New network a top opportunity

TIMING, they say, is everything.

Lisa Johnston knows that. She was head hunted from her London-based recruitment position to join Michael Page International in New York early last year.

Ms Johnston’s arrival coincided with a big downturn in her area of specialty – media and advertising industry recruitment.

“To come into the city without a rolladex (contact list) in April 2001, it became apparent after two months that they needed outplacement services rather than recruitment services,” Ms Johnston said.

While that made her job – generating new business in a new city with a firm that is relatively unknown in the US – all the more difficult, she also knows that the call to move to New York may never have come if her new employer had waited another month.

And she definitely wanted that opportunity.

“Madison Avenue is the heart of the advertising world, this is the city that made advertising a sexy industry,” Ms Johnston said.

So how do you start in the hardest city on the planet in the middle of a downturn?

There was no easing into things. After a short initiation into office practices, Ms Johnston was handed a list of top advertising agencies published in New York business-to-business newspaper Crain’s (the local equivalent of WA Business News) and sent on her way.

“That is what I was given and it was quite ceremonious,” she said.

It was the beginning of a hard slog, involving 14 to 15-hour days to ensure nothing was left to chance.

Having worked in London was helpful, not just for the few contacts it provided but also as some form of acclimatisation for the intensity of New York, which many who arrive straight from Australia miss out on.

The novelty of an Australian accent also helped open a few doors, as Ms Johnston admitted she traded off anything she could to break into a market which accepted the direct approach more than was the case in London.

“It is back to basics,” she said.

“It is getting on the phone, introducing yourself; it is being charmingly persistent.

“I am a straight forward person and our product is our candidates.

“Fundamentally, our clients come to us because they want recruitment needs met in an expedited manner.”

Ms Johnston said it took between nine months and a year to get up to speed with what drove her clients – but having built a successful network in a difficult climate has been rewarding.

“It gives you a huge feeling of accomplishment,” she said.

“It rounded out my skills set.”

“If someone said: ‘You have to go to Boston and set up an office, otherwise you lose your job’ I could do it.”

“A year ago I couldn’t have.”

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