels’. Creative people need to ‘feel’ a sense of freedom to not just do their jobs, but to do them really well.

Career progression is no longer limited to climbing a linear corporate ladder, but is now more commonly defined by the individual; it's more fluid, it requires more freedom, more flexibility.

Mizzy Lees, Managing Director at Mr. President

Creating a sense of freedom for employees in a workplace is no mean feat. A good start is recognition of individuality. It’s only when an individual feels they can be relaxed that a sense of freedom can be attained. In the workplace, this requires trust from employers, permission to work your own way, and perhaps controversially, as they can often be thought of as distracting, time and space to pursue passions.

An example of how we bring this to life at Mr. President is Project Marilyn, an annual £10k fund that we commit to passion projects, i.e. ideas that do not originate from a client brief. Last September we enabled this by running an all-agency Creative Friday workshop to answer the question ‘what is the world currently in need of?’. Two weeks later four ideas were pitched to the agency partners, and the winning idea was ‘The Floater’. As an act of defiance and a middle finger to the water companies, we made a surfboard out of the sewage that’s polluting our shores. ‘The Floater’ evolved to become an official collaboration with environmental charity, Surfers Against Sewage, and promotes their efforts to hold water companies and the government to account to do more to protect British waters. It’s something we’re very proud of. Not least because it's something we actually care about (no offence to clients), but because we made it, all by ourselves, and put it out into the world, and it’s had impact and tons of coverage.

As an independent agency, we encourage independent thinking across the culture of Mr President. Project Marilyn enables our team to exert their independence and to feel more freedom when it comes to their creative ideas. Working on client brands is of course wonderful, there is nothing quite like seeing your finished work on TV or a bus. But the work to get there can often be, well, hard at best and if we’re honest, soul destroying at worst. Giving your team some time and space to generate pure ideas and then bring them to life is so rewarding. It makes them feel valued, it makes them feel appreciated, it makes them excited that they have the freedom to be creative for creative sake, not restricted by too many rules, approvals and sign-offs.

So let’s not fear the squiggly career, instead, it’s time to lean in. Opportunities lie in liberating creatives - at Mr. President it feels to be more than just a coincidence that at the same time as The Floater we released ‘the world’s best whisky ad’ (according to System1’s effectiveness research) for The Woodsman. It's never too late for leaders to change tack and embrace passion projects, the outcome can only be happier people and better work, and what’s not to like about that?

Guest Author

Mizzy Lees

Managing Director Mr. President


Mizzy took a somewhat untraditional journey to become Managing Director at Mr. President: she began her career in Client Service at Digital Agency of the Decade, Dare, where she ran accounts for ITV, Barclays and Sony Ericsson. Using her ‘front line’ experience and understanding of what you need to do your job well (and enjoy it at the same time), she side-stepped into HR and Ops. In her role as People Director, she was appointed to Mr. President’s management board and later promoted to Managing Director where she leads the 30 strong team: keeping an open dialogue, maintaining a healthy work/life balance for everyone, supporting personal growth, whilst also making sure everyone has a good time is central to her role. She is incredibly proud that Mr. President was listed in Campaign’s Top 100 Best Places to Work 2023 and The Sunday Times Best Places to Work 2023.

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