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22 min read

Spotlight On #10 – Rhea Fox, Digital Director at Ted Baker

This article was updated on: 28.05.2024

Welcome to the Spotlight On series, where we get to sit down with some of the most inspirational marketing leaders from some of the UK’s most exciting brands. We learn about their careers, their challenges and their achievements, all to inspire you to grow your own career.

This interview is of Rhea Fox on an individual basis and her career progression to date. All opinions, ideas and comments were current at the time of filming and do not necessarily reflect those of her current or former employer, respective parent companies or associates/colleagues.

In this video, Rhea Fox, Digital Director at Ted Baker talks about her journey from first joining Ted Baker, from broadening her scope with a variety of different roles, all the way to becoming a Digital Director. Rhea also talks about wherever specialisation is important when looking at CVs or if it is worth having experience in a broad array of sectors.

See the complete list of topics we cover in the description below👇

  • 01:22 – The path to becoming a digital director
  • 04:09 – Building your experience within a company
  • 09:33 – How to find a mentor in marketing
  • 12:34 – Sector specialisms and tailoring your CV
  • 15:23 – Working brand-side vs agency-side
  • 16:53 – Job titles and reporting lines
  • 20:20 – Advice for marketers beginning their journey
  • 22:03 – The importance of insights in marketing

If you want to hear more from Rhea, follow her on LinkedIn.


Mikey: Hello and welcome to this episode of Spotlight On, where we’re joined by Rhea Fox, who’s the Digital Director at Ted Baker. Super excited about this episode; we’ll be diving into all things Career Development. So, I guess to kick us off, tell us a little bit about your role at Ted Baker.

Rhea: Hi, everyone. I’m the Digital Director at Ted Baker for Europe and the UK. The UK is our biggest market, and Ted is owned by Authentic Brands Group, which is a huge holding company in the US that licenses brands and then devolves that into operating partners on the ground. I was super excited to join Ted; it is a brand really close to my heart, and my team is fairly extensive and keeps getting bigger. I look after the digital trading, digital marketing, CRM Studio, online concessions, and customer services.

Mikey: Quite extensive, then. And roughly how many would be in that sort of total team?

Rhea: So, it’s 50 FTEs, and then we have contractors and agencies, obviously around that as well.

The path to becoming a digital director

Mikey: Then you’ve had a super impressive career path, as though your CV is littered with amazing brands. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey towards getting to the role at Ted?

Rhea: Sure, so quite unusual actually. I started life in customer insight and analytics on the agency side, which is just something I sort of fell into. I was working part-time in an ad agency when I was a student in my final year in Leeds, and they kind of said, “Do you want to stick around?” So I did and had a blast there. Probably spent 15 years after that in kind of customer insight roles, straying every now and then into more comms planning, as is the nature of things if you work in a through-the-line agency, and also on CRM, which is a bit of a passion point of mine. But generally speaking, you know, had a fairly standard insight career on both agency and client-side. Actually, things only really changed when I moved to eBay, where I had an amazing time. I was the European Insight Director there and had a really great relationship with much of the leadership. At that point, I started being offered opportunities to broaden my scope and do other things, which was really, I guess, pivotal for me in my career. I think, I guess we’ll come on to touch on it, but you know, if you find yourself in that environment where a business believes in you and wants to try you doing other things, that’s kind of gold dust. So, I did that; I did a secondment as a trading director there for six months, which was just utterly terrifying. eBay’s got 22 million or, at the time, 22 million customers, you know, billions of revenue, so real kind of in at the deep end in a trading role. That wasn’t quite for me. I really wanted to do a marketing role, a hands-on marketing role, and with hindsight, I really should have stayed at eBay and waited for that to happen, but I couldn’t quite see it happening. So, at that point, I made a strategic move to Aviva back to general insurance where I thrived before at Direct Line Group. It was a bit of a gamble because I moved into an insight role consciously knowing that Aviva had a great reputation for moving people around between departments, and that’s what happened. So, after a couple of years there doing an insight role, I moved into the head of marketing role for general insurance, which again was kind of a bit of a baptism by fire, you know, a big old team, 30 odd FTEs, a huge budget, was agency lead for both actually of our major relationships, agency relationships at Aviva, which were Zenith and Adam and Eve. So, yeah, straight in at the deep end and, you know, really, really great, just a great chance to get my hands on a big, meaty marketing role.

Building your experience within a company

Mikey: On the call leading up to this, you spoke about eBay, you spoke about Aviva, and actually, one of the big things that have been super important to you is the ability to pivot within a company. Obviously, you’ve got, you know, as everyone would have heard, brands that lots of people would idolize to work in and positions within most companies that are, you know, positions that lots of people are working towards. How important were those opportunities early on in your career to do different roles within an organization?

