In the past five years Heather Richardson has done a lot of things she never thought she would. “Looking back I’m amazed I didn’t think ‘I’m in over my head.’ It’s only with hindsight that I have the luxury of panicking.” The marketing and editorial manager for Jacada Travel dabbled in several different roles both at home and abroad before settling in London in her current job.
In the summer of 2008, halfway through her degree in English literature and history at the University of Edinburgh, she flew to India to intern. Based in Trivandrum, Kerala, Richardson wrote for The New Indian Express and Asian Traveller magazine, and did some producing work at 24-hour English News channel Times Now. It was her first foray into the industry, and an eye-opener. In the three-month stint she recalls accompanying a local journalist to a hospital with hidden cameras, where they endeavoured to interview a woman who had drunk bleach to escape a forced marriage. “I was doing the type of thing I’d never get to do over here,” Richardson explains.
The following summer she interned for The One Show where she was given similar opportunities to take on challenging work, including interviewing two teenagers who had been hospitalised with anorexia.
Although she had accumulated a fair amount of editorial experience by the time she graduated in 2010, Richardson had a big decision to make. “It was the peak of the recession and an awful time to graduate,” she says. “It was either do an MA in journalism or go travelling.” She choose the latter option and spent one and a half years backpacking around Australia and Asia, picking up ad hoc editorial and hospitality work on the road.
When she returned to the UK in 2012 Richardson continued to freelance. But without the right contacts she struggled to make a living. “Having a journalism masters would have been a really big door opener,” she explains. “It’s a tough industry to get into. I had to work long hours for peanuts and was constantly trying to make ends meet. It’s amazing I didn’t stop and think ‘why am I doing this?’”
Despite the challenges she remained incredibly sanguine. “I do thrive on change so it suited me in that sense, and I was getting paid more with each project.” In January 2014 the content writer role at Jacada came along. “I came in with a temporary view of it,” she explains. “I saw it as stability for a while. But within six months I got promoted to marketing manager and I realised I love marketing and that I had tons of ideas. Everything fell into place.”
Aside from writing content for the luxury travel company’s website, newsletters, and quarterly magazine, The Explorer, Richardson’s role also includes PR, social media, managing a team and organising events.
This year she organised her biggest event yet: a fundraiser at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) with 400 guests, which raised £10,500 for rhino conservation projects in Botswana. She was responsible for organising every last detail – from buying snacks and drinks to the printing of signs and getting famed safari guide Ralph Bousfield involved. “It was very satisfying [once everything came together], but immensely stressful,” she says. “I couldn’t go into events management full-time!”
True to form, Richardson still finds herself doing things she never expected. “I never thought I’d be good at the sales side of things,” she says. “I never thought I’d be good at managing people either. But I really enjoy both. You’re constantly learning on the job. Marketing is such a broad-ranging role. And I’m happiest when I’ve got 100 things on the go.”
Caroline Kitcher, HR director at Tui UK & Ireland – sponsors of Tomorrow’s Travel Leaders – says:
“Heather’s determination to succeed and willingness to take on new opportunities has enabled her to forge an incredibly interesting and varied career so far. Her enthusiasm for change and natural ability to adapt will enable her to succeed even further within an industry as fast and dynamic as travel. The bold decision to go travelling proved to be the right one, allowing her to develop an extensive portfolio of journalistic and editorial work, which paved the way for her current role. Her optimism throughout the time she spent working as a journalist is highly commendable and demonstrates great commitment to her career, which is refreshing to see and is something we look for at Tui.”