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I am Merkle blog series – National Work Life Week special

I Am Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the incredible individuals who make Merkle a unique and diverse place to work. This week in celebration of National Work Life Week, we interviewed Iga Costa, Lori Bleiziffer, Becky Schelfhout and Ewa Lascelles, who work flexibly here at Merkle.

1. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

Iga Costa: I was born in a small town in central Poland and after finishing college I decided to see what’s out there for me, packed a very large bag and left to live and work in London. Bizarre to think that was nearly 20 years ago.. I am a trained physiotherapist by trade; not so fun fact – I never actually worked in the field, I guess I was too adventurous to settle! I had many jobs after arriving in London, many involving sales and customer care so when an opportunity to join the sales team at Merkle came around, I didn’t hesitate.

Lori Bleiziffer: I was born in Romania, but due to the political unrest at the time my parents decided to move to Germany when I was a toddler. We moved to South Germany, near the beautiful Black Forest, where I spent the next 20 years. In 2010, whilst I was studying Marketing at university, I decided to go to the UK for a work placement, as I wasn’t really sure what industry or what Marketing area I wanted to go into after graduation. I then completed an internship and a Masters degree in the UK and never looked back! I now live outside of London with my 3 year old daughter and my partner, and have been with Merkle since 2013.

Becky Schelfhout: I grew up in Dartford, to parents of Maltese origin, and moved to Nottingham for university. Following that I lived in New Cross and currently live in Eltham so I’ve lived in the South East most of my life.

Ewa Lascelles: I’m from a small town in Mazurian Lake District in Poland, the lovely backdrop to my carefree childhood of sailing, mischief and simple pleasures. With A-levels out of the way I headed for the British Isles in search of adventures and the rest is history. I spent my university years in Brighton and most of my working life in London, both of which have a special place in my heart. I now live in Guildford, which being a small town on the edge of the beautiful countryside feels just like home.

 

2. What drew you to your current career at Merkle?

IC: I joined the sales *dream* team back in 2017 and was immediately blown away by the welcoming nature of the place. Plus, Food Fridays, who remembers those?? It was clear to see that people care about one another and each other’s success. So despite being way out of my comfort zone in the beginning, I persevered and continued to learn because the people were incredible. We did all work so hard, but we could rely on our colleagues whenever we needed help. As the years went by and my knowledge expanded, I knew Merkle was the place for me. Its culture, ways of working, partnerships and people – all made it a great place to be. I have enjoyed heaps of in-house training across the past few years which was extremely valuable to the role I was performing at the time, and to where I am currently.

LB: I studied Marketing as my bachelor’s degree, so always knew that I wanted to go into Marketing, however I knew that it is an incredibly broad subject with many possible career paths. After doing work placements / internships in areas such as product marketing, project management, SEO and social media and doing a Masters degree in strategic marketing I decided that I was most interested in advertising and specifically online advertising as I liked the fact that I could work with trackable performance and reliable data. I started looking into job opportunities, applying for broader digital marketing roles as well as specific Paid Search and SEO roles. Although I started applying for both in house and agency roles, I found that agency roles were able to offer a much more diverse work environment, a more interesting client portfolio and more development opportunities, so I started reading up on Paid Search and got my first job interview with Periscopix, now part of Merkle. As you can see, I got the job!

BS: I’ve worked at Merkle for over 12 years now and seen the company grow so much in size over that time! With that my role has changed quite a bit over the years. Having started out as a paid search account manager, I went on to be associate head of search for many years and following having children, I moved to the Operations team where I’ve now worked for almost 5 years on a variety of projects. The reason I remain drawn to Merkle as an organisation is, firstly that the people I work with are amazing and I know I can always rely on my colleagues, secondly for the amazing culture we have (be that in person or virtual) and also for the fact that as the organisation grows there are always new challenges to take on! 

EL: I first came across Merkle when I was working on client side; I was instantly won over by the then unique proposition. I loved the fully transparent model, I loved being able to chat to specialists directly and I loved the results! So much so, that when the opportunity came up to join the team - I jumped at the chance. I remained impressed with the level of expertise and corresponding humility of everyone here – and in my role as a Client Director, you really couldn’t ask for more.

As a working mama of two little girls, I also value Merkle’s commitment to the many wonderful DEI initiatives. I’m passionate about equality, I’m passionate about the voice for working mothers and I’m very thankful that these are being pushed forward by our leadership teams.

 

3. Tell us a bit more about your day-to-day.

IC: I’ve returned from maternity leave in April 2021 after having my twins in March of 2020 and I am now in a different role, away from my previous team. My new role revolves around content, which sales and growth teams across EMEA rely on in order to complete pitches and proposals. I work with Pursuit Managers from Spain, DACH and Northern Europe regions as well as UK to establish where the gaps are and where there is content which we can standardize and share with the rest of Merkle. Its brilliant to see other regions’ work and get to know their culture and values. We work closely with sales and marketing teams, as well as heads of departments to see how we can improve how we present and sell Merkle to our clients and prospects. Our Content Hub email updates reach a couple of hundred people across EMEA growth teams and are extremely well received which we love to see!

