How I became Head of Marketing: Jennifer Szczepaniak Sloane … – Prolific North

Jennifer Szczepaniak Sloane has worked at Manchester-based digital agency Dark Horse since 2021.
She initially graduated from the University of Sheffield with a BSc in Genetics in 2008, before moving into marketing in 2011. Starting out as a product and marketing executive, she has since worked in various industries and with products targeting both UK and global markets to broaden her experience.
Here, Jennifer shares her career insights, tips and advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps.
I left university in 2008 during a recession. Knowing I didn’t want to do a PhD in science, I fell into a role at the UK Border Agency. Whilst there, I reviewed what aspects I enjoyed in the workplace and what that could lead to. Things like working with people and across departments, being organised, managing projects and being able to work in different sectors – something that could provide variability in the role.
All my strengths pointed to a career in marketing. I then self-funded my Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications. It was at this point I got my first role in marketing – it was great to apply the theory directly to an industry setting. This is when I knew I was in the right profession.
Interacting with people. I love being around people and learning from them. Being the Head of Marketing at a digital marketing agency means I am surrounded by experts in specific fields. They have vast amounts of knowledge that I get to soak up.
My role itself is so varied. It’s been the case in every role I’ve done, regardless of industry. I continually have multiple projects on-the-go and keeping them moving forward keeps my brain active. One day the focus is lead generation and the next it is recruitment. This variation is also the cause of working across all departments, and as I said, I have great colleagues at Dark Horse, so I can’t complain.
This is a tricky one – inspiration has come from so many people and continues to do so. I can’t pinpoint one person. I’ve always gravitated towards ambitious people in the different companies I’ve worked at, and I think the fact they challenge me is the inspiration that keeps me wanting to develop and improve. You can always learn from people – it’s the best way.
Balancing priorities can be a challenge – there is always loads of ideas to try and execute on. It is a case of deciding which to do first. Although I’m not sure there is ever a right answer. Working across all the departments can mean you are pulled in different directions regularly, but you need to make decisions and trust them – it’s all about being confident in your decisions.
Enthusiasm, organisation and hard work.
I’m a believer in being positive and helping people, this not only builds friendships but opens opportunities. If you are enthusiastic to your work and to people, they respond. Plus, I love being in marketing, so usually I’m just excited to be working on the project itself, organic enthusiasm. Being organised means you hit deadlines (which is always useful), you’ve got a solid plan and there is no mention of the phrase “last minute”! Hard work – well that’s a given really – sometimes you just have to put your head down and get a piece of work done. Your efforts will be rewarded.
Ooh, this is going back a bit. I think my first marketing role was a salary of around £13k. I wasn’t looking at early retirement from it, let’s put it that way. It didn’t matter though, for me, that first company took a chance on me whilst I was studying for my Marketing qualifications and gave me the opportunity to get to where I am now.
Entry level jobs can really vary in salary, I’d guess you’d be looking at between £17-20k these days but that will depend on industry and locations. Best thing to do is to look at lots of different job specifications in the area you want to work and see what the average rate is. That’s a good benchmark to set your expectations at. You shouldn’t just look at salary though, you need to consider what opportunity and experience you will gain at the company, sometimes this can be a better pay off, although it is longer-term.
Marketing is such a broad career; you can be a specialist in something like SEO or PPC or you can be a generalist and do a little of everything. I think the key is to know the fundamentals of marketing.
However, you’ll undoubtedly get the most of your knowledge when you work for a company. I found the Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications gave me a great set of foundations to build on. The key is to apply yourself fully in the workplace and learn there.
Marketing is a great career to enter – you can work for any company in any location, the fundamentals of it are the same, it’s the execution that differs. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in both the UK and USA and gained huge amounts of knowledge from both, as well as the varying industries such as healthcare, laser manufacturing and now, digital marketing. I’d always say you should take different opportunities even if it puts you out of your comfort zone because that is when you gain the most experience.
If you want to be a marketer, then decide if you want to specialise or not. If you do, then get exposure to that specialism as early as you can in your career and continue to build on it. Otherwise, make sure you broaden your horizons by either working in different industries or differ size or styles of companies. Your skills will be more rounded, and you’ll pick up different perspectives and ways of working.
Work hard, be organised and be enthusiastic – you’ll smash that marketing career.
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