30 Under 30: Virginia Hyland’s Keys To Success – “I Refused To Believe The Naysayers”

30 Under 30: Virginia Hyland’s Keys To Success – “I Refused To Believe The Naysayers”

We’re getting closer to the B&T 30 Under 30 Awards, presented by Vevo, where the industry’s best new creative voices will be crowned.

It’s a platform that could set the stage for young creatives making their way in the industry, and in the lead up to the event, B&T is chatting with some of advertising’s biggest success stories.

They’re people who started humbly. They may have even started from where you now stand.

Virginia Hyland is the chief executive of Havas Media Group Australia, a Media Federation of Australia (MFA) board director, and a frequent fixture on the B&T Women in Media power list.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Hyland how she has carved success in adland, revealing that one of the keys to this has been not allowing others to decide her career path.

“When I found, at the time, that the industry did not seem to promote females past manager I went and did it on my own terms,” Hyland tells me.

She launched Hyland as a one-woman band, and grew it so successfully that Havas Australia acquired it, with her eventually moving on to become the CEO of Havas Media.

“I backed myself,” she says. “I refused to believe the naysayers. Felt the fear and did it anyway.”

You can check out the full story, below, in this exclusive B&T Q+A with one of the industry’s most powerful voices.

B&T: Virginia, what advice would you give your younger self?

VH: My advice to myself would be to not focus on the job title or even the salary. To focus on investing in knowledge to build a career. To gain experience across the breadth of services that the industry offers to clients.

To become a leader in the future that I needed a great understanding across a breadth of disciplines for a better chance of a promotion. The smarter the work you can create which more deeply understands a client’s problems the better the growth opportunities for brands and self.

You’re the chief executive of Havas Media Group Australia, a director on the MFA board, and have been named on the Women in Media power list in 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016.

Why do you believe you’re one of the industry’s most powerful people?

I have never thought of myself as one of the most powerful people in the industry. What I do know is that it is easy to get lost in the run of the day and feel like I haven’t accomplished anything important. So, every day when I wake up, I ask myself the question: What can I do today that is going to count the most and make the greatest difference to my team, our clients and the industry more broadly?

I’ve found that starting each day with clarity and focus enables me to work effectively on the things that will make the most meaningful difference.

At times this has meant being a little bit braver by using my voice to challenge the way we operate as an industry and help charter a course that keeps moving us forward. Transparency around trading practices has dogged our industry for years and we were one of the few agencies that publicly stated we would be transparent, honest, and open in how we operated as a business.

The one area in our industry that is constantly being broken is trust. I try every day to be open and honest with my team and my clients to ensure that I don’t break their trust. Better to have hard conversations than gloss over important information. Trust above everything is impossible to regain.

I’d like you to imagine it’s your first day in advertising.

Using the knowledge you’ve gained over the past 20 years in the industry, what’s the first thing you do when you walk into your office, on day one?

Ask questions! Seek to understand how the people around you work every day. What do they do and why do they do it? Learn about the challenges facing clients even if they don’t seem immediately relevant. Understand why a campaign is a success or needs to be re-worked. Engage with media partners and ask them to teach you about their channel, how does their business operate?

By being inquisitive and curious from day one you wrap yourself in a rich mosaic of information to start forming your own thoughts and building your career.

What were your biggest mistakes and what would you do differently?

My biggest mistake was that I didn’t speak up. I was so concerned about upsetting other people instead of speaking the truth.

It doesn’t make life better for anyone when you keep information to yourself that needs to be shared.

Who do you hate the most in the industry?

Naysayers who talk down our industry. We are an industry that is at the forefront of trends. Our ability to ingest technological advancements and recreate our roles puts us out the pointy end of Australian industries.

No matter what challenges come our way we have always had the ability to move at pace with change.

We’re told as young professionals to have long-term goals, to ask “where do I see myself in five to 10 years?”. But where do you see yourself, now CEO of Havas Media Group Australia and one of the industry’s most respected professionals, in five to 10 years?

How does that differ from day one in advertising?

I always had ambition to be the best I could be and all of these years on that hasn’t changed. As long as you can keep your spark, continue to be curious about the industry and contribute wherever you can—whether that is MFA NGEN, 5+ or to create better ways of working within the agency this will propel you forward.

What we need to remind ourselves is that our industry is filled with talented people and there is so much to be gained by collaborating together.

In being appointed as CEO of Havas Media I have renewed energy to continue to develop the Havas Media team to become the most incredible industry leaders, working even more closely together to create the most respected media agency in Australia.

The constant evolution of our industry is providing opportunity every day and we are all very focused on making sure we are best placed to meet the needs of marketers.

Ensuring I am continually learning and challenging myself has never stopped, in fact it’s more important now than ever before.

What blows your mind about the changes that have occurred in advertising over the years?

The speed of change blows my mind and makes for never a dull day. The fact that I had to explain to my kids that mobile phones once didn’t exist, nor did the world wide web. And it wasn’t even more than 20 years ago. I can only imagine the innovation of the coming 20 years.

You’re a big name in Australian advertising today—why is that?

Because I didn’t allow others to decide my career path. When I found, at the time, that the industry did not seem to promote females past manager I went and did it on my own terms.

Launched Hyland as a one-woman band, and grew it so successfully that Havas acquired it. Now moving on to become the CEO of Havas Media. I backed myself. I refused to believe the naysayers. Felt the fear and did it anyway.

What does it take to carve out success in advertising?

Creativity. No matter what area of the industry you work within, ideas are at the heart of what propels the industry forward. A collaborative nature to learn from the great people around you who each have their own specialisation and unique perspective.

Resilience to tough it out when things aren’t going your way and an inner belief to know that it is simply a moment in time that will pass.

Always challenge the status quo, asking: How can we do things differently to make our industry better?

Embrace change and keep learning.

Most importantly, remember to stay humble.

If you weren’t working in our industry, where would you be?

I think I would be helping up and coming country kids to get a leg up in the big smoke. Growing up in the country it felt like opportunities were out of reach and it was hard to see what the world can offer.

There are so many talented country kids who are now leading industries across many different fields. We need to share their stories and create support for future talent who live outside the big cities.

What’s a hidden talent of yours?

Besides bending my thumb backwards and clicking my toes, I am very talented at the good old fashioned nanna nap after a swim at the beach…

Do it: Back yourself and enter B&T’s 30 Under 30 Awards! You can submit your entry here.

The 30 Under 30 Awards will be held at The Factory Theatre, Sydney on Thursday, 15 April.

If you’d like more information on the event, head to this website.

Other key information

  • Entries close Monday, 22 February 2021
  • Late entries close Monday, 1 March 2021
  • People’s Choice Poll launches Wednesday, 3 March 2021
  • Judging period: Wednesday, 3 March to Friday, 19 March 2021
  • Shortlist announced Wednesday, 24 March 2021
  • Early bird tickets close at 11.59pm Wednesday, 2 April 2021
  • Full price tickets on sale at 12am Thursday, 3rd April 2021 (until sold out)
  • People’s Choice Poll closes Friday, 26 March 2021.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors for making this event possible.


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