Sal Thomas

sal thomas

Sal Thomas has been in Marketing for 23 years and is currently Marketing Director at NOKAMO, a consultancy helping businesses build their bottom lines through conspicuous brand propositions. Our go-to for practical marketing advice, cutting through the bullshit with a hot knife, we value her experience and wisdom. It was a pleasure to hear about her journey and the many insights she’s gained along the way.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I’m always reticent to give people books because, even if the thought comes from a good place, it’s a bit like saying you think you know what they will like / what’s good for them / how they can improve themselves. But I’m prepared to make an exception for Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. Everything anyone may ever wish to know about how to live is contained within its pages: Don’t take life too seriously. Do surround yourself with a few good friends. Don’t work too hard. Do travel lightly through life. Don’t try to open a can with a stone and a boat mast.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it? 

Hands down my HRT prescription. Before I started taking it, I was a mess of snot and tears ready to drown myself in a bucket of lube. The only downside of not crying all the time is that my vision is clear enough to see what my face actually looks like nowadays.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

I’d just started a new job and was keen to impress the Marketing Director of a major FMCG company with my amazing know-how and witty repartee. When everyone else took a natural break from the meeting, I stayed behind to chat. But because I hadn’t taken my natural break, I accidentally did this really long, loud, unmistakable fart. It’s a great reminder to never get too far up your own rectum, for one day it will let you down in spectacular fashion.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

Ah, if only seeing a billboard (or watching a TED lecture, or any other quick fix) were enough to have an impact. For such fickle creatures as we, humans are remarkably resilient to change. But in this fictional scenario, given the advent of digitisation and personalisation, it would be great if it could show the viewer the date of their own death. I reckon that would be quite the galvaniser.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

Less of an investment, more a salary sacrifice. I decided some time ago (pre-kids) that I would only work four days a week. That whole 5/2 thing feels totally out of whack for me. Luckily I’ve had very understanding employers, and have been able to reinvest that time in my favourite side-hustle – dicking around with my husband. 


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

I have an app on my phone (called ‘We Croak’) that sends me five messages, at random times during the day, saying ‘remember you are going to die’. Often I gloss over it, or it becomes wallpaper. But occasionally it has popped up at a time of stress or anxiety and I’ve thought, ‘yes, this is but a tiny pimple on the vast bottom of eternity’ which can go some way to softening the sting.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I tend to be quite disciplined, and I use stuff like the Pomodoro technique and timeboxing to try and chunk up my day to be as effective and focussed as possible. But when I’m stuck, there is no substitute for putting pen to paper. Even just writing out what ‘stuck’ thinking is going through my head can be helpful to move beyond it. And in a world of devices, it’s good to reconnect with your own handwriting.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

The book Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin has a brilliant little snippet in it about making plans and using your personal time more meaningfully. She says to imagine the thing you’re being invited to do is happening tomorrow, and ask yourself if you’d still want to do it. If the answer is no, then in the future you will only regret having accepted. As a former flake, politely declining at the time of being asked is far more empowering than making excuses further down the line.


What frustrates you most about your industry? 

In marketing agency-land there’s an expectation that you work until the job is done, not until your contractual hours are up (generally because ‘the client comes first’). But the whole thing is predicated by false deadlines and arbitrary notions of what’s ‘important’. It has often made planning life around work quite hard. We’re not saving lives here; we’re making forgettable content. No one dies if that Marmite twitter post goes live a day late, guys!


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

I think the first question would be to ask if they think they’re a good leader. And I’d have the answers from their employees waiting in the wings. There’s often a gulf between great leadership and those people who think they’re great leaders. In my experience, genuine self-reflection becomes as rarefied as the air the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, so getting the oxygen of honest feedback into the room can be incredibly helpful.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

They’re a set of guardrails that govern behaviour and keep you moving in a relatively consistent direction of travel. But I don’t think they should be absolute and set in stone. So much of life is context-dependent, I prefer to think of them more like a personal brand book. There for guidance, but they’ll evolve over time, and that’s cool.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

(Does a bit of puke into her mouth, but it’s true…) My husband. When I met him, his earthly possessions consisted of a set of golf clubs and a carrier bag of clothes. At the time I wondered if maybe he was a workshy fop. Now I realise he understood far earlier than I did what to prioritise in life. I often succumb to comparisonitis, whereas he unapologetically lives life on his own terms. In the face of increasing societal pressures to climb the ladder, acquire the stuff, do the hustle, achieve the accolades, that’s some gutsy shit.


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

Fuck yeah. Self-help books are my crack cocaine. I smoke that stuff right up, get all energised and excited and then real life kicks in and I forget almost everything I’ve learned. I used to think it meant I was incapable of change. But now I realise that change happens in tiny little increments, a little chipping away on the granite block of our conditioning, and so long as I’m still reading and looking for self-improvement, the shape of the me that I want to be more like will continue to emerge. I’ll never be finished, nor should I expect to be.


Topic: Tribe Tuesday