Rhea: Really important, and important to me, I think. And I think, you know, if you can think about your career, I guess it depends on what you want to do, right? So, if you’re an accountant and you want to be a CFO, that’s pretty easy. I won’t say you can do that anywhere, you know, because it’s steep, but a lot of CFOs watching go, that’s yeah, exactly. But if you’re in logistics and you want to become, you know, an operations director or a COO, then the path’s kind of fairly linear and obvious. For me, I guess, having always had an interest in various kinds of peripheral disciplines in and around marketing and insight, it was important for me to try other things and continues to be important for me. I think it’s also benefited me. We’ll talk about this, I know later, but if one of your motivations is seniority, you’ve got to try a few different things. I remember a dear friend of mine, my old boss’s boss, you know, mentor and great friend saying to me, ‘look Rhea, if you want to be a VP in this business at eBay, you’re going to have to do a stint in operations or trading.’ That’s good advice, and so you do throw yourself into it.

Mikey: Yeah, and I guess speaking from experience, is it an employer’s responsibility to open up opportunities for their team to chop and change into different roles? Or actually, is there more that we can do as employees to go bang on those doors and essentially open up those opportunities for ourselves?

Rhea: I’m going to be on the fence and say a bit of both. So, I interviewed once for a very large household retailer where anyone would love to work. It was for an insight role, and they asked me where I wanted to be in five to 10 years. I said probably doing something a bit more strategic or in marketing. They said, “Yeah, no one ever leaves insight in this business. We’ve been here 20 years, and no one’s ever left the insight department. That’s not the way it works.” I thought, “Okay, that’s honest.” I was offered the job, and they said, “We’d love to offer you the job. We think you’re great, but we think you’ll be bored.” At that point, I thought, “Okay, good. Thanks for the candor.” So, I think on the employee side, it’s really important to be aware of when you’re looking at companies or joining companies if flexibility and development are important to you, and if that business has a track record of promoting horizontal moves and being open to that. Because it is a really different mindset. There’s an element of risk in saying to someone, a senior manager or head, “Actually, yeah, go on, have a go.” That’s risky. So, you’ve got to pick the right organization. But I think on the employee side, it’s also really important to talk about it. Again, it’s feedback I’ve had earlier in my career from another dear friend, a mentor, who said, “You know what Rhea, you miss out on things because other people have sharper elbows and they tell us what they want.” You’re kind of like, “All right, if we say go do that,” you go, “All right then, I’ll give it a go, no problem.” So, you’ve got to be clear. One of the things I try to do with all of my teams, right from my direct reports to the most junior members, is touch base every now and then with all of them and always ask them, “Where do you want to be? What are you looking for?” Because some of them will surprise you. You’ll assume they’re kind of on a linear path. You think, “Oh, you’re a junior trading manager. Actually, can I see you in the head role a few steps on?” And they’ll say, “Actually no, I want to go and do a stint in brand marketing. I’m really interested in it.” You think, “Okay, great, I can do something with that.” So, I think it’s really important to put your hand up and tell people what you want, if you know. It’s really interesting about assumptions. We’ve just opened up a role for a studio assistant, and I’ve had an applicant from Finance, okay, who said, “You know, actually, my parents pushed me into an accountant’s role. I don’t really like it.” After a few years now, he’s still at a junior level. “I really want to do a fashion role.” Great! You would never think that, and he’s going to start in a few weeks.

Mikey: Perfect. Well, I mean, yeah, I completely agree. I guess when we’re looking at potential career opportunities, not for myself, but obviously, when you’re speaking to others, you do always say that you know don’t just look at the salary. You’ve got to evaluate the full picture, not just the salary. You’ve got to look at the business itself, what they’re about, whether it aligns with your values. You’ve got to look at, yes, salary is really important, but I always say as well that you’ve got to look at the manager, who you’re going to be reporting to, and what they’re going to be like. Are they actually going to help progress your career?

How to find a mentor in marketing

Mikey: How crucial is mentorship for anyone in their career, and whose responsibility is it to find a good mentor?

