The ITB Worldwide managing director on the humanity of leaders, commitments to combat racism and how to nurture good company culture during a pandemic
As managing director, Emma Shuldham leads the global team at ITB to build talent based integrated marketing strategies on behalf of brands with people and IP of influence. With almost 20 years’ experience in the entertainment industry, Emma has unparalleled skills in the crafting and execution of talent-led brand deals across all verticals.
Starting her career in talent management, Emma brokered complex equity, royalty and endorsement-based brand deals in the entertainment and sport sector, developing expertise in project management and negotiation of corporate sponsorship as well as building a trusted network of celebrity talent, agents and industry professionals.
Following stints agency-side at Cocktail Marketing and Finch & Partners, Emma joined ITB as Associate Director in 2012, helping to build out and lead the talent and influence team, heading up celebrity procurement for global brands including H&M, Chivas, Dior and Calvin Klein, guiding the development of ITB’s influencer service offering (and recruiting experts in the field), and driving the creation of the agency’s own proprietary platform for data insights and tracking. Since her promotion to managing director in 2017, Emma and her co-MD Matthew Pitcher navigated the successful integration and growth of ITB in the US as the agency became part of the OSEN network.
Emma continues to focus on business development, growth acquisition opportunities and building strategies on behalf of brands which engage with talent in a digital first, e-commerce driven environment.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Emma> I think it’s a blend between the two. Honesty is the best policy always, but the scope of how much you choose to share depends on the subject. I think during COVID times what I have really learnt is to share more than I would normally. People need reassurance, direction and a clear path forward, as when the world is upside down, providing stability and clarity is essential. Equally, people need to see and understand the reality of things - both the state of the world and the state of the business. If you lead a business through unrealistic rose tinted glasses 24/7, then when difficult decisions get made it is a real shock to the system, which can do more harm to morale. So I think it’s important to find that balance of empathetic and authentic messaging, with considered realism.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Emma> I never had an official mentor as I grew into a leadership position, but I have been fortunate to have good friends and colleagues within the industry who have been kind enough to give me their time, advice and direction. I have recently taken up mentoring myself, through the Meet a Mentor programme at A New Direction; this focuses on supporting young Londoners who are underrepresented in the creative and marketing industries. Grassroots initiatives like this are incredibly important to our business which has often had a personal referral mentality to it rather than a fully inclusive hiring process, so it’s something I’m really passionate about as a leader.
LBB> 2020 was a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Emma> I have found it incredibly tough in many ways. Leaders are not infallible, they are humans too and with the responsibility of leadership can also come a feeling of isolation. I think the challenges of the year have created a more open levelling amongst staff. We have consistently encouraged our team members to check in on each other and I have ensured that I speak to all of them individually as regularly as I can, to see how they are doing both personally and professionally. Asking someone how they truly are - not just as a passing comment - and taking time to actively listen to what they say is incredibly important.
LBB> This past year has also seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Emma> First of all I did my own homework and my own learning. We all have something to take away from the important events and news of the past year. As an agency whose job it is to connect people of influence with brands, it is our work that ultimately conveys diversity and inclusion within marketing and advertising and therefore the wider culture. We have done a lot of work internally to educate ourselves, ensuring we are holding both ourselves and also our clients accountable when considering diversity and inclusion in our casting work. We have created internal audit processes to monitor the journey from initial casting to final campaign to be able to create tangible metrics of change over the next few months and beyond, and to be able to see how our conscious effort and conversation is making an impact. The constant conversation we have on it internally keeps it front of mind for everyone which is incredibly important.
ITB signed up to the Creative Equals pledge last summer and we have engaged with their team on a number of workshops to continue our own learning and awareness. We have also made a conscious effort to change our hiring process, ensuring we are placing our job roles with multiple platforms that are accessible to and engaged with different communities to encourage a wide candidate set. In addition, we are looking at how we can support and nurture more grassroots opportunities and organisations as developing the entry level generation is key to long term change. For example, as part of these efforts, we have just recently partnered with RAISEfashion and Anti Racism Fund to support the ARF x RAISEfashion Fashion Internship Program. This amazing initiative looks to support students from historically black colleges and universities in the US in overcoming systemic barriers to entry within the fashion and retail space by providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences and mentorship programmes. I believe that it’s so important that we, as creative agencies, play our part in championing diverse talent to help drive the industry forward.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of ITB? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely?
Emma> ITB has always had an incredibly strong culture. Lockdown has made it harder, of course, and the Zoom drinks novelty quickly wore off. We have implemented a number of initiatives like running an internal podcast series where teams interview each other 1-1 with a list of set questions – this is a good opportunity for the team to hear about their colleagues on a more personal level and inevitably have a laugh. We have provided little pick-me-up gifts along the way, lunches, and have also created a Body Mind Soul programme which provides a quarterly allowance to cover things for the team to look after themselves. This could be a cooking class, meditation, exercise, or even just some equipment to make working from home more comfortable.
Lockdown has also really highlighted the importance of making sure our culture is 'people first', as we have seen first-hand that by looking after our people first the business gets taken care of. That doesn’t mean to say we got it right all the time - it was a tough end to last year for everyone emotionally and with a strong Q4, and therefore intense work period, people were really feeling the strain. If anything, it brought to life, even more, how important having a strong culture is to be successful. 2021 that is firmly fixed at the front of our agenda. Empathy, communication and connection is as important as the niceties that give a little lift to the day.
All of that aside, nothing beats just being able to take the team to the pub, though, and we are counting down the days till June 21 to be able to do just that!