As I pulled into Yosemite in the middle of a snowstorm, having left my only jacket on the train bound for who knows where, I wondered why I had tried to combine business with pleasure. Maybe this was the reason that people at other companies went on standard business trips – attending conferences, and staying at Holiday Inns. As the lady drew back the plastic front door of my unheated tent, and the temperature approached -12°c, a Holiday Inn weekender looked positively appealing.
Nearly three weeks on, waiting to board my flight from San Francisco back to London, and I can’t believe my secondment is over.
So why go? What are the benefits?
1) Get the best of both worlds.
Going on a secondment allows you to experience a city or country in a totally new way. In your own time you can explore as a tourist and visit the hotspots. But working in a local office also gives you insider knowledge. The best eating and drinking, how to get around and top tips in general.
2) Meet your colleagues, and really get to know them.
You can have as many Skype calls and Go-To-Meetings as you want, but you don’t truly get to know your team mates until you spend face time with them. Brainstorms and creative sessions were much more free-flowing and productive, and a new business meeting over milkshakes at the Ferry Building was a bonus.
Outside of numerous meetings and introductions, my colleagues also took me shopping, sightseeing and fine-dining. Activities ranged from playing ‘Heads Up’ at the office happy hour, or battling the rain to reach a Mexican restaurant, to being bought donuts for breakfast, and having Sunday brunch on a rooftop overlooking the Pacific.
I also got to meet some of the team from Piston, an award-winning digital agency that recently became part of the LEWIS group, for some expert strategic sessions.
3) Go beyond the elevator pitch, and find out what your agency is really about.
The idea of being a global agency with a local feel was perfectly demonstrated during this trip. Visiting the San Francisco and San Diego offices allowed me to interact with international PR, digital, and HR teams across all levels of seniority. Despite a few differences here and there (primarily in weather conditions and portion sizes), I realised that working in the American LEWIS offices felt remarkably similar to back home. The same work ethic and creative ideas, impressive high-rise views over the city and definitely the same sense of humour.
4) Make yourself not only a well-rounded employee, but a more valuable one.
Although the majority of people that go on secondment will be from account servicing teams, it’s open to everyone. Typically their focus is learning about different media landscapes and working on international clients, but there wasn’t a shortage of people for me to meet and things to learn. I was also able to share top tips with colleagues and gain insight into the way they work.
Having brainstorms and planning sessions with the teams in person, as well as observing their daily practices, allowed me to head back to the London office with some key takeaways and a new perspective.
Now, looking down at my sunburnt arms and bag overflowing with American sweets, my Arctic-like experience in Yosemite is nothing but a distant memory. The holiday part was good, but working out of the different offices was invaluable. There’s no doubt that travelling and working with international colleagues has made me a better-informed and more-rounded (in every sense of the word…) marketer. And I am looking forward to my next trip already.
[Shout out to everyone in San Francisco and San Diego that took the time out to meet me, wine/dine me, take me seal-watching, chauffeur me, buy me donuts, show me the sights, give me the ‘real American experience’, and generally make me cry with laughter.]
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