Rhea: This is such a hot topic. I was talking to a couple of younger ladies last week at an International Women’s Day dinner. One of them said, “You know, I’d love to have a mentor. You hear your friends talk about meeting someone incredible at an event, and they take them under their wing. That’s, I guess, the dream, the Disney version of mentorship. Actually, just at a conference, you say something clever, and then some great entrepreneur comes, adores you, and that’s your career.” I’d love to say that’s happened to me or anyone I know, but it hasn’t. So, I think what I always say, which is not that palatable really because it doesn’t give people much ownership, I guess, but mentors find you. That’s not to say that there aren’t things you can do to stimulate that. I guess I’ll come on to it, but all the people I have in my life, senior people who’ve helped me with roles and progression, who I know I could pick up the phone to at any point and go, “You know what, I’m in a really bad place. I need a role, I need some work experience, I need a recommendation,” they find you. They take a shine to you, they like you, you get on with them, and it’s really a reciprocal thing as well. Likewise, they’ll pick up the phone, “I need someone for this,” or, “Have you thought about so and so, and who can you recommend?” It’s very symbiotic, so I guess what you can do from my experience to find a mentor is identify a couple of senior people in and around your world, probably in your business, who you actually like, respect their work style, and respect how they treat their people. Over time, cultivate relationships with them, but it’s not an easy fix, and we all want to get to the punch line, don’t we? We want to knock on someone’s door and go, “Oh, you’re great. Can you mentor me, please?”

Mikey: I guess it’s the reciprocal consideration that actually, time is finite, and obviously, while everyone always wants to give back, then actually, there’s only a certain amount of time they can do. But I think what you’re saying is make yourself available. While it’s them that will find you, make sure that you’re visible at the very least.

Rhea: Yeah, and ask what you can do for them. That’s always my starting point, which is, you know, once you’ve found those people in your business that you respect, those leaders, you know, make sure they know who you are, say hi to them in the kitchen, if you’ve got a report that you think might be interesting, send it to them. It’s just the basics of relationship building, I think.

Sector specialisms and tailoring your CV

Mikey: Going back to your CV and your career history, you’ve had roles in lead-gen companies, e-commerce, fashion, and insurance. You’ve had a very versatile set of experiences. How influential has that diversity of experience been on you, and how important is it for some people to specialize in certain things, do you think?

Rhea: I am a bit of a hypocrite, which I really dislike on this because when I’m looking at CVs, I will try to look at every single CV that is screened by HR for me, which is sometimes hundreds, and is a lot. But I think it’s important to show respect to all of the applicants that you’ve got, so hand on heart, I would do that, but if there’s someone applying for a role in our team, is my eye drawn to whether they’ve got a fashion qualification or a marketing qualification, and have they worked for one of our competitors, have they got 10 years in fashion? Yeah, I must admit I have a bias toward the sector because I’m guilty of it myself, which is difficult. Equally, though, do I think I’ve benefited from being in multiple sectors? So actually, in my last job, we had an attribution model. We don’t have one in the current job, I need to build one. But having built an MMM for a really complex general insurance business, now I know I can build an attribution model from micro to full bore, and not worry about it in any sector. Do I think every sector should show one? Yes. So, you learn CRM at eBay is a very different beast than CRM at Aviva, but the principles are the same, I guess.

Mikey: So then, in terms of advice to people who are looking at their next step, it’s like lean on your different experiences but always try to make them very relatable to the people that you’re either applying to or the jobs that you’re focusing on.

Rhea: I think so, and the thing that I think is sometimes a bit overlooked as well is a really basic thing, which is not just tailoring your CV for the role that you’re applying for but also tailoring it in tone and look and feel because sometimes, a financial services CV that will pop to a financial services recruiter in terms of look is very different from one I’m looking for when I’m looking at Ted because I want to see and feel that that person at least has some aesthetic sensibilities. Even some of those things, I think, are important as well.

Working brand-side vs agency-side

Mikey: You’ve spent a fair bit of your career on the brand side, but you also started out in an agency as well. How important is having experience across both agency and brand for anyone within their career, for their own personal development reasons?

Rhea: I love hiring people that have done both, and most of my briefs, particularly on marketing roles, will say, ideally, both. You cut your teeth in the agency; that’s where you learn to work at pace, accurately, with enthusiasm. But you learn the business, you learn the skills, the hard skills that are so essential, I think, as you move up through the ranks in agency life. On the client side, you learn a different set of skills. Influencing, stakeholder management, how do you manage a matrix, budget management, people management, potentially more so. They’re very different, in my experience. When they’re added together, I think they’re incredibly powerful. One of the things I’ve done with team members I’ve had before who’ve needed some additional hard skills, I’ve sent them to our agencies on secondment for a few months, go and do some other stuff. I think that can be really powerful, that combination.

Job titles and reporting lines

Mikey: A funny conversation we had leading up to this was we got into the topic of job title. It’s definitely something that I don’t think we probably speak about. Most people like to say that it’s not important, but deep down, I think we both agree that actually, job title can be quite important to us. What’s your view on chasing a job title?

