Heather Mills, Head of Marketing and Communications at Outward Bound Canada, discusses why she pursued a career in marketing, the values young marketers need to develop, how to overcome challenges, her proudest accomplishments and the moment that defined her career.
I’ve always worked in the non-profit and charitable sectors. While I may occasionally daydream about the corporate world, I would never leave. I’m a communicator and PR person, and I’ve spent around 10 years in cause marketing and corporate fundraising. What I love most about my role as the head of marketing and communications at Outward Bound Canada, is the opportunity to leverage the intersection of behavioural psychology, technology, creativity, and emotion. Another aspect that enticed me to pursue marketing is the opportunity to work with amazing, driven people who are curious and intellectually generous. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with incredible people like my colleagues at the OBC MarComm team and those who volunteer their time as part of OBC’s Marketing Advisory Committee. Each is a leader in their respective areas, and having access to them for mentorship is a big win. We are a charity with big dreams and small budgets.
Students and young professionals need to stay up to date with trends and be flexible. If you recognize that every experience is valuable, you can take what you’ve learned and build on it. Embrace the fact that your career path probably won’t be linear. You’ll learn a lot from jobs that broaden your professional horizons and provide insights into different businesses, industries, roles, and leadership styles.
While competition is fierce, and job searching can be demoralizing, breaking into any industry can be intimidating. My first “real” job was in public relations. I’m sure many young people feel intense financial pressure to find a role, especially if they want to live in urban centres where rent is expensive. Put yourself out there and ask people for coffee chats, virtually and in person. Reconnect with your network and ask for introductions to people in roles or organizations you’d like to work in. Let friends, family, and everyone know you’re looking for work. Be clear on what you do and what you have to offer. Focus on perfecting your elevator pitch, because you’re marketing yourself, and YOU are your best product. Set a schedule to search, apply, and continue networking. Afterwards, give yourself a break to balance mental wellness.
If you’re in a financial position to do so, volunteer your time with a brand you’re passionate about. If not, take on another role but stay focussed on your end goal of landing a marketing job. Recently, I found myself between roles, and I took on work as a gardener and landscaper in my neighbourhood. I worked in the mornings, sometimes on community projects, and continued my job search, applications, and networking in the afternoons. When prospective employers asked what I was “doing with my time,” it was a chance to show my initiative and a broader interest in my community.
Since virtual work environments can be challenging for those needing direction or support, you can thrive by asking your supervisor or others within your organization for a stronger support network. Remember, asking for help is okay, especially when onboarding a new role. Meet with teammates and others within the organization. Ask for in-person meetings when you can. While we may enjoy the convenience of remote work, we are still social creatures!
One trend I see amongst students/young professionals is an interest in participating in systems and process changes at a larger scale. If you’re interested, non-profits are great to consider because you’ll get to lead, participate, or contribute in a meaningful way.
I raised over $12 million as a corporate fundraiser and cause marketer at SickKids over seven years. However, I'm most proud of a relatively small $10,000 donation. The recipient was a family seeking to buy a van outfitted with adaptive technologies for their son, who has mobility issues. Owning this van would give him a tremendous amount of independence. The family had secured some funding through various community support groups but was desperate to find the other $10,000 to complete their purchase. I spoke with a corporate partner who could make a gift like this in a short turnaround. Joining this corporate funder with this deserving family was very fulfilling. At Outward Bound Canada, I'm most proud of assembling an incredible team of MarComm professionals. Each team member is incredibly high-performing, hard-working, self-motivated, and connected to our mission.
The defining moment in my career was becoming a working parent. As a woman and mother, I found maternity leave made me feel professionally vulnerable - it was as if I was being “replaced.” I use that experience to influence my interactions with colleagues and team members positively. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud I’ve learned to adapt and juggle work and life as a parent. While some days are easier than others, it’s challenging and rewarding to have young children at home and a career with many responsibilities. I think it’s important to show the balance of priorities at home and work and that life often interrupts work.