Balance the Grind With Amelia Ward, Head of Digital, Sydney at PHD

Amelia Ward is the Head of Digital, Sydney at media agency PHD, where she is responsible for managing and developing the company’s digital offering.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started my media career at McCann Erickson as a traditional media buyer who toyed with a few digital campaigns, but moved to becoming a digital specialist when I lived in London. I worked for the largest independent full service digital agency at the time, i-level, across key accounts such as British Telecom.

My experience in London was the foundation of my career now – I knew I loved digital, data and tech, and was happy to be learning from some of the best people in the UK digital industry.

When we moved back to Australia 2 years later, I worked at boutique digital agency NetX (which ended up being bought by Clemenger Group) as their Head of Media; leading the team and digital strategy across Virgin Money, Super and Home Loans.

While I was off on maternity leave NetX was completely absorbed into Clemenger and so on my return, with a supportive management team, I moved across the Omnicom Group to Total Advertising (now PHD – a global communications planning and media buying network).

Relatively unheard of in the digital media world, I’ve now been in the PHD family for 11 years. During that time I’ve had 2 more children and provided digital leadership to a number of client business teams.

In early 2016, I became the Director of Digital Operations, managing PHD’s digital systems, tools and process and then being promoted 6 months later to my current Head of Digital role in Sydney.

My role focuses on PHD’s digital offering; I’m responsible for driving the data and tech agenda across the agency and making sure our digital specialists (and the wider agency) have the tools and skills needed to deliver relevant solutions for our clients.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My day starts with at least one or two hits on the snooze button, I am not a morning person.

It’s usually then a mad rush of me trying to get ready for work in the midst of breakfast, school uniforms, lunchboxes and school drop off for my 3 boys on the Northern Beaches. I am forever grateful that a coffee shop opened up next door to school, which means I can get myself a caffeine fix for the drive into Pyrmont.

I use the commute to immerse in whatever latest podcast series I’m bingeing on; which is currently The Australian’s “The Lighthouse” by David Murray. Investigating the disappearance of Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez – highly recommend.

Thanks to our flexible working policy, I start my day at 9.30am and usually arrive to a healthy inbox full of emails. If I don’t have any meetings scheduled (rare) I spend the time reading the latest trade press and research/articles. My current interests include; implications of a cookieless future, digital measurement, digital and business innovation, and the future of audio/voice.

My days are most often full of meetings, both video conferencing and face to face. Today I’m on an IAB Council video call, followed by a media partner “lunch & learn” about podcasting. My final meeting today is for our Innovation Council, updating the rest of the team on the progress of our latest innovation project and brainstorming the role of the Council in 2020.

Once all my meetings are done, and the office starts to empty, I can then focus on the admin stuff – more emails, presentations, and thought leadership. I said I wasn’t a morning person, and it’s evident when I come to life in the early evening.

Now that I’ve missed the worst of the peak hour traffic heading north, the commute home is a chance to de-stress and listen to something funky and fun. Some nights I miss the chance to say goodnight to my youngest son, but get a chance to catch up on the day with my other 2 boys and hubby.

The days are challenging (always up for a challenge!) and a little bit chaotic, but that’s working life in Sydney.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

As mentioned, the support I’ve received from PHD to continue flexible working arrangements is invaluable.

I don’t work Mondays, and spend the day focused on my family/real life and trying to do some form of exercise – usually a swim or a bike ride. Tuesday to Friday, I start late each day after dropping my kids at school – I have one shorter day each week to take the kids to sport, and 2 longer days to catch up on those missed hours.

The best day of the week for me is a Friday when I work remotely from home. I try not to book any calls or meetings and use the time to catch up on all the work that got sidelined with each previous day’s meetings and tasks. If there is time, I will use my lunchbreak to go for a beach swim, but only if the water isn’t too cold!

The most important part of the equation, however, is having a partner who also benefits from flexible working arrangements so we can share the load of school pick-ups and sick kids.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

When working from home, I usually break my day up into sprints. I’ll do 1.5 hours at a time, then take a quick break to make a cup of tea and walk around. I don’t listen to music like I might do at the office to drown out the noise, but instead spend as much time as I can outside in the fresh air as I find it keeps me focused.

Work calendar and personal calendar are both kept up to date to ensure everyone in my life knows where I am at any given time, and from a family perspective where they are supposed to be. My work to-do list is constantly being updated. These 2 elements are key to keeping my schedule and workload somewhat under control.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me, work-life balance means making sure I have quality time to spend with my family and on myself. Currently my goal is to continue protecting my Monday off and keep that time aside to dedicate to myself and my family.

I always take advantage of anything that PHD offers to us; like Tuesday night yoga in the office which means I can’t make excuses not to go, or Summer Fridays where we get to take the afternoon off and enjoy the awesome Aussie weather.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Success to me is feeling challenged AND in control. The moment you feel like the ‘challenge’ part takes over and you are only just keeping your head above water, you need to stop what you are doing and re-calibrate.

It’s easy to say “time management, prioritisation, blah blah”, but everyone knows the advertising industry can get out of control very quickly. It sneaks up on you, and all of a sudden you are running multiple training sessions, client projects and new business pitches all in the same month.

I work best when there is a bit of pressure on me, but it’s a fine line between a looming deadline and true panic!

I’ve developed some pretty solid multi-tasking skills over the years, whilst keeping in mind the following advice: a) delegate anything you are willing to, b) don’t sweat the small stuff, c) that less is more.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’m going to be really honest here and say that I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. My love of books, reading and storytelling is about the opportunity to immerse myself into the story and flex my imagination. I’m verbose, relatively opinionated and passionate about most things in life, and I think this is down to my love of fiction.

In saying that, I am currently reading Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz – which is a really illuminating insight into the use of big data and a glimpse into the human mind. It definitely makes you think differently about the world, and especially question how we engage data science in our industry.

But if you are asking me about podcasts, well that’s another story, so many choices. But in terms of female leadership and entrepreneurship I highly recommend Tina Tower’s Her Empire Builder. She speaks to some really inspiring women about how they got to where they are today. It’s a great listen.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I try to make sure that each day I consciously take moments of “me time” – even if it’s a few minutes to walk around the block when I am at work, or stop working for a moment while I listen to a favourite song in my headphones.

Anything that gives my mind a chance to switch off from whatever thoughts or stresses are running through it. The aim of this technique is to help me tap into more of my creativity and divergent thinking, and hopefully help with productivity too.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

From a practical perspective; try to get enough sleep (as a mum of 3 with a career and the uncanny ability to Netflix-binge, it’s not always prioritised) and try to have fun and laugh every day.

But also try to ground yourself in the earth in some way every day – feel the sand or the grass under your feet, have a swim in the ocean, or focus on listening to the wind in the trees. It’s amazing how much better you feel.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.