LB: After having my daughter, I decided to work Mondays to Thursdays so I have a longer weekend with her. My partner and I would split the tasks to ensure our daughter has a set routine. I used to work flexible hours, starting at 8am and finishing at 4.30pm, picking up my daughter from nursery and doing the evening routine before my partner got home. COVID meant we had to make significant changes to our daily routine. We found it hard to both work from home whilst nursery was closed, as Izzy was at that age where she couldn’t do things independently yet. However, it also had a positive impact on the amount of quality time we could spend with her, with us saving approximately 2 hours of commuting time each day.

BS: I’m currently Director of Offshore Operations for CXM working 3 days a week.  In my role I work closely with our teams in India to ensure we operate as one, colleagues in another country, and that we have the right processes in place both in the UK & India for our joint operation to function smoothly. During my 3 days, as well as my day job, I also co-chair the Parents and Carers Network for dentsu and as part of that my co-chairs and our committee bring the community together through events as well as drive policy change to continue to ensure our teams work in a supported environment.  

EL: The day usually starts with my daughter waking us all up at a civilised 6.30 am. This takes a variety of less civilised shapes and forms! Then it’s all systems go. The four of us get ready for the day ahead, my husband and I divvy up the school and nursery drop offs, I have my mandatory strong coffee and I usually start my working day between 8.30 and 9.30. The day from then on is taken over by a collection of client and internal calls – and it’s fair to say than no two days are ever the same. While sometimes the meetings, especially with remote working get a little much, I love the pace and the variety of challenges we face as a team. I also genuinely enjoy getting to know people I work with on different accounts. I grab lunch at opportune moments and have through lockdown become somewhat addicted to home workouts – which I try to fit in whenever I can. End of working day spells pick up rota, supper and bedtime. I try not to do it too often but if needed I’ll finish anything that needs to be finished for work when the girls are in bed and if the day was particularly busy – I’ll do my workout!

 

4. What does flexible working mean to you and why is it important for you to be able to work flexibly?

IC: I am a mum to twins who are now 19 months (double trouble does not cut it) and so its crucial for me to be able to work flexibly. I send my kids to childminder’s three days a week and have to be back by specific time, but I also prefer to be local in case of any accidents (this has happened more times than I care to mention). My commute time is an hour and a half  and I much prefer to spend that time working. To me, running a busy household while still having a career only makes sense now, when I can work flexibly – this way I can be sure both things are done properly. Of course, I miss my morning coffee and peanut butter toast and chats in the kitchen so I will likely be in the office on occasion, but I am grateful for having an option to work from home. I am lucky to have my office in a spare room at home which is comfortable and quiet so I feel my productivity is on point, win win!
 

LB: It was always clear to me that I wanted to go back to work after having my daughter, even if part time, as I thought it would set a good example for my daughter, but it also makes the time I have with her feel more valuable. I was also keen to get my daughter exposed to other children and set routines ahead of her attending school, and sending her to nursery three times a week does exactly that. With both my partner and I working we can also afford things that we probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Merkle promoted the fact that flexible working was a real possibility even before I decided to have my daughter, and for me that was a crucial element of a good work life balance. Working in London means that commuting times can be long and nursery open times don’t always account for this. When coming back from maternity leave, I made my internal teams and supervisors as well as my client teams aware of my work schedule in order to manage expectations, and everything has been running smoothly since.

BS: With 2 young children flexibility has become key to achieving some form of work life balance where I can do simple things like drop my kids to school in the mornings and also additional things like spending time with them before they began at school and that time together was no longer an option of mine. I use a mix of hybrid working and flexible working to impact both how I work (working 2 days from home and one in the office currently) and when I work (3 days per week). I’m thankful to work for an organisation where much thought and communication has gone into how hybrid working can function and ensuring people are aware of their rights to request flexible working should they wish to do so.  

EL: Working full time, bringing up two little people and running a home is quite a juggle and it is made much healthier for all involved by flexible working. I love having a little bit of room to cater for the inevitable hiccups in our supposedly sorted daily schedules – children get sick, childcare options fall through or trains stop running – you name it. It’s also been wonderful to be able to do school & nursery drop offs as well as to simply swap the commute for time spent with my girls. Seems so obvious in retrospect and I now can’t quite imagine having it any other way. It’s also great to be able to work from the office as needed – as we’re learning nothing can quite replace the wonderful and spontaneous face to face catch ups.

 

5. What inspires you about your workplace culture?

IC: Openness of communication! I like to know things, where we are as a company, what ware we doing to be more diverse and inclusive. How are we dealing with multitude of global challenges and not only staying afloat but making sure that all employees are well informed and our voices are heard. I appreciate small details, like dependency days – for when I genuinely cannot cope because there’s been a COVID case at the childminder’s and I am suddenly at home with two kids and panicking. Its incredible to work with likeminded people who are both family and career focused. I like that there are still people here who care and who will always listen, because they can relate.

