PA Diaries: Lucy Cook, ITV

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Previously PA to CEO & COO at Shortlist Media and now PA to the Deputy Managing Director and Director of Creative Works and Commercial Marketing at ITV, Lucy Cook is certainly no stranger to rolling up her sleeves to jump in at a moments notice to save the day of some of the most important people in media. Find out what motivates her and keeps her going in a role that she describes as a privilege to have on your CV…

TAR: So firstly, it’s amazing that we’re doing this together Lucy! Emily from the team always speaks so highly of you so it’s great to have you as part of the weekly series that we run. How has your week been so far?

LC: It’s been a busy extremely varied week so far, mainly consisting of arranging the directors yearly trip to Cannes in June, finalising details for my boss who’s just set off to Morocco to take part in the Marathon des Sables with his son who was interviewed on GMB this morning, along with the usual busy inbox!

TAR: What a mixture! Then again no two days are the same in this job! So let’s give all of The Assistant Room readers a really good insight into your career as a PA to date. Emily first mentioned you during your time at Shortlist Media but you have made the recent move to ITV…what a whirlwind!

LC: Yes it was a bit of a whirlwind!

I had a great 3 and a half years at Shortlist Media, they publish Shortlist and Stylist magazine that you may all pick up on your way to work mid-week! I was PA to CEO and COO whilst also supporting the next line of senior management and dipping into assist the Office Manager so I had to wear a lot of hats so to speak!                    

I gained a hell of a lot of experience at Shortlist and when the opportunity at a big brand like ITV came up I had to go for it!

TAR: Amazing! It must have been a brave move from Shortlist to ITV after establishing the role so much. How have you found the transition from one role to another?

LC: Yes it was a bit of a bold move but one I felt I was ready for. (I do miss raiding the Stylist beauty cupboard, without a doubt the best perk to that job!) My bosses here are such characters and the team of PA’s made it so welcoming, in the not even 3 months I’ve been here, there’s no boundaries to conversations I have with my new work wife who sits next to me.

TAR: We all need a work wife! So your current role an ITV sounds amazing! What would you say has been your biggest achievement in your first three months of being there?

LC: I’m pretty proud of my work so far on the Cannes project.. who knew arranging a series of parties on a yacht in St Tropez could be so stressful(!) but there’s a hell of a lot of logistics involved!

However my biggest achievement so far I feel, was running half an hour across central London in heels, on the hottest day of the year so far with 2 bags, a laptop and my bosses ID he’d forgotten in order to get into an important lunch!

TAR: What a woman! I think people forget how full on this job can be, we’re not just diary demons but also superwoman too! Maybe they should put that on the job description!

LC: Oh absolutely. I mean, only last week I had to jump in a taxi to his house to let myself in and roam around the bedroom for a certain pair of trousers he needed!

TAR: So being a PA is no mean feat, what would you say are the biggest perks of job and equally so the things you have to be prepared to tackle head on?

‘…my biggest achievement so far I feel, was running half an hour across central London in heels, on the hottest day of the year so far with 2 bags, a laptop and my bosses ID he’d forgotten in order to get into an important lunch!’

LC: Definitely not!

Cool perks are getting to sit in on watching Phil & Holly on the sofa on This Morning of a morning or being able to take mum to Ant & Decs Saturday night take away! It’s cool to see behind the scenes of the shows.                                         

I think the things I have to tackle are like all us PA’s. it’s juggling the multiple diaries and inbox’s, working with varied personalities, having or thinking you have your day mapped out, and that being wiped out the second you walk through the door as more pressing matters arise!

TAR: That’s amazing and yes I totally agree on all of those points that should be taken seriously in this job, it’s a lot of fun but a lot of hard work!  

So as someone who has been able to succeed in roles that most would absolutely die for, what advice would you now give your newbie PA self at the very start of your career?

LC: Exactly that, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions!

The person or people you are PA’ing for is really important, you need to have a connection with them as you’re working so closely with them, you need to be happy to drop what you’re doing to collect a pair of trousers or something just as personal without it feeling like a chore or that it’s not in your job to do such tasks.

Always act as if you know exactly what you’re doing, even when you have no clue there always people to ask and there’s ALWAYS Google!

Say yes. Say yes to events, lunches, launches of products or bars etc.. you never know who you’re going to meet or what opportunities could arise.

Watch and learn. When the IT guy is fixing your broken laptop, watch.. you never know at crucial times your boss may need the same and you can swoop in like the superwoman you are to save the day!

Don’t ever let anyone put your job down. Somebody once said to me they would hate to be “somebody’s bitch” like I am. Nothing infuriated me more! We are a crucial cog in somebody’s working and often personal life and to be their right hand woman/man is something to be proud of.

TAR: What absolutely amazing advice! It always used make me chuckle when people tried to put a downer on the job of the PA however there is definitely change in the perception of what we do and if anyone has ever watched Suits, I’m certain most people would snap up Donna in a heartbeat for not just help at work but outside of the office too!

We can only rise above it and continue to run the world!

‘We are a crucial cog in somebody’s working and often personal life and to be their right hand woman/man is something to be proud of.’

LC: Exactly that! I’d love to see them try and survive a day!

TAR: Taking a step back and looking at the core skills required to not be just a good PA but an AMAZING PA, what guidance would you give to those wanting to come into the industry? There are so many things people think that they need to be or to prepare for but realistically until you’re in the role or have experience in doing this job it can be a difficult minefield to make your way through!                        

