How Dymocks’ Terri Martin found her passion in purpose
After a career spent at the top of the communications and media chain working in roles such as senior account manager, client service director and general manager, Terri Martin made the bold decision to completely change industries to work in the not-for-profit sector for Dymocks Children’s Charities. It was the best decision she ever made.
This article originally appeared in The Nurture Issue, Marketing‘s third print issue for 2019.
She is now general manager of Dymocks Children’s Charities, an organisation that provides underprivileged children with brand-new books to improve their literacy outcomes. Its purpose is to change kids’ lives, one book at a time. But Terri isn’t only a business leader focused on commercial success, she knows how important it is to work with passion, to be true to your own needs and work with full transparency.
Straight after finishing university, Terri Martin was lucky enough to find exactly what suited her from the very beginning of her career. It was actually a fluke that led her into the marketing industry, “I desperately wanted to work in the music industry but there were just no jobs in Brisbane”. Martin’s first role was at The Marketing Store, a promotional marketing agency where she worked on clients like Kellogg’s, Smirnoff and Optus. It was the variety within the role – having different clients and different projects – that grabbed her and she knew that this was where she wanted to be.
She then moved to the UK where she worked as a brand manager at Nickelodeon, at the height of the channel’s success. “I absolutely loved that role and that company, we were the number-one children’s TV channel at the time and everyone wanted a piece of us,” she says.
“We had corporates, celebrities and brands wanting to be associated with us and we were heavily invested in digital media. So it was a really awesome feeling to ride that wave.” She talks about how creativity was felt throughout the business at Nickelodeon and the difference that made, especially when it came from the top-down. “Even when you just walked in the door, you could just feel it had this kind of crazy, fun vibe that made it really exciting to go to work. There was also really good leadership at the time, a woman called Jenny Grace who embodied what Nickelodeon was about and that was infectious.”
Upon returning to Australia, Martin worked in senior account director roles at agencies. It was during this time that she had her two children and returned to work when they were young. Compared to other industries, there’s usually a lower number of parents who work in agencies. Martin laughs but also speaks seriously, “I think there’s a reason for that, it’s really, really tough!” Going back to work in a senior position after having her children was one of the most challenging times in her career. “I remember having a client call on my day off and I could hear my son crying upstairs and I had to pretend I couldn’t hear it. It caused a lot of internal stress, pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t.”
But she also acknowledges that it’s the nature of client services and needing to be there when the client needs you. “The clients and the agency might say ‘that’s so great you’re a mum, you’re working part time’ but the reality is if they need you on your days off they need you.” She hopes agencies are changing, “I’d love to see an agency model that was working, and I have seen change but it really is an ongoing challenge that needs to be addressed.”
What would Martin’s advice be to anyone in a similar situation at work? “I think the very best thing to do is be absolutely clear with your manager. Know how you’re going to work together to navigate things. If I’m working part time I’ll talk to my team about what that looks like and set some boundaries. Make sure everyone understands and buys into it from the start – ask what challenges it might bring up and how are we going to work around them? If you’re really transparent and really honest then no one’s going to hold grudges.”
Martin is very direct when she says we need to really listen and be aware of how we’re feeling at work beyond the daily tasks. “If you get an inkling that you’re manager isn’t buying into this – maybe you shouldn’t be there. And that’s really easy to say – but I do believe that you should be looking for places where maybe they’re parents themselves so they understand.”
In a competitive industry like marketing it can be easy to feel pressure to stay in a role that isn’t ideal. Martin reiterates the importance of considering more than just responsibilities and salary when job hunting. “You can’t just say, ‘by the way I’m a mum and you’re going to need to be really understanding of all the time off I need’, but you can say these are all the great things I’m going to do and there are some things you need to consider, but know that I’m always going to make it work.” Terri says that working mums know how to get stuff done and sometimes they’re the most hard-working. “They don’t stop, they get in, they get the work done because they’re time poor… So as long as you can show that it won’t impact work and that it’s just something you need to be mindful of, it will work for everyone.”
