account directors

At this point, I think we’ve all heard about LeBron James’ recent decision to rejoin his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. While his homecoming is a relatively rare move in sports, it’s beginning to happen more and more often in the professional world.

Here at SHIFT, we place a high value on employees returning to the Agency. This boomerang hiring, as it’s more commonly referred to, is something we actively encourage and promote to all of our SHIFTers. It’s become a unique part of our agency culture and a definite pride point for us across our three offices.

To give you a better idea of boomerang hiring and its role here at SHIFT, we’re presenting a two-part Q&A series featuring our HR Director, Leah Ciappenelli, and one of our account directors, Katie McGraw, who boomeranged back to SHIFT in January.

After Leah offered insights from the employer’s perspective in her Q&A last week, Katie now gives us her take on returning to SHIFT and everything she’s learned along the way. 

What initially brought you to SHIFT?

When I first moved to Boston, I worked at a very small agency on projects with big box stores and was focused on grassroots coalition building. I remember seeing an ad for SHIFT and started reading up on the company. I was really impressed with the culture. You could see it seeping through, even on the website. It looked like a fun place to work, and a place where opportunities to learn and grow were plentiful.

Talk about your first stint here at the Agency.

I was originally hired on a B2B tech team and eventually ended up working for Cathy Allen, which was one of the biggest blessings that I’ve had in my professional career. Over those first few years working with her, I helped start SHIFT’s healthcare practice.

When I first came here, I’ll admit that I wasn’t super passionate about healthcare. It’s something that came to the surface after a couple years here working with our clients, some of which were in the healthcare space. And, with the transformative changes taking place in the healthcare industry – both then and now – it was evident to me that we were about to see a seismic shift in how care was provided, which presented an opportunity for the agency as well.

SHIFT has helped shape my focus and practice area from a professional standpoint. It’s been invaluable to focus on something that I’m so passionate about and become an expert in this particular area.

Where did you go after SHIFT?

I went to Nuance, which is actually a former client that I worked on with our healthcare team. Working as part of their communications team was a great opportunity to go in-house and gain experience understanding what agency clients are dealing with as they interface with their internal marketing teams and business units. It allowed me to better understand the pressures and demands faced by the clients I now service again at SHIFT– and, overall, helped me empathize and more fully grasp their point of view.

What prompted thoughts of you returning to SHIFT?

Annie Perkins was my mentor during my first stint at SHIFT, and the two of us kept in touch over email and coffee after I left. We met for coffee one day and she shared her thoughts about the growth trajectory of the healthcare practice and what she would need to make that happen. She said that if I was interested, then there could potentially be a role for me here.

It ended up being the perfect time for me to move. I was looking forward to the opportunity to be part of a growing practice and team again. Going in-house to a sizable corporation and understanding how difficult it is to even slightly move the needle made me excited to come back to a smaller, more nimble agency environment where there would be more opportunities to drive change.

What was it like when you came back after those two years?

In many ways, it did feel like a new experience when I came back in January, even in terms of the office layout. When I was first here in the Boston office, we were only on the South Side of the office. There was no North Side.

There had also been a number of notable changes on the personnel front. Leah had come on as our HR Director, and there was a new look to the healthcare team as well. There were still a good number of people here who I already knew and could continue to grow my relationships with, but there were so many new hires with the growth of our agency that I felt green to a certain extent.

The Agency itself had also changed a lot in two years. The healthcare practice had expanded, and they added the Marketing Technology team and Creative team, too. Before we had been more of a straight-up PR and social media shop, but we’ve expanded so much since then. There are now so many more opportunities from a services standpoint, which allow us to do more integrated, creative campaigns that help amplify our efforts for clients.

How do you feel you grew during your time away from SHIFT?

I think the biggest thing for me was getting experience managing relationships with an agency. We worked with a variety of PR firms over my two years at Nuance. It helped me understand how you motivate an agency and truly partner and collaborate with them to get the most out of that relationship. It gave me a better idea of the challenges of working with an agency when you’re in-house – the pressures you feel that the agency may not see and understand.

So part of it was flipping the coin and being on the other side. It’s helped me understand that when clients are pushing us for things and may be unhappy about something, it isn’t personal. Rather, it’s usually about the pressures that they’re feeling internally to deliver on specific results.

As a whole, the experience gave me a more holistic understanding of the relationship between an agency and the clients that we serve and how these two worlds work so we can improve communication and provide better service.

Looking back, what benefits do you see in boomerang hiring and returning?

Being able to go from crawl to run was probably the biggest benefit in coming back for both me and the Agency. It was easy to hit the ground running because I didn’t need weeks of training. It was more of a two-week process learning what’s new at the agency, such as the Marketing and Creative teams, and getting acclimated with the healthcare team again.

I didn’t have to take a lot of time trying to understand everything from top to bottom. Some of the clients that I had worked with were still here, too, which was helpful.

What other advantages are there for employers hiring former employees?

I think it’s nice because you know that they’re a cultural fit, unless the culture has for some reason drastically changed. This was certainly not the case here at SHIFT, where the culture has been strong and largely the same for so long.

There’s less involved in getting that new hire to understand the company’s expectations and what it’s all about. And, like I said, the employee can hit the ground running and put the added time and resources to use with their team.

Do you have any advice for LeBron?

It’s important to not try to run too fast to get back to where you were. Take the time to understand the landscape and how it’s changed so you can focus on what you need to know to become successful versus trying to pick up exactly where you left off.

I would also say to stay humble and grounded. Not having an ego or a chip on your shoulder goes a long way. You’re starting over, so you have to be cognizant of getting to know the team and what’s changed with the ins and outs of the company.

For me, this was a fresh start. While there were some of the same people and practices in place, I thought it was important to come back with the mindset that it was a clean slate and I had to prove myself.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst


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