An interview with Ava Pannell

Ava Pannell

We chatted to Ava Pannell, Client Director at Passion Digital

“When I was younger I actually wanted to be a vet! I grew up in a small, rural village in Sussex surrounded by farms and horses, so naturally, I was animal crazy! I studied Equine Science at University, as I wanted to go into the equestrian sector but life had other plans.

I fell into digital marketing by accident really, for some reason my path took me to its doorstep.  

I got my first job when I’d just turned 16. There was a Saturday job posted in our local newspaper selling Crocs and She-wee’s (Google it) and I got my Mum to drive me down there immediately and I met the owner and got the job within the space of 30 minutes! I look back now and think ‘That was pretty ballsy for a 16-year-old girl!”

Within a few months, I was offered another job working in a boutique in the village, which sold gorgeous handmade jewellery and gifts. I absolutely loved it but being in a sleepy village relying on passing trade meant times were tough. 

We needed more customers so I decided to make the shop a Facebook page, next I made and designed and built a website, then I was designing print ads and then I was suddenly producing audio ads served across the Heart FM network. It just really grew around me without me even realising it. I was flying by the seat of my pants 60% of the time and I was incredibly lucky that my boss at the time let me have that creative freedom. 

I stayed at this little shop for around 3 years, working part-time whilst I was at University. The day I got my University result I got talking to a lady on the shop floor who had her own business and was looking to expand. She offered me a Marketing Assistant role, and I took it. I’ve stayed in Marketing ever since. 

It’s cliche to say ‘I enjoy a challenge’ but I would say one of my biggest strengths is problem-solving. I think this skill comes from my Mum, who has always instilled into us as a family that no matter the problem we can always sort it. I think this has given me the ability to think outside the box and always be solutions focussed, as there is this confidence there that anything can be solved. 

For me, there is no better feeling than seeing a strategy come to life, and deliver. I love that discovery stage too, where you’re learning about a client or product, or industry and the whole team are firing ideas around.”

Working in a Digital Landscape

“I actually started my own agency when I was in my early 20s. I called it ‘Hippo’ and I offered digital marketing to the equestrian sector. I think I did this for around 3 months, and it was tough. I quickly realised I loathed working in isolation. Going from big teams to having no one to bounce an idea around with, made me feel like I was marooned, physically and emotionally. 

I learnt so much about who I was as a person, in those 3 months. The key thing is that I love people, and I’m at my best when I’m within an inspiring group. 

The best thing about Passion Digital is the people. I honestly believe we have some of the best talent in London and the fact we are small and independent gives us that ‘all for one, one for all’ vibe, which is rare. Digital is fast-paced, and as an agency, we thrive on this almost daily evolution. Learning, being agile, pushing boundaries, is our bread and butter. 

I have been very lucky in that I have had some fantastic female managers in my career. 

I’ve also had some incredible female clients. I have one in particular that I’ve been working with for just over a year who is everything I want to be and more! She has had an incredible career and is razor-sharp at what she does. She has five young children and yet still is an active CEO. We have strategy calls whilst she is feeding her baby, and I love it. It epitomises everything that the world says cannot be done, yet here is the proof you can have ‘your cake and eat it’ when it comes to your career and family. 

Our industry is making real steps to become a platform for equality and inclusion – Microsoft is a fantastic example of this. Their inclusion marketing approach has inspired others globally.”

Combatting the taboo of mental health and digital burnout

“Showing and feeling compassion for the people around you should be deep-rooted in all of us. One of the real things that I love about Passion is that there is so much energy put behind wellness. Small things, like free massages and yoga, make such a difference to how you’re feeling that day. 

Having the flexibility in working hours and location is also fantastic- everyone has days where they need a time out. Sometimes you just need a quiet comfortable environment to finish that deck, or audit and the ability to work from home is valuable.

I think we still have a way to go, though.    

I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever had was “Make sure you get enough sleep” and it’s something I abide by, always. I’m very protective about rest and I had to learn that it was okay to say ‘no’ to things that prevented me from this downtime. 

Outside of work, I own a few horses which showjump internationally. My horses are my passion, and it’s one of the key things in my life that really sets my soul on fire. The success I’ve had in my career has enabled me to pursue this hobby, so I see my work and my horses as something that goes hand in hand, and therefore makes me thankful for each.”

Being a woman in digital

“There have been times earlier on in my career where I’ve felt an outsider to the ‘boy’s club’ but I have seen first hand a cultural shift here, particularly in London. In terms of whether I feel like I have to prove myself; not so much. For me, the key is to do the right thing and I push my ideas and points accordingly. 

My key pieces of advice to any women looking to break into the industry would be 1) be a sponge and 2) know your worth! 

Knowledge and who you are as a person is your USP, so I would say keep your eye on what is happening in the world first and foremost and know what you bring to the table that others do not. 

I would also recommend a book to add to your reading list! ‘Simon Sinek – Start With Why’ is a must-read for anyone who has a passion for brand, psychology and leadership. It’s a fantastic read and you will feel like you’re viewing your career in a more 360 way once you’re done.

I think any event held by a key platform is a must. I went to a great event held by Pinterest recently, which really shone a light on the real opportunity which sits within visual search. I feel that voice search almost had a bit of a false start, and that vision has been coming up quickly on the hard shoulder! Of course with the launch of 5G, this will change, but I think visual search is also going to hold its own and therefore it needs to be a pillar within a search strategy.”

The Future of Digital

“I think 5 is the magic number here. 5G. This will bring a new dawn of how tech influences the way we live our lives, which naturally will bring both positives and negatives. Soon everything from our microwave to our car will be able to transfer information, and most importantly data which means there could be a lot of money to be made. 

With more tech recording consumer data, this will only broaden the way we as digital marketers can serve more relevant ads and we’ll know more about people than ever before, but I think with this does become a danger of losing sight of our audiences as well.

There is only so much machine learning can bring to the table when it comes down to real-life human emotions and behaviour. We need to hold on to this ‘realness’, rather than just looking short term at what data layer or performance is working at that time. For long term success brands need to drive loyalty, show love and champion inclusion more than ever before, and that can only happen within a human on human relationships.

I think the key trend for retail will be the continued growth within the social commerce space. Many social platforms have now closed that loop, enabling consumers to purchase products seamlessly. Shoppable content is a growth area that brands need to be incorporating in their digital strategies.

The tech being visual search is also growing continuously and we have already seen platforms like Alibaba adding visual search to their mix. You can snap a picture of a product on the Alibaba app and it will serve you related (if not identical!) products instantly. Google Lens was also the first step to the search engine monetizing their image results. 

For retailers, I see this becoming a blur between offline and online shopping and therefore an attribution challenge, where consumers can be in bricks and mortar shops but complete their purchase online. 

In terms of topics, I think people are becoming aware of who has rights over their own personal data, and the value that that could bring. I think we will see further development in ownership rights, and data protection tighten to protect consumers.”

You can find Ava on LinkedIn:

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