Laura Hamzic, Director of Digital & Communications at Brook, is responsible for the digital strategy and transformation of the organisation. Here, she talks about her journey into a digital career in sexual health.
When I think back to careers conversations at school, I have to laugh. Admittedly it was the late 1990s and careers in ‘digital’ just weren’t even a thing, but their suggestions seem so narrow now. My school wanted its pupils to consider ‘solid’ careers like law and medicine.
I remember the look of horror on my Head of Year’s face when I told her I’d decided to go and do a one year art foundation course in London.
She said ‘have you told your parents?’ as though I was dropping a bombshell.
The truth was, I had no idea what I wanted to do and didn’t feel ready to commit to a 3 year degree. So I ignored my schools disapproval and had an amazing time as well as , usefully, finding out pretty quickly that art wasn’t for me – I just wasn’t good enough.
I went on to do an English degree and spent my summers in London working and getting work experience. I felt that was another good way of figuring out what I wanted to do. I started working for a fashion photographer’s agency which in turn gave me access to work experience at various fashion magazines.
Again, it turned out to be a great way of working out what I absolutely did not want to do.
In my second year, I applied for work experience at The Sunday Times. I couldn’t believe it when the waiting list was a year, but I put my name down for July 2007 – immediately after I graduated.
As it happened, my graduation ceremony was the day before the 7/7 bombings which meant that every news desk in the country was run off its feet. This saved me from sorting post and running errands for too long and within a couple of weeks I was being sent to interview survivors of the bombings. It was a baptism of fire and I learned a huge amount in the year or so I was there – working on all kinds of stories.
A chance meeting with someone who helped me with a story lead to me leaving to work for a marketing agency. I was lured by the prospect of a normal working week and normal working hours (The Sunday Times meant working every Saturday and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at my desk). I worked on some interesting projects in my time there, for clients like BMW, Motorola, Ray Ban and Johnnie Walker. It sharpened my commercial acumen and developed skills that are still useful today such as pitching, client relationships and project management.
An ex-colleague from The Sunday Times approached me after a year or so to see if I wanted to work on a new project he was heading up – to set up the first national NHS website. I was ready for a new challenge and was attracted by the idea of being involved in something that seemed ground-breaking.
It seems unthinkable now that the NHS wouldn’t have a website, but I started there before it launched and by the time I left it was receiving 2 million visits each day.
I started as an editor, writing magazine-style health content on all sorts of topics from mental health to bowel cancer. My favourite thing was interviewing people for real stories and working with leading experts such as surgeons and academics. I then went on to oversee the development of web and mobile apps. I loved the creativity and variety of this role and I worked on some brilliant projects like the NHS BMI calculator and the NHS Couch to 5k podcast series and app, which remains incredibly popular 10 years on.
The integrity of the content we produced at NHS.uk was paramount and we had to follow rigorous, lengthy processes to ensure this was maintained. It was a painfully slow process at times but I learned a great deal about the important of evidence based content and it gave me a huge amount of pride to create content that was potentially helping people be healthier.
After 6 or 7 years here, I was ready for a challenge. I saw an ad for Head of Digital at Brook and thought it sounded great. I knew I’d be out of my depth in some respects but I thought that’d be good for me – and I was hugely interested by the focus on sexual health and young people.
After a challenging interview process (that involved all the candidates, in a room together, for 3 hours) I was offered the job and started almost 6 years ago to the day. The Brook I know has changed beyond recognition in that time, going from a charity that was struggling to one that is bold, thriving and forward-thinking. There have been difficult times along the way but staying the distance has meant I’ve learned a huge amount. I have had the opportunity to turn my hand to all kinds of things and I don’t think there would have been the requirement or freedom to do that in a bigger charity or a corporate.
But what I love about Brook most is the work we do. I grew up in a city which was the ‘teenage pregnancy capital of Europe’. My school friends and I struggled to navigate all kinds of sexual health and relationship struggles – as well as gender stereotypes, expectations and prejudice – all within a sex education vacuum. My career path to Brook shaped my thinking about what really mattered to me and I can’t think of anything more fundamental to the human experience than our health and our relationships.
My wish is for every young person to have access Brook-standard clinical services and education and this is how I know I’m where I want to be.
And what have I learned?
- Luck, hard work and making a good impression have served me better than exam results.
- The relationship with your line manager is probably one of the most formative you will have, especially when you’re starting out. I had some bad ones so I always strive to be better.
- To trust my gut and not be too constrained by other people’s expectations.
- Never trust what’s printed in a newspaper.
- There is a never a dull day working in sexual health.