Rhea: Yeah, I’ve done it, and I’m not proud of it. It does matter to me, and it matters, I think, more than we should care about other people’s opinions and social currency. We use it, of course, in how we do our marketing; we know it’s a motivating factor. What I would say, though, as you get to this level, reporting line is one of the most important things. So actually, what I’m particularly enjoying in my last few roles is being at the leadership table, reporting to a CEO. To work in a smaller business and be able to do that has been really eye-opening for me, versus being in a big corporate. You can have an amazing job title in a big corporate, you can be a VP, but actually, for me, that reporting line directly to a CEO is one of the things now that’s really important to me, not for glory reasons but because it’s easier to get stuff done.

Mikey: There’s also that whole recruitment bias as well. When you look at a CV, you do look at a title and go, “Oh, they’ve done that.” So, whilst there is a vanity part to it perhaps, there is actually a rational part to it, which is, you know, it does open up doors for you, it does give you a bit more influence. You know, I’ve experienced it in the past as well; you change the job title and suddenly another door opens up, and you can have a conversation and have a bit more influence, which is frustrating, but I guess hopefully, it’ll be quite interesting for people to hear that actually, that inner want to go after a better job title is perfectly normal and it’s actually has lots of benefits, and it isn’t something that we should be concerned about or worried about or ashamed of.

Rhea: No, not at all. One of the things, though, that candidates do need to probe around is I see a bit of what I would call role title inflation at the moment. So, I’m seeing roles out there that are being called marketing director roles that are being paid 60,000 pounds, which probably isn’t a marketing director level role. So, if the title’s really important to you in the cash, so you’re good to go on that. But it probably isn’t the end point of a marketing director role.

Mikey: I guess the key there is find, chase, but actually make sure that you can fulfill, and you’re still learning, developing so that whatever title that you have, you’re actually working on the ability and being able to do the next role regardless.

Advice for marketers beginning their journey

Mikey: If you could give one bit of advice to someone who’s starting out their journey at the moment, what would it be?

Rhea: I guess two things: technical skill is really, really important, particularly for marketers, and actually increasingly so across the board. Those harder skills around analytics and finance are just going to become more and more important, increasingly so. You know, I was reading on LinkedIn the other day, it was like a long list of technical roles in marketing that didn’t exist 20 years ago: SEO specialist, like what the hell is that? So, the pace of change, I think, exponentially is going to be in the technical direction for many disciplines, and it’s important to keep pace with that. Not learning to code when it was offered to me 20 years ago is the single biggest regret I have in my career; interestingly, that was foolish. And then I guess the second one, and I speak from personal experience here, is if you are in a business that likes you, if your boss likes you, and particularly if your boss’s boss likes you, stick with it. I’ve left two businesses where I was well regarded because I thought, “Oh God, you know, first time I got stuck in financial services, I don’t want to do that,” and it was a bad move. Then I left eBay, which is the second biggest regret of my career, and was probably the wrong move, although it turned out okay. So, we’re all hungry and many of us are hungry and ambitious when we’re in the early phase of our career, but there’s definitely something to be said for if you’re winning, stick with it, and if there are people looking out for you, then there’s probably value to be coming in future years.

The importance of insights in marketing

Mikey: Agreed. I actually want to ask one extra question because interestingly, you got into marketing through an insights background, and actually, it feels like things are very much ramping up again in terms of insights being the focus. Can you tell me a little bit more about your early career in insights, what that involved, and how important you see insights being in today’s marketing environment, and whether people should be investing their time focusing on that specialization?

Rhea: As a, in terms of learning it?

Mikey: Yes, yeah.

Rhea: Okay, yeah, very much so from the data analytics point of view. Again, I think data literacy is becoming just a prerequisite to being a decent marketer. You just can’t be without it anymore. I had a wonderful time in insights and analytics, and I learned a huge amount. One of them was actually a softer skill, which is how do you… I’m quite a nerd myself and would be very happy and always have been really happy with an online data set in a clear afternoon, but that doesn’t happen very much anymore. But the soft skill I really learned from that world was how to do all that stuff and then be able to distill it into a three-minute elevator conversation or the five-bullet slide or the beautiful chart, and job done. The influencing stuff I loved, but it’s an unusual route, and it’s a shame. I’ve got team members who’ve been in my world, Insight people who’ve gone on to do fantastic things in strategy and marketing. So, yeah, I think, again, back to recruiter bias, a lot of very talented individuals with those skills can get overlooked. And you know, from my experience, the best way to make that pivot is within a company that cares for you and wants to develop you because it’s really hard to pivot skill or job kind of role if you’re moving companies at the same time.

Mikey: Makes total sense. Rhea, thank you so much for coming with some amazing takeaways. I’m sure everyone’s found that useful as well. But thank you so much.

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