How does an 18-year-old marketing executive go on to become Head of Performance at a powerhouse agency like OMD International? For Helena Lopez, the road was paved with a combination of curiosity, love for everything new, chance and adventure.
Born and raised in Madrid, Helena started working full-time for Diageo when she was still doing her A-Levels. "I knew everything about the alcoholic industry — which is weird for someone so young! I loved marketing but at an early age I knew I wanted to focus on digital".
In reality, her brain probably needed to make room for new — non-alcoholic — knowledge. She continued to work full-time for the drinks giant while obtaining an undergraduate degree and postgraduate certificate in Madrid. "I loved marketing but I wanted to learn new things. I knew in university and at work I was learning what it was already well documented. I wanted more," she remembers. Looking for a challenge, her next move was an international degree so she moved to the UK.
"I had such a great experience during my second degree that I wanted to get some experience working in London too. A 9 months trip is now lasting more than 9 years". It was then that she arrived in her current career. "I applied to an offer for media planning at Barkers Zenith Optimedia because I'd had some experience in university and had done advertising at Diageo. When they interviewed me, they said it was for pay-per-click. At that time PPC was a relatively new concept to me, but I am curious so I couldn't avoid loving the role at first sight".
"It was a great beginning and a special time, with challenging work and often long hours. You learn a lot very quickly!"
That was more than seven years ago, and — with the massive growth of search in all directions — she's been learning ever since. "I love that it constantly evolves, changes and improves. New elements are added, so the skills that you have can be applied to other disciplines, such as social, performance display, YouTube or programmatic. It is very data driven. You can test absolutely everything and across platforms. When you do it right the results are unbeatable, the quality of the connections you drive to your clients' sites is impressive. You can control, analyse and optimise everything, too."
Looking to the horizon, she's excited about the prospects of wearable technology, social, programmatic, video and voice search. But keeping on top of new developments isn't the biggest problem Helena faces though; one of the most pressing challenges is retention and recruitment of talent. "There is great rotation in the industry," she says. "The skills required for search are normally transferrable to other disciplines, so the talent pool is shrinking as demand is expanding. Companies are interested in people that started in search. They have the analytical and creative skills, so they are ready for new digital jobs."
When it comes to encouraging people to enter the field, she cautions against stereotypes. "There is a conception of search as a somewhat geeky scene full of spreadsheets and being all about numbers. But that's only one part of the job. For people who are thinking about joining a search team, some of the skills they also need to have are creativity and curiosity. It's important to enjoy your work too. Although Search is a very rewarding marketing discipline it is also hard work. If you don't enjoy your work, you will struggle."