Yasu Pola-Samuels, PR & Partnerships Manager, Dr. Martens, London
Hey Yasu, do you want to introduce yourself?
I’m Yasu Pola-Samuels. I’m 32. I’m from London, but my mum is Czech and my dad is Jamaican. So two very different cultures.
What is your job title? And what does it mean?
I’m the PR and Partnerships Manager at Dr. Martens. What comes under that umbrella is actually pretty varied. I think that general constructs of titles in corporate businesses can be quite ambiguous. But essentially, I oversee the storytelling element from inside the brand to create stories that are PR worthy, as opposed to a more traditional PR role where you would essentially be pitching out and it would be very much about press releases and stuff like that. For my role, it’s more about creating that story that is worthy of the brand and also worthy of people picking it up and writing about it. From a partnerships perspective, that’s all sort of worked into that storytelling as well. It’s forging relationships with relevant partners, talent, and creative music talent, to bring those people into our storytelling, and that sort of spans everything from events to partnerships to campaigns. So, I’ll be doing everything from shooting local talent to executing social activations off the back of those things.
Dr Martens is such a storied brand. How do you channel the creative scene of a city like London into the brand? With the influencer world now and social media, there’s so many people and so many voices, how do you align what works for you? Is that like a formula? Or is it just instinctual?
There’s a lot of instinct involved. I think that the number one thing is authenticity. There are a plethora of people in London who are wearing Doc’s and who have a story in relation to the brand, and we want to connect with them and with a new generation. We always want to work with people who’ve got a story to tell, you know, they’ve got a community that they’re engaging with, on a deeper level. Also, trajectory. My formula with talent is often that we may bring them in for something smaller, for example, we’re shooting for a campaign, and then we don’t want to just pick them up and drop them off. At that point, we will then engage with them on a deeper level, say six months later and see what else they’re doing. From a personal project perspective, if we can invest in them and kind of work with them on a deeper level, we will absolutely do that. That builds that brand relationship and authenticity, and people can visibly see that from the outside. And it is really authentic. But it also just connects with people and what their projects are personally as well. There’s so much going on in London, it’s really hard to work with everybody. I think authenticity and kind of that natural connection, and that interest from people in the first place is sort of a proven formula.
What does the day-to-day of your job look like? Does it change all the time, which I’m assuming it does, depending on seasons and events and stuff?
So no day is the same, which obviously just sounds like a really cringey typical thing that everyone says, but I am across so many different projects in the brand. I’ll give you a bit of a whistle stop of the past few weeks, just as an example. We have just launched our first big brand campaign in quite a few years. We’ve been activating physically and from a talent perspective in some of our key cities – So that’s the London, New York, Tokyo. We just did a huge event on Saturday in London. I’ve been part of signing all of the music line-up, bringing in the creative and cultural partners for that, and ideating on how they’re going to be involved in the event. Then I also have to make sure that those events and those activations are translatable into comms, which means having weekly or daily meetings with our PR and music agencies as to how they are going to activate that from a PR perspective. It’s really difficult to round out what might happen in one day as there are always so many moving parts. It’s everything from partner conversations to agency conversations, looking at contracts and deliverables, ideating creatively, the output of it physically, and the amplification of everything as well.
"I think the extra years of experience on the ground comparatively makes such a massive difference."
What has your personal trajectory been like, in terms of education and career?
School… I think a lot of people probably say this in creative fields, but I was much more an art and history of art kind of person. I really loved writing and research. I was told very much at school that I was quite shit, which is funny and goes with the usual story, I think, for people who are creative, who don’t want to do science, or maths or whatever else. And I decided not to go to uni because I was really, really into fashion at that point and had been since I was quite young, and probably was sold to the dream of glamorous fashion internships, which ended up being just literally carting products from place to place. But again, it was great experience and you do get to really see what goes on behind the scenes. Even if it’s from a more negative perspective where you’re like shit, this isn’t actually what I want to do at all. I did a few internships in wholesale actually. So that was sort of the intersection of assisting on fashion shows, but also being part of the sales process. I got those roles by applying through various websites and stuff, not dissimilar to sondr. A lot of trawling through websites to try and find opportunities. I then decided I was going to do a backup course, at London College of Fashion in Merchandising, and I absolutely flopped. I was like, this is literally not for me at all. So it was a bit of a waste of time. Essentially, I went straight into working, which I would recommend to anybody who wants to get into a creative or comms field. I think the extra years of experience on the ground comparatively makes such a massive difference.
