Meet Team Realia – Director of Quality, Nicola Williamson

Nicola has held a fundamental role in Realia since the agency’s early days, joining back in 2007.

Nicola, can you share three things about yourself that not many others may know? 

I am a goofy snowboard rider, a technical term used in the snowboarding world to describe a leftie, that is positioning my left foot forward when I snowboard. To claim I mastered the sport would be a little fakie (a move I certainly never achieved), but I did enjoy cruisin’ the slopes when I was not on my backside

Secondly, I am left-handed. Over the years, so many people have exclaimed in disbelief ‘I didn’t know you were left-handed!’ like it is a big revelation. I am proud to say I can use scissors and can just about master a can opener! There are some things in life that only a fellow left-hander will recognise as frustrating. Think of a spiral-bound notebook – a leftie can never write to the edge of the paper as the spiral simply gets in the way, annoying. And then there is the smudging of the fountain pen or ink pens in general, so it’s biros all the way. Every time I shake a hand in greeting, I consciously remind myself ‘right, right, right’! The social debacle of air-kissing is even worse, but thankfully that does not look like it will be an issue in the foreseeable future. Whether you’re left or right-handed, as we start seeing people again after lockdown, everyone will participate in the awkward do we, don’t we dance, elbow bump or nod of the head… reminds me of the song, one finger one thumb keep moving!

My third thing that not many people would know would be that I have been scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I still have flashbacks to a night snorkelling experience, but that’s for another time.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

I like to make the most of living by the sea. Hythe beach is literally a five-minute walk from home. Whatever the weather, it is a place where I can go to relax. The tide will always turn, and the sea helps me to gain perspective. It also provides a plentiful supply of pebbles for my 3-year-old son, Isaac, to throw in the general direction of the sea!

During lockdown I have taken my mountain bike out of storage and fitted an up-front saddle for Isaac. I am not going to lie, there have not been any long-haul cycles, just the odd potter along the canal and in the park. 

Can you explain how your role has changed during the pandemic? 

The catalyst to my role changing in lockdown was the closure of Isaac’s nursery and therefore the inevitable gain of a kitchen table colleague. How on earth people are describing this as the best experience, or precious time we will never get again with our families, or empowering to oversee our children’s educations, etc. I have absolutely no idea. But I guess we are all enduring (sorry, I meant to say enjoying) this experience in our own way, with our own unique pressures, and challenges. I am so grateful and blessed to have spent lockdown in a place I call home, with an outside space, fresh air, good food, and company. 

I am also fortunate to have enjoyed flexibility in my work hours. And I have seen our team flourish with the added freedom that working from home brings them.

I do not think the team has ever spoken together as much as we do now. Every morning starts with a team check-in on Zoom and then our production meeting. Topics range from Steph’s culinary delights (she is ace in the kitchen) to Marianna’s antics with Gary the dog and the range of never-ending Netflix series people are avidly watching. The banter is always followed by business, but it has been enlightening to take that 10 minutes every morning to listen to how the team are doing as individuals outside of work, not just hear about workloads and their Realia lives. 

I have certainly learnt the intricacies of risk assessments, taking on a role to make the necessary preparations for the team to return to the office. I have sourced sanitisers, written risk documents, even assigning personal toilets at one point! I pride myself on genuinely caring about people, and so this task has been well suited and ensures we can keep our team as safe as can be. The Government says that the Covid-19 return to work risk assessment should be shared with employees. It’s not only been shared with them but includes their ideas and input and continues to be adapted to suit us all.

Interviewing during this pandemic has also been a change to the norm. It is certainly not the same interviewing people via Zoom. But it has proven successful and I am pleased to say our pandemic recruit, Laura (Integrated Account Manager), has become a real asset to the team in a very short time. Laura’s application was full of energy, it was innovative, and she stood out. We always say that we will find a position for talent – and we have certainly done that for Laura. It felt like we had met her before we even did. And, with Zoom, we were able to interview her in a short space of time making the process so much quicker. I would like to add that we received so many applications during this process, and some of those I will be exploring further when the time is right if they have not already been snapped up! Who knows, Zoom could become the regular platform for first-stage interviews.

What type of changes do you think we will see as marketers in a post-virus world? 

Pre-pandemic the world never seemed to slow down; life was always so busy. But we have all now seen how life as we know it can stop, within days, at frightening speed and how vulnerable we all are in the grand scheme of things. I think people are now more open, and vulnerable, not only to family and friends, but to their work colleagues and networks too. We have somehow become more human, more approachable, and more transparent. I think this will change how people consume products, levels of gratitude and loyalty and a need to continue this more personable interaction. 

I think the communications and approaches brands have taken during the pandemic, and continue to take, will either help them to shine and excel, or conversely have a negative effect in the future. Consider how one of the leading airlines has hit the headlines negatively over their response to the crisis – and then consider the manufacturers who have altered entire production lines to produce PPE and sanitiser for example. What brands say and do now will be remembered going forward and will influence loyalty and brand alignment.

Realia’s clients predominantly exist in the B2B sector and I think more and more we are seeing brands take their events and conferences online. This is opening content and networks to many more people, making these accessible when perhaps previously distance, budget and availability would hinder a company’s decision to attend an event, or how many delegates it was able to send. 

As an agency, I think Zoom has been incredible at helping the team to be more accessible to clients, and at giving our team the opportunity to ‘meet’ clients for the first time, and in some cases develop their confidence through these interactions. The use of Zoom, Google Hangout and Microsoft Teams will certainly continue. Many of our clients are not only national but international. It makes ‘meeting’ with clients in Germany, followed by London and then the US possible in the same day. It improves productivity, reduces costs in travel and enables us to ensure a work-life balance. The need for face-to-face contact should never be under-estimated. But now that we are all accustomed to doing business virtually, and have proven it works, there is a very strong argument to continue in this way. 

Connect with Nicola on LinkedIn here.