LC: I would say first of all ask questions.

My bosses here work very differently to my bosses in my previous role, and in fact to each other. So you need to find out what works for them as no person is the same therefore they require different levels of assistant in different things.

Find out how they like to work in order to figure out how you should work with them. For instance with one of my bosses I need to step into his head daily and almost tell him what he needs to do before he knows himself! But with my other boss that would drive him nuts so we find it more beneficial to sit down twice a week to run through what we need to work through.

Do the menial tasks with as much effort and enthusiasm you would a larger project. It’s often those smaller things that can be a huge weight off their minds knowing you’re taking care of them.

Be nice, be happy, be helpful.. and when it all gets too much, which at some point it will! Take yourself off for a walk round the block and a coffee!

TAR: What would you say to those people who feel that the role of Personal/Executive Assistant means that striving for perfection is what this job stands for?

LC: People’s perception of perfection is very different so to strive to that is a very difficult thing to do, putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.  You need to work towards the best working version of yourself. It’s hard to perfect an ever-changing job!

TAR: If you were to look back on your career so far, what would you say has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that challenge?

LC: My biggest challenge was at Shortlist Media when the CEO was promoted to Chairman and somebody new came in to fill his position. It’s a tricky situation as I feel an interview works both ways, they’re finding out about you and your experience but at the same time you’re finding out about the role and the person you’re potentially working for. We didn’t have that option and we were thrown together to all of a sudden work together. I had to completely change my ways of working and try to adapt the ways of her previous PA to which she was used to.

‘Do the menial tasks with as much effort and enthusiasm you would a larger project. It’s often those smaller things that can be a huge weight off their minds knowing you’re taking care of them.’

TAR: The way you describe the dynamic of the relationship that you have with your boss from the get go as a two-way interview is the attitude I have always adopted through my career as a PA. I think it’s important when interviewing to know that you are equally sussing the person out as they are sussing you out!

LC: Exactly! For me, it was just about taking the time to sit down together and discuss her needs. Like I said earlier everybody works so differently and coming in as CEO of a company is a big job with lots of responsibility so it was down to me to help her settle into this change as well as I could.

TAR: So everyone here at The Assistant Room are huge advocates in promoting people being open about their own mental health which as a PA can often be sidelined to prioritise the person and or people that you support! What advice would you give to anyone who feels as though they are alone in this industry and can get easily swamped when trying to manage multiple expectations and priorities?

LC: My best advice is to talk. Your boss, your colleagues, your friends and family. I find somebody always has opinions and advice to offer and a problem shared is certainly a problem halved! It’s not about bottling things up when everything seems to be getting on top of you.

Take some time out. As important as work is, we work to live not live to work and when it comes to mental health I’m a strong believer of this mantra.

I always ensure I make time for me, whether that’s hitting the gym, cocktails with friends or chilling on the sofa with my husband and dog! It’s so important mentally and physically to take time out and concentrate on your personal life.

TAR: So what would you say you have you learnt about yourself and how do you think you have changed on your journey of being a PA…

LC: I wasn’t very good at self credit and never would have thought when I started out as a PA in a small vehicle business in a little village in Hertfordshire, that I would be working at such an exciting big brand like ITV, so I’ve learnt I do have the drive and determination to work up to bigger and better things and that actually, I must be relatively good at what I do!

TAR: How important do you feel keeping a work life balance is and do you think that it’s physically possible? If so, how do you manage to achieve that balance?

‘Take some time out. As important as work is, we work to live not live to work and when it comes to mental health I’m a strong believer of this mantra.’

LC: A work life balance is so incredibly important. Going back to what I said earlier, we should work to live not live to work. Our jobs are our livelihoods and so be successful we should put our all into it but not forget our lives outside the job. I still use a paper diary and couldn’t live without it! So to make sure I have that balance I plan, so whether that’s drinks with the girls, a weekend up at my mum’s, dinner with my husband or like this weekend, planning to do nothing but park myself on the sofa with my dog and the TV remote(!) my week is planned out so I have enough fun stuff and down time to relax after a full on working week.

TAR: What would you say are the most important things as a PA to keep in mind when things get tough and how do you overcome those moments when all you want to do is walk away from your desk and disappear for 6 months?

LC: When things get tough it’s normally because your bosses workload is getting tough and that has a ripple effect on the people working around them, so I it’s important to remember your job and the reason you’re there and at those tough times is when they need you to be on your best form more than ever. We’ve all wanted to walk out the door and jump on the first plane outta there at certain times but it’s always good to remind yourself it won’t last forever, like any job it’s rough with the smooth and once the storm is over.. book a holiday!

Quick Fire

TAR: Biggest guilty pleasure…

LC: Cheese!

TAR: Best power dressing outfit…

LC: Skinny black trousers, black shirt with studs on the collar, killer heels.

TAR: Favourite book…

LC: Gone Girl.

TAR: Favourite album…

LC: Chilled Ministry of Sound 2015.

TAR: The one app you couldn’t live without…

LC: Instagram!

TAR: Best phrase to get you through a tough day…

LC: It is what it is.

TAR: Love smells like…

LC: My husband James so Clinique for men!

TAR: The meaning of life is…

LC: Work hard, play hard, love hard.. be happy.

Jess x