General Manager / Alt/Shift
Sam Vassos isn’t your average General Manager, but then again Alt/Shift isn’t your average agency.
Having grown up in Melbourne, Sam cut her communications teeth at the iconic Channel 10 Studios in Bendigo Street in Year 9, and ever since, has worked for some of the worlds most incredible brands and campaigns and travelled the world to do so.
It’s far to say that Sam hasn’t looked back. Instead, she’s parlayed her communication vision into Alt/Shift where she is knowledge and experience client side to develop and implement creatively and strategically driven campaigns in partnership with her fantastic team. She is all about shifting the dial. And boy is that evident when reading this interview.
This #careerstory is beasty. Seriously, it’s packed with all the sort of answers that you wish a General Manager of Sam’s caliber would answer.
Get ready to meet PR and Communications superstar, Sam Vassos
Hi there Sam, can you start by telling us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I’m a Melbourne-gal born and bred, and other than an 18-month working stint in London and as much travel as possible, I’ve always called this city home. I’ve grown up in a family that all has a really strong work ethic and a roll up your sleeves attitude, this has definitely been instilled in both my sister and I and guided my approach to my career.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to a girls’ school in Ivanhoe, it was mid-sized and I loved the community and friendships I made over five years. Many of my closest friends today are those I met in high school. In my senior years at Ivanhoe I played a role in the student leadership team and quickly developed an interest in (and knack for) establishing and fostering relationships, managing people and leadership, this has definitely remained a passion throughout my career, even as a graduate.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I found trying to work out my career aspirations a really challenging one (who really knows what they want when they are 17?!). We had many careers councillors and year level talks, but it was a family friend who guided me to look into career options in advertising, marketing and PR. I loved humanities subjects and typically did much better than in sciences and math, so the idea of putting writing and communications into action piqued my interest.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
In year nine we had to complete a compulsory internship, my grandfather had a connection with Channel 9 studios, and I spent a week at the iconic Bendigo Street Studios (RIP), falling in love with television production. Granted my main contribution was helping set up Trev’s Bar on The Footy Show and a seat filler for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but the energy throughout the studios was contagious.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
After completing VCE I dived straight into uni life at RMIT. There I completed a degree in Professional Communications, specialising in broadcast journalism and PR. Not knowing what path of communications I wanted to go down, Prof Comms gave me the diversity of tapping into three courses (media, journalism, PR) – the only negative I’d cite was Prof Comm students dipped into and out of different courses depending on streams you selected – it made it hard to make a tight network of friends when you may only study with them for one semester.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
My career kicked off with an internship at The PR Edge, which landed me a fulltime gig at the consumer agency. I worked on lifestyle PR and leveraging sponsorship for the Valcorp Group (Lavazza, Sirena Tuna, La Zuppa Soup), and whilst it doesn’t sound super glamourous, I managed the covers for the White Pages – on this year-long campaign I really learnt to finesse and develop my media pitching skills – what journos are looking for in a story, how to work with them for a piece that will suit their platform etc. In this role I had an incredibly supportive Senior Account Manager, who kept me on my toes but always had my back – I still attribute many of the management skills I use today to how she managed me.
My next move was to the UK, where I married the two areas I specialised in my degree and worked at a broadcast PR agency – delivering campaigns that lived through content and broadcast media. I love my time at Markettiers, in a very fickle, competitive market I learnt the importance of maintaining strong client relationships and the art of respectfully pushing back when I didn’t believe a campaign would yield results.
Upon returning home I landed a contract at Mango Communications, the opportunity came from a Facebook shout out my best friend spotted – Mango was searching a contractor to help as they delivered Tourism Australia’s Best Jobs In the World. After a six-month contract, I was offered a full time position in the tourism team – my two passions, travel and PR.
At Mango I worked under a larger than life manager who to this day I still look to for advice. It was also here I met my current business partner and work wife, Elly. Elly was my MD when I was a mid-weight at Mango, whilst I didn’t work with her closely, I always admired how she’d invest in the culture of the team and make time to check in with all her staff – something I’m still in awe of how she does today when I know her diary definitively does not allow it.
After an amazing stint as a Mango, an old boss tapped me on the shoulder to apply for a PR role at the Cotton On Group – at this point in my career I was ready for an in-house stint.
A year just ticked over when I was approached by my current business partners to help launch Alt/Shift, our agency vision to bring a new model of communications consulting to the Melbourne market. Jumping feet first into a GM role was daunting, and whilst it took me a while to find my stride with the business side of my role, it’s been the constant support and advice of Elly, Richard and Anton (my business partners) that has made it a relatively seamless, yet incredibly fulfilling transition.
Whilst it may seem like I’ve had relatively short tenure in each role, I’ve learnt so much which has led me to realise I’m an agency gal at heart and (all going well!) my feet will firmly be under the desk at Alt/Shift for a very long time.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
Networking, bloody hard work and a bit of luck.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
For someone who loves routine, lists and organisation, it’s hard to map out what my day will look like. One phone call or an issue that pops up for a client often takes priority and that list I carefully wrote the night before remains largely untouched.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
Kicks off with an email scan to check nothing urgent has come through overnight, 3AW is switched on so I can get a read on news of the day then in the office between 8.30am – 9am. Before I make it to my desk I generally check in with our talented team of PR, social, content, creative and event gurus, then generally it’s filled with a mix of client meetings, calls, brainstorms, pitches and on a good day, desk time!
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I’m a firm believer in the people you choose to surround yourself with are a true reflection of who you are, and I’m pretty lucky to be surrounded by some pretty awesome people who support and bring out the best in me every day.
Can I also say Leigh Sales – when Hilary Clinton knows you by name, you’ve got to have done something right.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Meet as many people in the industry as you possibly can and apply for internships. Treat an internship like a long interview and it will serve you well. It will also give you a good insight to the industry – agency isn’t for everyone.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: The New Daily, AdAge, Goop, Refinery29, Junkee, Aplus+, Wired.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: Deliciously Ella (I love her recipes, though I am a self-professed disaster chef) & The Fat Jewish.
- Favourite Podcast: This varies depending on my mood and recommendations I’ve received – most recently I Business Wars and The New York Time’s Caliphate, both exceptional in very different ways.
- Favourite Netflix Series: The Handmaids Tale & The Crown
- Favourite all time book/s: A Little Life (heartbreaking, but beautiful – you’ve been warned)
- People: The many people I choose to surround myself with, husband, family, work family and friends.