Balancing the Grind With John Halpin, Head of Strategy & Media at Apparent

John Halpin is the Head of Strategy & Media at Apparent, a customer experience agency, where he currently manages a team of ten.

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

I’m originally from New Zealand and always wanted to get into advertising, although I pictured myself making ads back then. My career really started when I arrived in Sydney. After a few years I was fortunate enough to land a strategy job at Naked Communications, an agency that reshaped the ad industry.

The philosophy of Naked shaped my view of the role of advertising, and communications as a whole. Since then I’ve had other strategy roles and a stint in a consultancy, but my desire to help shape a new version of the agency / client relationship led me to my current role as Head of Strategy & Media at Apparent.

It’s a fascinating business that despite massive growth over the past few years, has still only just scratched the surface of what it can achieve.

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

There’s a lot of variation from day to day, but it includes new business meetings with prospects, as well as working on strategic recommendations for clients. I manage a team of ten so there’s a lot to cover in terms of the workload, the output, as well as our learning and development.

I also have a role in helping shape the strategy for the business and my team’s product offer. That’s the beauty of advertising; you’re in a constant learning mode to keep up to speed with your clients, their industry and our own.

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

Yes it does, when appropriate. The thing about flexible working scenarios is understanding when to use them and when you need to be in the room.

I find that if you’re trying to develop new thinking or ideas you need a mixture of time on your own to get your head around the problem, and then time with others to get the benefit of their thinking too. That’s hard to do remotely.

We’re social creatures and working on things together is about a lot more than just getting to an answer.

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

I think it’s important everyone learns how they do their best work. What’s your style? Where are you most productive etc? I’ve learnt that I’m at my best with a long black, headphones and a cafe with a view first thing in the morning. If I can get a couple of those in each week I’m much more productive with the rest of my time.

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

I’ve recently become a father for the first time and started with Apparent at the same time my wife returned to work. It’s a whole different ball game for both of us now and to be honest, we’re still finding our groove. But having a daughter has definitely changed my behaviour around leaving work in time to see her for an hour before she goes to bed.

Let’s just say everything is a bit messy at the moment but we both support each other to follow our careers, whilst we know we need to be there for our daughter.

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?

I don’t know if this is quite a habit, but finding your people is key. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very smart people I can go to as a sounding board for both work and personal development questions. People who push your thinking and reward you with theirs.

On a more day to day level, work out your essential skills and tools. Mine are;

  • A prioritisation tool so you know what to do first and last.
  • Get off the laptop and let you thoughts wander. I do it via post-its.
  • Learn how to write an effective email. Then save yourself the time and have a conversation instead.

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

Three books l’ve gone back to again and again are:

  • James Kerr’s book Legacy about the All Blacks showed me how little things can be incredibly powerful signals for teams.
  • Deviate by Beau Lotto taught me how to rethink thinking and never take things at face value.
  • Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom reminds me to not be a dickhead.

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

I’m gonna give you two things critical to my day; care and coffee. You’ve got to want to do what you do, or all the work / life balance theory in the world won’t mean a thing. And good coffee. Globally, it’s probably responsible for more productivity than anything else.

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

Truth? If you’re motivated enough to chase a high performing career, you’re unlikely to ever be in balance. Your career will dictate large portions of your time. But remember that’s your choice. If you want to get somewhere faster or higher than others, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.

The key is to work out what you’re prepared to sacrifice and what you’re not. If we could have everything, then we wouldn’t feel the reward of working for what we really want. After all, strategy is sacrifice.

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.