A brief encounter with Julie Dormand, Managing Director – MercerBell

Jeni Ogilvy

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Julie Dormand has spent her career in marketing working client side and agency side.  With her extensive tenure at MercerBell she has grown from an Account Director to Managing Director. Alongside MercerBell Julie is a Mentor for SheSays and Mentor Central. iknowho stole five minutes with Julie to find out more about her successful career, diversity within the industry and the key characteristic she looks for when interviewing rising talent.


As an MD for a successful agency, a wife and mum of two you could be seen to be “having it all”.  What advice do you give to younger women looking to navigate career and family?

It’s easy to think that I’ve got it all, but in reality none of it is created in isolation. I have a support crew in my personal life that helps me achieve in my work life. You need to set yourself up with a support team and be clear on boundaries and what matters to you most as a team. This support team for me is my husband and kids. However, in other family structures it might be parents, friends or an au pair. 

When I had my first child I came back to work after three months and was working long hours. We had a HR consultant working with us at the time, interviewing staff. It dawned on her that in her discussions none of them mentioned that I was a mum. In those early days I was trying to continue as I had before and show that I could do it all.

This consultant helped me see the error in my ways. I was not setting a great example to the team. I wasn’t showing that it is ok to leave early when needed, to be real and human. I now work my hours, my way. I come in early but only burn the late night lights if it’s critical.

To have it all, we need teamwork in the house and to get there we face two issues. Firstly, some men don’t always see themselves as able to take on some of the “traditionally female” tasks for personal reasons, we need to help them see the role they play in getting us closer to gender equality.

For example, a YouGov survey has revealed that some women are becoming the main breadwinner, but they are still doing the lions share domestic jobs. There needs to be an equal distribution of those jobs across the family.

When it comes to my domestic life, my husband and I are a team all the way. He demonstrates to our kids that the man in the household can empty the dishwasher, be at the school gate and do traditionally female roles. In turn, my boys will grow up not expecting this to be a woman’s role. This is critical if we want to get to equality in our kid’s life time.

The second issue, one that Annabelle Crabb has written about, is that we take tasks back because they are not done our way. In my house, we have divided the tasks as a team and I have learnt to not take them back. He doesn’t peg the washing my way. He doesn’t make the lunchboxes with star-shaped sandwiches. But he does it his way.  

So, my advice is to set your boundaries on work – it will never be finished. If you allow it to creep in to your home, your weekends, it will. To help your family see the bigger purpose of breaking the gender stereotypes on roles, and do not take things back!


What is the best lesson you’ve learned the hard way?

You can’t sweep things under the carpet. If there is a problem, it doesn’t go away and you need to deal with it.

This is especially true when managing staff. Often, we shy away from giving the true feedback or having hard conversations and we hope for things to improve. However, it’s the hard feedback and conversations that can help people develop and that can get a problem out in the open so it can be discussed and resolved.

My experience is that when issues are not dealt with they fester, the surrounding team around get demotivated and you look like a weak leader for not being able to tackle hard conversations.

I heard a phrase ‘Eat the Frog’ which means do the thing that is distasteful to you and you really don’t want to do. And I use this all the time to help remind me to be brave.


You’ve had an extensive tenure with MercerBell, we don’t see that much these days….why do you think that is?

There’s a belief that you need to move on to be seen to be ambitious and successful. It used to concern me that staying in once place would look bad. And yet, if you look at many leaders of business, they have been in their businesses for long periods of time, which gives them advantages of really knowing the business.

Also, it can be easier to get a promotion by moving on than in your current company. This is because your current business sees all sides of your ability including your development areas. As a society, we are more status orientated than the past when people took time to learn a craft.

I believe a career is long and you need to carefully assess opportunities against what you can achieve within your current employer.

I use a simple three question model when considering my options:

1. Do I like my boss and the company?

2. Do I feel I have an equal value exchange between my package and my input?

3. Am I learning and being given opportunities to grow?

Two out of three is good. And I have never been in a situation where I don’t have two out of the three at MercerBell.


If you could wave a magic wand to make one change to the marketing industry, what would you change?

More diversity. Yes, this is about gender, but it’s not just about gender. It’s also about race, age and many other ways that we are different. I’m keen to see more diversity in the leadership of our businesses.

The statistic that stood out to me in the recent Agency Circle survey is that we are an ageist industry. We do not value the experience of those industry leaders with tenure.

And yet, even though everything has changed in how we reach customers, the principles of marketing are the same. The right message, right audience at the right time. Get, keep and grow your customers.  We can learn from the people with years under their belt.


How do you think agencies could further tackle the issue of gender inequality within senior level positions?

There is still very little awareness of Unconscious Bias, a topic I find fascinating and an eye opener to why we have an inequality issue. When it comes to inequality, often men feel they are looked at as the ‘bad guy’. And yet, Unconscious Bias helps us understand that there isn’t a baddy.

I would like to see CEO’s use diversity and inclusion consultants, like Symmetra, to look at their behaviours and language and to use this to help educate and coach leaders to change the language to one of inclusion. This is something we are intending to do and an area we talk about in our senior leadership meetings.


Agencies lose some great talent to client side – what advice would you give to someone considering the move on why to stay agency side?

Sometimes a move client side is the right thing for someone’s career. A stint client side can help you understand the clients needs, more so than if you haven’t.

The benefits of flexible working, better parental leave benefits and shorter hours have been a draw card to client side for many years. However, agencies will catch up.

We have many part time roles in our business, flexible working and a new parental leave policy that is ahead of the market. There is also more bureaucracy and stakeholder management client side. These are things that do not suit some people.

I started as a client side marketer and this has been a benefit to helping me understand clients’ needs. However, I came back agency side because of the many things that give me a buzz about working.

Agencies are full of different kinds of people: creative people who are inspirational to be around, action-orientated people and people who thrive on the adrenalin of speed and change. This free spirit is infectious and helps me get up and put the lights on in the office each morning.

My suggestion to anyone thinking of the switch would be to try a secondment first to get a real taste for it.   


As a mentor for the SheSays organisation, what advice do you have for girls who want to be in the marketing industry?

Read the industry press to learn about the different areas of marketing. Look to get an intern role and be happy to get stuck in. Interns can be left without direction when the teams are busy. Make sure you are bold and go and ask people what you can do for them, say you have time, think of ways you can help. We look for people with personal drive and an ability to get up and ask. These people often thrive and end up with a role in the company longer term. All our office managers have ended up with a bigger role in the agency so far!


When interviewing talent what is the one essential personality trait you look for?

Drive. Smarts are great, yet people who have the ability to make things happen are gold. It’s those type of people with drive who can see what needs to be done and will ask and go about looking for solutions are our kind of people. It is drive that will get you through the hard project, make you keep going when you can’t see a solution and that clients will applaud you for.