LB: I have always loved the positive vibe in the office and the fact that I was surrounded by so many motivated and open people, which is why I loved coming back to the office after my maternity leave. Being away for a year, it took me some time to get back into things and to deal with changes that have happened whilst I was away, but I always felt I could lean on others. I have also felt supported as a parent from Merkle, my colleagues and my client teams when I had to work more flexibly or take time off last minute due to parental responsibilities. Since COVID, I have been working from home and have really missed the aspect of going into the office and interacting with others, however I am still amazed at how well people have dealt with all the challenges and how positive people have remained throughout, still doing amazing work and showing they care for their clients as well as the company and each other.

BS: I love how much passion and engagement there is in our workplace culture around Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and how people from all over the organisation come together through common goals and continue to move the organisation in a positive direction through both the way that we engage with one another and through policy improvement.  

EL: I sound a bit of a geek, but I genuinely love and continue to be impressed with the level of expertise and the work ethic of everyone who works here. I love that specialism and appetite for learning are a real currency here. More recently I’ve also been grateful for the brave conversations and DEI initiatives that result in change not only here at Merkle but hopefully set the bar for the industry and the modern working world.

 

6. What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?

IC: I genuinely believe it was joining Perisciopix 4 years ago. I could go with the coming to the UK, leaving my family, etc but i was still being shaped and defined for years to come after that big move. Whereas joining Merkle, was a gargantuan shift. It was huge and terrifying, pulling me far out of my comfort zone - I spent 5 years in a small (12 people) print media publisher prior to joining. I had to learn not only new skills but how to thrive in a very different working environment. It was often the case of what doesn’t kill you and with every one of those moments, I grew, and I got better.

I am much more confident now and in a large part I owe that to the various people I met at Merkle over the years.

LB: We’ve had to go through quite a difficult time when Izzy was born. She was pretty sick and we had to have an emergency c-section and spend 1 ½ weeks in hospital with her. It’s been quite traumatic for us, and we were told that there was a risk that this might have led to long term brain damage. Thankfully, she’s doing great now and is a very cheeky and happy 3 year old, however it took me a while to open up and admit that I was traumatised and didn’t quite feel like myself for a very long time. I blamed myself and my body for her becoming unwell, and as a result of that I stopped looking after myself and doing the things I loved, instead putting all of my energy into trying to make up for it by being the “perfect parent”. However, over time I realised that I needed to start having more me time and to start to love myself again in order to be able to give love and attention to others.

BS: The biggest impact on my life has been when my husband and I had our 2 children. Ella’s coming up to 6 and Mia’s 3 and through having children I’ve really learnt to put life and work in perspective. Yes, work is very important to me and I place responsibility on myself to ensure that I’m giving my best at all times, but also moments outside of work are equally important and in this case it’s a blink and you could miss it scenario as kids grow all too fast! With this in mind I really do try to balance out my work and home life as much as possible.  In terms of how this has shaped me, anyone who knows me will know that I’m ruthlessly organised in anything that I do and am a fantastic multi tasker, and the kids have helped to make me that way!  

EL: That’s a big question. On reflection, I think it is my childhood and my parents that have really shaped the steady core of who I still am today. That over any specific events. Over the years my various choices and experiences have definitely left a mark and I’m sure I’ve learnt lots through my life’s journey. Moving to England, away from comforts of home has taught me to be patient and humble. Travelling solo has calmed my restlessness and taught me to value the everyday. Having children has made me more empathic, more distracted too but also opened my eyes to vulnerability and love. I’m open to and excited about what the next ‘lesson’ may be.

The way I am and think can be explained by

7. Rapid fire

a. How do you like your eggs?

IC: Boiled, 5 mins for that velvety half crumbly yolk 

LB: Fried, with chilli flakes on top!

BS: Poached on sourdough with avocado & crushed chilli– no other way! 

EL: Quick and scrambled!

b. What are you currently watching on Netflix/Prime?

IC: Star Trek : Lower Decks on Prime

LB: I’ll admit it. Virgin River, S3!

BS: Don’t judge me but Below Deck & every other trashy show going!  

EL: Vigil – finally a quality UK production!

c. What’s your guilty pleasure?

LB: I bloody love hot wings. Or anything hot for that matter!

BS: Baked camembert with walnuts & honey (or any kind of cheese board) 

EL: Bake off!

d. What is your dream holiday destination?

IC: Long road trip across California

LB: I LOVE Greece, would go there anytime.

BS: I’d love to go to Santorini one day. My family are from Malta and my husbands family are from Belgium so we tend to have very similar holidays each year!  

EL: Trekking in the mountains – Tolkien Trail in Swiss Alps or Italian Dolomites or Isle of Skye…the list goes on.

e. Best advice or mantra you live by?

IC: Not every day is good, but there is something good in every day.

LB: Look after yourself. You can’t be present for other people if you don’t look after yourself first.

BS: Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind  

EL: I tell my daughters that there always is a way; I tell myself to chill out and trust ‘the universe’ & the forces that have been good to me over the years.

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