One of the inherent pressures of agency life can be the fact the lifestyle feels like the norm. “If everyone else is working until 8.00pm and you’re not, does that mean you’re not as good?” Martin explains that bosses can be known to find surreptitious ways to plant the seed that you should be working late or you should be on-call out of office hours, and that professionals should strive to find somewhere that will actually care about their wellbeing. Her advice on how to evaluate your own situation is to ask yourself if you’re passionate about what you do. “If you’re not passionate – and there could be a million reasons why you’ve lost that passion – move on straight away. Because that negativity hangs around and it’s important to move on and explore different things.” Despite all her success and different experiences, what stands out most for Martin isn’t winning awards or achieving sales targets, it’s the moments when her teams have grown and learned together.
So how did she know working for a charity was the right move for her? It all began with her experience as part of The Marketing Academy, a program that develops promising marketers by providing mentorship and coaching. As part of the program, Martin was encouraged to find her purpose. She says it wasn’t a fast journey and that for her it has been an ongoing one as well. But it’s her ability to not shy away from questioning and holding herself accountable that ultimately guided her. “It is an obligation that we have, the more senior we get, that we actually need to be giving back and doing good. And so it started a thread for me. If I’ve lost the passion in agency land, where am I going to get it?”
Her start was knowing that she could apply her commercial acumen to better use, to do good with it. What initially drew her to the Dymocks role was that it still had a creative element – through books and storytelling – and that it was within a wider business; complete with a business strategy, smart leaders and a board of directors at the helm. Her commercial skills provide the charity with opportunities to grow in new ways and achieve more. She speaks about the strength of a heritage brand like Dymocks (which is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year) and how great it is to be part of a company whose corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is embraced throughout the business.
While the charity industry is completely different, overall there are still a lot of similarities to commercial marketing. “Charities are just like every other business – managing the profit and loss, ensuring you’ve got enough money coming in, knowing your customer and your business strategy. So it’s exactly like any other business, except the output is just wonderful – you get to give books to children!” As general manager, Martin is working on how Dymocks Children’s Charities can create stronger partnerships, whether that’s with corporates or other charities, ensuring it brings value to partners, and also wants to grow the overall profile of the charity.
Martin has really found her stride in embracing the unknown and not just the learning curve but the learning journey. “I walked into a business where I didn’t know about education, I didn’t know about retail, I didn’t know about publishing. But I’ve been really honest about my limitations. When you’re honest about your limitations instead of faking it, people will actually come to the party and say ‘let me share some knowledge and I can help you’.” She says one of the things that has made a big difference is being supported by a team that truly believes in what it’s doing.
Dymocks Children’s Charities has three main programs. The first is putting brand-new books in school libraries. The sad reality, says Martin, is that a lot of school libraries aren’t funded properly. “Their books are old and not nice and the kids just don’t want to read them. We’re trying to take them on a literary journey. The charity gives brand-new books – not ones that can’t be sold in stores.”
The second program gives books to children in schools to keep. “These are children who don’t have any books at home, so it gives them ownership and builds their interest in reading. Their whole journey of literacy and wanting to read changes over the course of the program.”
The third program is collaborating with local organisations to give books to places like indigenous community centres, migrant centres and women’s shelters. She also talks about providing books to women in prison who then record themselves reading and send it to their children. It also provides books to children in hospital and hospice care and to those displaced by natural disasters.
For Martin, it has been life-changing to meet the children who receive the books. “Just to actually experience that and remind yourself how lucky and privileged you are to help them. It has been one of the most incredible career changes and learning journeys I’ve been on.” Overall, Martin’s experiences are a testament to being true to our needs, listening to them especially when it’s not an easy path and trusting that it will work out for the best. It’s also about being realistic and knowing that change isn’t instant and takes work. “The key is to constantly question what it is that you really love. That might just be the seed that helps you find your purpose.”