25 February 2019
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Name: James Parr
Job Title: Account Executive
Location: Manchester
Social Handle: @jmesdnelparr

Hey James! Tell us a bit about your background...

Sure thing! I’d like to think I’ve been fortunate enough to have gained quite a mixed bag of experiences I can draw on from working in the creative industry; an industry I’ve only ever wanted to know. Leaving university in 2015, I graduated in Graphic Design from Nottingham Trent University before being offered a role in London shortly after.

Life in the capital was incredible. It was a huge learning curve and where I gained valued experience after having worked various roles and jobs I had that I had, particularly within the branding and retail agencies I worked for.

Then, sure enough, I found myself hopping on to that Virgin train back home to Liverpool. I picked up a few more in-house design roles and the occasional freelance opportunity when I could, but I felt a shift once I had moved here… I no longer felt my experiences or interests to be solely in the design space. I felt more drawn to roles where I could go out and speak to people, act as a point of contact between clients and internal teams whilst project manage campaigns from start to finish. I much preferred this, rather than sticking to a single discipline of design.

What is it that you do?

I’ve recently landed that dream job as it were. I’m now working at an agency looking after the day-to-day creative accounts for The North Face, focusing primarily on in-store retail campaigns amongst the many other varied briefs we receive.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best accounts I could be offered to work on. Having a huge interest in streetwear, they don’t come much bigger in that arena than The North Face.

I remember leaving university describing this role as the job I’d want to land one day… and here we are, six or seven years later!

You put the energy out there - I'm not at all surprised by where you are today! And, what skills have you found are essential for your line of work?

I’d have to say organisation is key to every aspect of my role. Being able to keep up with the ever-shifting landscape of our campaigns is essential when managing them on a daily basis, as you are in constant communication with internal teams, clients, suppliers and everyone in-between.

The rate at which we receive briefs is so fast paced, you need to able to jump on top of them as soon as they arrive in order to see them through. This has proved to have been a huge learning curve for me starting here… the sheer pace of it all.

I’d like to think I have found my feet on this, though. 

Another skill I’ve found most important is staying on top of things, adapting and putting the time in no matter what so that you complete the task in front of you.

We loved having you on our first course. What made you apply?

OH cohort – shout out to all the first class!

Without going too heavy in a lighthearted piece like this, I was stuck in a rut after having a bad experience in a previous role and I was running low on creative influence and inspiration.

It’s easy to do; sit at home working on the portfolio and being reactive to job applications that come up. I quickly found that to get a job in this industry, you need to be proactive and meet people. Liverpool has a fantastic creative and digital network, but from the outside looking in, I naively felt that I needed a way into this network in order to be a part of it.

To be honest, I thought Catalyst would offer me the way in as I saw it. Although as I quickly come to realise, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my original thinking about the industry and this course helped me grow my own network with not only creatives but agencies, studios, managing directors. You name it.

What were 3 key things did you learn about yourself or the industry during your time on Catalyst?

Understanding the importance of growing a solid network – The university mantra of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ was thrown around but you always assumed that the first job will present itself arms wide open once you left university. Fortunately for me, I was given an opportunity in London which I grabbed straight away but when it came moving back home after years spent in London, I had to start again in growing a new network. It’s once of those things that you need to keep building up and you can’t rely on experience alone… for me, Catalyst presented me with an opportunity to build a solid network again from scratch.

Maintaining the network you’ve built – It was all well and good getting a follow from an agency on Instagram, or meeting a designer at an event but, how does that relationship continue past that initial conversation? How you do keep that contact alive? Catalyst made me understand the importance of maintaining these relationships. I can trace back to the point in my journey that contributed to me landing the dream job I am on now, and it was meeting one industry figure on and off chance three years ago… strange how it works, but as they say, everything happens for a reason.

Never to pigeonhole myself to just being a designer – The idea that I had to stay within this bracket when talking to people slowly wore away which allowed me the freedom to talk to many different thought leaders across the creative and digital sector who were not necessarily classed as designers by trade.

How would you describe your experience and what benefitted you the most?

I had a blast on the course, but for me, the real worth and benefits of Catalyst came in the months after we graduated. It gave me the confidence again to go out and meet people in the industry; agencies, creative directors, managing directors and designers over a coffee and to meet them without a preconceived idea that I needed to impress in order to land a job.

I was coming in with an open mind, the mindset of not wanting something from the meeting but with a thought of just wanting to be able to talk, learn and understand from peers, fellow creatives and people with shared experiences as me.

That shift in mindset was the biggest benefit and is what I ultimately learnt most from the course.

Were there any significant moments for you on the programme… if so, what were they?

Moving back to Liverpool, possibly even before then, I was looking at agencies back in the home town that one day I’d love to work for but wondering how I could approach these agencies once I had moved back.

The programme allowed me hands-on experience in workshops, studio visits and the subsequent follow-up meetings with these agencies. It was in these moments that I look at and think; without this programme and the opportunity I’ve been given, I may still be behind that computer screen thinking about what to type out in that intro email.

What advice would you give to those who are thinking about applying?

Stop thinking. Stop thinking and just apply.

Like all things in Catalyst, and I’d say in life, the only way which you will benefit and see the real return of investment would be to immerse yourself in the experience that has been presented to you. Catalyst will offer you so much, but in return, you need to jump in from the beginning and that starts with your application.

Go on, jump in and see what happens.

And finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

I’ll probably finally take my own advice; continue to jump in and immerse myself in this new opportunity I’ve recently been offered in Manchester.

The opportunities and experiences on offer to me here are exactly those I’ve been wanting and working for way back in University. Now I’m on this path, I can’t wait to see where it takes me in all forms of life.

Article by
Robyn Dooley
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