Helen Gill was recently interviewed by Sam Hawcroft to feature in the Business Works Winter 2022 Edition. Helen shared her passion for inspiring the next generation of digital marketing creatives.
Branding, marketing and communications are everywhere you look, even down to the logos on your clothes.” So said Helen Gill’s graphics teacher many years ago, and it’s resonated with her ever since. Her first taste of work experience in the field came by way of a week’s placement at Hull-based Strawberry while she was studying for her GCSEs, and she loved it so much she went on to study for an NQV Level 3 in graphic design. While at college she returned to Strawberry to do another placement, and ended up working there for five years. Working on the Hull City programme, as well as East Yorkshire tourism guides, gave Helen a good grounding in marketing and design, as well as turning around publications to tight print deadlines – an eye for accuracy being essential. A role at a fast-moving consumer goods company in Castleford followed, working on packaging and labelling for products going into major stores such as Asda, Aldi and Lidl – just as digital marketing started to take off in the mid- 2000s. Having always been something of a “fixer and improver of processes”, Helen went above expectations to set up the company’s website and email marketing, as well as creating a new internal Filemaker database. “When I started there, they were just using an Excel document to keep track of core data and information,” she says. “I just spotted an opportunity, and I knew I had the skills to be able to put those things in place.” After a while, though, commuting to West Yorkshire began to wear a bit thin, and Helen sought to move back to Hull. She signed up to a recruitment agency that soon found her a position as a technical marketing coordinator with Microgard, a global personal protective clothing firm. It wasn’t as creative a role as she’d been used to, but, having had a taste for devising technical solutions at her previous firm, she relished the challenge. It proved to be an extremely rewarding move. She was initially tasked to bring all the company’s marketing in- house – from brochure designs to branding and technical documentation and packaging – but she also created a chemical permeation database that won her an internal innovation award. This system earned her a nomination in the “Best Global Reach” category and she reached the finals at the 2018 Hull and East Yorkshire Digital Awards. “I’m so intrigued about new technology and what can be done with it – how systems and processes can be enhanced,” says Helen. “I didn’t have any form of qualifications in that area, but I just listened to what was needed and put the solution there. Attending the awards gave me a glimpse into the Hull community and sparked my ambition in digital.” Helen’s work on the database provided an innovative solution for Microgard and, through its 2015 acquisition by global firm Ansell, this enabled efficient data migration and further database development within the company. When Microgard was acquired, Helen had to adapt to new ways of working, as well as new cultures, so it was at this point that she began her academic journey with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, which recognises marketers who achieve the very highest levels in their profession. “I was very creative and had a lot of marketing experience, but I wanted to develop my marketing knowledge and skills to help me progress in my marketing career,” she says. “Having gone into work straight from school, completing my NVQ and HNQ in graphic design, it felt like the next logical step.” It took Helen about six years of flexible distance learning, while bringing up her two young children, to complete her CIM Professional Certificate and Diploma in Marketing, most recently achieving Chartered Marketer status – and supported all the way by her management team of Rob Holt and Paul Bryce (the latter appears elsewhere in these pages as one of our Top 20 Most Inspiring Business Leaders). “I have been lucky to have worked with some inspirational leaders who have helped me develop in my career,” she says. In 2019, after a promotion to digital marketing specialist, Helen led the #AnsellProtects innovation engagement programme to mark the company’s move to the tech hub C4DI in Hull. “The innovation engagement programme helped to embed Ansell in the digital community and helped to strengthen its digital knowledge and expertise,” says Helen. “I was proud to be part of this, connecting local companies to collaborate with Ansell on some exciting projects. A key moment for me was when the executive leadership team came to Hull, so there I was, presenting to the CEO of this billion-dollar company, which was an experience I will never forget. And this had come from pushing myself constantly. Sometimes you do things that you might feel uncomfortable doing, but you realise you have to if you’re going to grow and build your confidence.” Covid, as it did for so many people, prompted Helen to rethink her career ambitions and strike out on her own. “It sounds a bit of a cliché,” she says, “but it was a ‘now or never’ sort of moment. I told myself, stop dragging your feet – you’ve done all these qualifications and got all this experience – you can do this. What’s the worst that can happen? I had a really good job and I had security, but I had to realise my ambition to start my own company. My husband and family were so supportive and always believed in me, telling me there was nothing I couldn’t do. I asked myself, what if you never do it, and 10 years from now you’ll wish you had? Helen spotted an advert for a self- employed marketing tutor with the Oxford College of Marketing, where she’d studied for her marketing qualifications, at the same time as setting up HelloU Marketing. Being skilled in website design and technology, she was able to create her own virtual “shop window”, complete with eye-catching branding. Clients have included Campbell Electrical & Renewable Services, helping with business planning, branding, website development and digital marketing. Her Chartered Marketer status and broad skillset immediately set her apart from the crowded field of PR firms in Hull. “With a lot of other agencies that people might potentially go to, they just take what’s there and roll it out,” she says, “whereas I look at marketing from a strategic level, understanding the bigger picture to put a marketing roadmap in place, so resources become more focused, and the business becomes more efficient in reaching its goals.” In addition, Helen’s broad knowledge and experience enables her to provide added value to clients who want support for the whole marketing process from planning, content creation and communication through to digital marketing delivery. Education has become a huge part of Helen’s work, and it’s an area she is keen to expand and seek corporate support and sponsorship for. In 2020, she launched Digination, a platform that aims to inspire and educate the next generation of digital creatives, by providing in-school digital literacy projects and workshops. So far it has included a website design project at Thanet Primary School, with children from years five and six, and a green-screen project at Estcourt Primary School with Foundation- aged children. She has also recently partnered with the Thrive Co-operative Learning Trust and Newland School for Girls, helping with marketing planning, and running an awareness campaign with the latter called #AchieveAnything, challenging pupils to come up with positive affirmation statements. “It fits with my journey of keeping a positive mindset, believing in yourself, and seeing what other people see about you as well – because something I’m maybe a bit guilty of is not standing back and actually appreciating what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved.” In this spirit of “giving back”, another partnership she’s particularly proud of is the creative campaign for #RidetotheRock, an Amsterdam to Gibraltar cycle challenge by Yorkshire nurses Andy Dennis and Tracey Hill that helped raise more than £25,000 for Médecins San Frontiers. “I’m always looking to help others and use my skills for good,” says Helen. She is careful to manage her workload, though, as she’s all too aware that life outside the nine-to-five can become a bit full-on if you let it, so she makes sure she finds the right work/life balance by using her digital art as a much-needed escape from time to time. Helen has an art studio at Hull’s Feral Art School and is on the supported artist scheme. In keeping with her interests as a creative marketer, her art is inspired by technology, communication and creativity, and she and her fellow artists are staging an exhibition from December 9-16. “My art helped me get through lockdown,” she says. “Working for myself has enabled me to have more flexibility to look after my family, ignite my creative side in my art studio and have crucial thinking time for my business.” With the marketing agency in its infancy, Helen is hugely excited about the future and where she can take it, especially in terms of the educational aspects. As this magazine went to press, she was presenting at Hull College as part of Tech Week Humber, saying she hoped her story would inspire children to choose marketing as a career, and she has just signed up with Young Enterprise’s Company Programme, which will see her volunteering at Hymers College. “While it’s important to look back to see how far you’ve come, I’m constantly moving forward,” she says. “I have come this far – and I’m not about to stop now.”