An experienced creative writer in advertising, Sarah Shepherd was at the top of her game when she left to have a family and set up her own copy-writing business so that she could work part-time from home, around the needs of the children. Twelve years on, she recently completed a returnship programme at CP+B London through Creative Equals. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her experience as a returner and to let us in on her version of the work-life-parent juggling act…
Photography by the phenomenally talented Demelza Lightfoot © | Demelza Lightfoot Photography
Thanks so much for talking to us Sarah. Who lives in your house?
Me, my husband and our three kids – the Tweenager (12), the Minecrafter (10) and the Noisy One (4). If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that our home is noisier, messier and more chaotic than most.
What are your mornings like?
Shambolic. My husband’s fanatical about early starts, so he’s up at 5am getting an hour’s work in before he goes out for a run. I get woken up at about 6.30am with a cuddle attack by the Noisy One, then it’s a race to get everyone fed, washed, vaguely brushed, dressed and out the door. Once I’ve dropped my youngest off at school, I race to catch the train and am at my desk just before 10am.
“When the Noisy One started school last year, I felt like I finally had time to focus on my career in a strategic way.”
Congratulations on your returnship placement with CP+B London. How did you hear about the programme?
I’ve worked in the creative industries forever, but after I had kids I decided to freelance part-time, so I could control how much I worked and spend more time at home. When the Noisy One started school last year, I felt like I finally had more headspace and time to focus on my career in a more strategic way.
I applied for a mentorship with the SheSays Who’s Yo’ Momma programme. This scheme pairs mid-level creatives with seniors, to support them in their career progression. When my mentor, Ali Hanan, invited me to apply for the Creative Equals returnship, it felt like perfect timing. I was excited at the chance to work in a top agency, and give my portfolio and CV a boost.
You completed the programme recently – how was it?
I completed the returnship at CP+B London, a full-on, fresh-thinking advertising agency. They threw me in at the deep end with some big live briefs, but gave me the support I needed to succeed, which was awesome.
What support did you receive? Do you think it will lead to further work at the agency?
While I’d never stopped writing, presenting creative ideas was something I hadn’t done in a long time. I was mentored by the agency Creative Directors, who helped me rebuild confidence in my ideas and encouraged me to be audacious with my executions. I got a few presentations under my belt, too. Once I’d completed the six-week returnship, I stayed on as a freelance creative, so I was at CP+B for five months in total.
After that, I applied for a role as Senior Copywriter at AKQA, another idea-championing, world-class digital agency. I’m so thrilled to say that I got the job! With flexible hours, an incredible client roster and amazingly talented, creative colleagues, it really is my dream job – I’m so excited to go to work each day.
“The one thing we all have in common is that our kids come first – we’re all trying to do the very best we can for them.”
What advice do you have for others applying for returnships?
It’s so hard to generalise. It seems there are almost as many opinions about returnships out there as there are actual returnships. And as parents, every one of us is working to a unique set of circumstances. We’re all doing our own version of the impossible juggling act of life with kids. (Real life example: as I write this, I’m mere seconds from burning the onions for tonight’s spag bol!)
The one thing we all have in common is that our kids come first – we’re all just trying to do the very best we can for them. With this in mind, my advice would be to trust your instincts. You’ll know if it’s an opportunity that has the potential to benefit you and your family. If you do decide to go for it, you could be creating a valuable bridge into a fulfilling, inspiring career. So give it heaps, bring your biggest, most badass game and make it work for YOU!
What has motherhood taught you?
Gah – what hasn’t it taught me?! Becoming a parent has been the biggest adventure of my life. It’s helped me find courage, empathy, compassion, joy, kindness, patience, determination, ferocity and loyalty that I never knew I was capable of. It’s also taught me that I HATE standing on Lego.
How do you manage your work commitments around the children?
We have the world’s greatest childminder. Also, AKQA is pretty progressive in this regard. As an organisation, they’re super supportive of my family priorities. I’ve arranged to start after the school run, so I have time with the kids each morning. I work from home once a week. On these days I (try to!) shift my hours around so I’m free to hang out with the kids after school. I can juggle my ‘at home’ days, so I can make it to sports days and special performances. My husband has also increased the number of days he works from home, so between us we feel we’ve found a pretty good balance. Most of the time.
What do you love about your role? What are the challenges?
I love the craft of writing. I also love that I get paid for having ideas, how great is that!? Of course, the flipside of this is when you need to present the ideas, have lost all objectivity and have no idea if they’re sheer brilliance or utter shite…
“I have fabulous, bossy friends who harass me if I’m absent from Runkeeper for too long.”
Tea or coffee?
Coffee. Black. Full-caff. Way too often.
Do you have a funny moment you’d like to share?
I think we’ll be hard pressed to find a funnier moment in 2017 than when Melissa McCarthy took to the podium as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live. I was literally crying with laughter. Or maybe it was despair. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, these days.
What’s your approach to health and well-being?
I need goals, or I lapse into serious couch potato territory, so I try to do a triathlon each year. I also have fabulous, bossy friends who harass me if I’m absent from Runkeeper for too long. Cycling is my go-to activity for time by myself outdoors.
Describe 3 things you can’t live without in the day
Coffee. Hugs. A good laugh.
Do you have a role model?
So many women inspire me. Michelle Obama for president!
Do you have a favourite book?
I write fiction for a hobby, and I’m lucky enough to have some writerly pals who have recently had novels published. I’ve just read my friend Sue Younger’s ‘Days Are Like Grass’, which is set in my hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. It was so evocative it made me desperately homesick.
Favourite work and non-work outfits?
Jeans, trainers and tees. Everywhere. Forever. My mother despairs.
Number-one holiday destination?
Pedalling my way around the Canary or Balearic Islands.
My ideal weekend…
Includes a bike ride, a roast dinner at a nice pub, a walk with the kids in the woods or on a beach, a cuppa with a good friend, a nice glass of Pinot, and a delicious supper cooked by my beloved.
Photography © Demelza Lightfoot | See Demelza Lightfoot Photography