Balancing the Grind With Venessa Hunt, Digital Strategy & Investment Officer at GroupM

Venessa Hunt is the Digital Strategy & Investment Officer at GroupM, a media investment company responsible for more than $113B in annual media investment through agencies.

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

Believe it or not, I started off my career as a real estate agent on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, but don’t hold that against me! It gave me a really good training ground to understand commercials and how to talk to people.

After that I was fortunate enough to have a few different jobs in the media industry that taught me all angles of my industry, from journalism and press to stock imagery but always in product or new business roles.

My first venture into advertising was in the early 2000s when I looked after new business for a small independent TV agency. That’s where I fell in love with this thing called mobile, which was only just emerging in the media and advertising world.

Over the years, I got to run mobile businesses and mobile divisions of large companies as this once small trend took the world by storm. I have worked at some of Australia’s biggest publishers and broadcasters to help them navigate the changing digital landscape.

It always frustrated me that consumers were faster in taking up new technologies than the industry could keep up. I made it my personal mission to push the media industry to keep pace with the consumer.

Digital businesses started to become more mobile than desktop and so the lines blurred and I morphed from a mobile evangelist towards innovation and strategy specialising in consumer behaviour habits across all digital channels.

Four years ago, I jumped to agency side to help advertising agencies and clients navigate those same challenges the media industry had been facing.

Fast forward to today and I am the Digital Strategy and Investment Officer for GroupM, the media investment arm of WPP AUNZ, the largest creative transformation company in Australia, as all media channels begin to embark on true digital transformation.

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

To be honest, there is no typical day. In the media world we live in, the only thing that is constant is change. Every day is different for me, with new challenges, opportunities and ideas to work on.

One day I might be on stage at a conference addressing a thousand people, and the next I am in the office with our management team building a strategy around what new services or expertise our clients will need next and how to build them.

I might be meeting with one of Australia’s biggest broadcasters, or inside the boardroom of one of Australia’s top 100 companies talking about the economic outlook and how it impacts ad spend, marketing and digital brand strategy.

Every day is different, but most days consist of at least 6-7 meetings and very little time at my desk. Keeping on the move keeps me motivated, so it works for me!

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

I have a lot of flexibility, but probably not in the traditional way most people think about flexible working. Most of my job is people facing, whether with our teams and agencies working on ideas, with our media partners understanding their ecosystem or with our clients trying to understand their business challenges, so I am very rarely alone.

This means it’s hard to work from home or have flexible hours. Where my flexibility comes in is in the what I get to do rather than focusing on the hours spent in the office. I have a deep passion to help those around me, and leave the world in a better place than I found it.

As part of my career I am also a board member for UnLtd – a social purpose organisation connecting the media, marketing and creative industries with charities helping youth at risk. Through my role at GroupM, I have the flexibility to be able to do that and really make a difference in bringing this passion into our industry.

Whether it’s fundraising challenges like climbing Kilimanjaro, or spending a night in a juvenile prison or chopping firewood in rural NSW with our charity partners, I have the flexibility to do a lot of amazing things, and shine a light on some of the biggest issues facing our youth today. To me, this is the flexibility that’s important.

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

Find out what works for you. You’d probably expect words of advice that say things like waking up early, doing yoga, not drinking too much coffee, but that doesn’t work for a lot of people. I hate mornings so that doesn’t work for me.

Every Monday morning I work from home for an extra hour before I come into the city. I live at least an hour from the office, and Monday mornings are the worst for traffic, so I stay at home a little longer to let the traffic pass instead of wasting the time in the car, crawling along in Sydney traffic, probably getting frustrated before I even start the week.

Instead I spend the time on my balcony at home, looking at the ocean sorting out my diary and schedule for the week. I check what appointments I have and what I need to make time for, whether I have enough time allocated for important projects and to spend with my team. This hour sets me up for a successful week.

It’s crucial and better than crawling in bumper to bumper traffic just to arrive at the office at 9am.

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

Australians work some of the longest hours in the world, and we spend less time looking after ourselves outside of work. Which is ironic given how beautiful our country is, and how great the weather is to get outside and breathe some fresh air.

To me, work life balance is managing time allocated to my job and career as well as all the other things in life; family, friends, hobbies, time for myself.

Over the years, there have been times when I really haven’t got the balance right. I have often let work take over more of my life than I should. I love my work and I’m very career driven, so when I have a goal, or project, I can prioritise it over anything else.

Sometimes that’s OK when you need to get something done, or hit a deadline, but as a way of life, it can be a dangerous habit.

I’ve worked hard to develop more of a healthy work life blend, meaning having a harmony between different aspects of my life, where there are benefits gained in each area. My work makes me stronger and independent at home, my home life gives me compassion and understanding in the work place. They are not mutually exclusive.

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 listen to music every moment I can. Having a soundtrack to life is important. Music can fix any moment and how I feel.

Most days I wear jeans and a black blazer, I’m not good in the morning and it gives me one less thing to think about, and the majority of the time I wear flat shoes to work. It helps me get around faster during the day when I am running between meetings or offices.

I try to watch either the sunset or the sunrise every day if I can. It makes me remember what’s really important in life and not sweat the small stuff.

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

Lots! I read a lot! So there’s too many to name but I’m currently reading three books that I think your readers might enjoy:

  1. Back on Track by Bernie Shakeshaft and James Knight – a thought provoking and heart-warming story about how one man is giving rural kids a second chance, changing their lives and their communities. Bernie has recently won Australian of The Year – NSW Local Hero and I am lucky enough to call him a friend. Reading this book is important for the friendship part of my life.
  2. Good is the New Cool: Market Like you Give a Damn by Afdel Aziz – about the growing phenomenon on purpose-based marketing, and by defining and marketing brand values with authenticity has turned around advertising for some of the world’s biggest brands. Reading this is important for the work part of my life.
  3. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. The people of Japan believe that everyone has an “Ikigai” – a reason to jump out of bed in the morning. Reading this is important for the self part of my life.

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

I mediate before bed, only for 15mins, but it’s a great way to clear my mind before the day is over. Not only does it help me sleep better, but also to clear my mind for the next day. It’s a really helpful habit.

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

Balance is about more than time. It’s more a state of mind and being at peace with how you prioritise your time. Find your purpose and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. I had a pretty tough childhood, and for a long time I hid from that.

I thought that people would define me on my past, not my potential. It wasn’t until more recently that I became really proud of who I was, and how far I have come to where I am today. I believe my purpose, for right now, is to prove to kids with tough backgrounds that nothing is impossible if you want it enough.

And hopefully encouraging a lot of corporate hiring managers and bosses that giving kids from difference backgrounds a chance, and taking the time to understand their team members’ personal story is important.

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.