Especially with the more PR oriented roles, and I guess with any fashion, to be honest.
Yeah, I think it’s also just that face-to-face confidence that you have to develop. I don’t think you necessarily develop that by being around your peers or if you are at uni. I think that when you are thrown into the deep end with internships where you have to have a level of professional conduct that you’re just not taught anywhere else and develop your “people skills” with people who have been in the game for much longer than you, you gain really important knowledge that is vital for this role.
Yeah, I always say that about my experience. Lots of people leave uni and don’t have experience and they’re scared to do a job interview. By the time I was 20, I’d been rejected 100 times, and it stopped being a problem or something I took personally.
Initiative doesn’t come from handholding. That’s one thing I will always say. And I think that having to solve problems on your own is so formative. You do just develop this skill of being able to solve any problem, because when you’re young or in an internship, it’s made out to be the end of the world at that moment in time, even though it’s really not. It could be getting a dress from A to B. But I think initiative is something that is learned, not taught to us, for sure.
Then I actually got offered a job in merchandising for quite a decent amount of money at the time. I took it and I did one week there and I was like, this is not for me.
"I also knew I couldn't do this for more than three months unpaid, so I was going to have to make myself as indispensable to them..."
What is merchandising?
It’s when you assign product to stores. Say, for example, you’ve got like a Zara in Liverpool and you’ve got one in Oxford Circus. The merchandiser essentially decides what product goes into store. It’s basically a very light trend trend forecast, more sort of shopping habits based, buying based etc. But it was just not for me, obviously. At the same time, I got offered a completely unpaid internship at a PR agency. I decided, I’m gonna take the risk, because this is what I’m actually interested in. However I also knew I couldn’t do this for more than three months unpaid, so I was going to have to make myself as indispensable to them as possible in order to get a paid job there. I took that risk and got a really Junior job, like assistant or something, was there for a couple of years and worked my way up. Then went somewhere else in-house, then freelance, and then ended up at Dr.Martens. I’ve been at DMs for about two and a bit years now.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
Purpose. I think it’s very, very, very rare that you find a job in something like fashion or comms where you feel like you can really do something. Where you really feel like you can make a difference to people’s lives. And I think that it’s my duty, as a person of colour, to support young people who are either trying to get into creative fields or need the platform, young creatives or young music artists, etc, etc. At DMs, we really do have that opportunity to change someone’s trajectory. Aside from just creating a nice story or a strong campaign for the brand, I think purpose is something that is so important to me. I love knowing that I can use my resources to bring people in, whether that is on a creative level or helping them gain experience or putting them in front of other people in the industries. I don’t think I could do a job where it was just me in an echo chamber.
"Knowing your level of individuality, bringing that to work, talking on what you believe in, this will make you indispensable to a job like this."
What qualities or personality traits do you think makes someone a strong candidate to flourish in a role like yours?
Being yourself. Initiative, like I said. One thing I would also say is making yourself indispensable, always being one step ahead of what’s going on. That’s definitely something that I would look for if we were hiring for a junior role… Someone who thinks independent and is happy to make decisions to move something forward. I might ask someone to do something and then I’ll be off for a few days, or in another country, so it’s about having someone who has initiative and conviction. I also think being well read and into doing research. We always talk about truly connected to culture, and truly understanding cultural things that are going on in London and outside of London, and being able to kind of bring those things to the table is really important. Having your own personal interests and passions as well. Knowing your level of individuality, bringing that to work, talking on what you believe in, this will make you indispensable to a job like this. What I bring to the table might be completely different to another hire, but the fact that we can all bring our perspectives and knowledge together and stand for what we believe in is what makes the team strong.
You’ve given so much great advice during this interview, but I always ask people if they have any last words of wisdom, or something they would tell their younger self?
It’s really cheesy but, for me, I would say don’t give up. I think, specifically in this space, there is lots of opportunity to feel like you are not supposed to be somewhere. And I think that I sort of had impostor syndrome, or wondered how I was in a room, when the odds might have been penned against me compared to others in this industry. But I think that having self belief, and self-assurance that you are supposed to be there is fundamental to you progressing in any workplace. Persevering through that doubt and having self belief. It’s definitely so cheesy, but that’s what I think.
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