Lily Major’s passion for reading and love of music landed her at Sony Music and Columbia Records, but she now finds herself at M&C Saatchi Fabric. The senior account executive she has worked across campaigns for Reebok UK, adidas, Bowers & Wilkins and Coca-Cola. Always looking to push boundaries, Lily seeks both meaning and impact from her work.
Mucking out stables on a rainy Saturday morning was a normal occurrence for Lily, who spent her childhood growing up on a farm with her family. The “archetypal middle child”, she describes herself as “very independent, shy, secretly competitive and a people pleaser.” She continues, “I was an over-thinker and very sensitive. Yet, extremely headstrong and driven; someone who knew what they wanted and would stop at nothing until that thing became a reality.”
Naturally, being brought up on a farm meant that Lily and her two sisters had hobbies that consisted of “incubating and hatching lost pheasant eggs and playing hide-and-seek in the hay bales.” When she wasn’t living up to the hobbies you’d expect this upbringing to nurture, she says she was “an avid reader, arty, an adventure enthusiast and a huge daydreamer.” With what she describes as an “atheist and slightly untraditional family, with non-married, relaxed and somewhat hippy-esque amazing parents,” the lack of a conventional nine to five job meant that she describes her family as living in what felt like a different time zone. “My outlook on life has remained untraditional and relaxed – I’m a massive advocate for doing whatever makes you happiest.”
After finishing school, Lily studied a joint honours degree in English Literature and Film Studies at the University of Leeds, though she doesn’t think it was the best experience, she reflects that it wasn’t the worst either. “I struggled to adapt in my first year and ended up taking extended leave, signed off due to bad mental health. Instead, I spent the year working long hours as a waitress and trying to figure out what to do next. Thankfully things improved and I returned to Leeds the following year, successfully sitting my three-year course and this time, loving it.”
It was during her time at university that Lily began writing for House of Solo, a small, independently owned music magazine, which was her first break into the industry. “Overnight I was swept into this whole new world, attending photoshoots, managing an email inbox, and interviewing artists who – at the time – I believed were the coolest people in the world ever. I stayed at House of Solo for a few years before it eventually helped me to land my first full-time job post-uni, joining the internship scheme at Sony Music and later, the radio team at Columbia Records.” During this period, Lily moved to East London, where she stayed during the pandemic. Though she was grateful to be able to explore what she describes as “the absolute best region”, being 31 miles away from family did come with challenges.
Now, with a taste of the industry, Lily had an idea of the world of advertising that she wanted to get into, explaining how her move to the M&C Saatchi Fabric team was “somewhat accidental and somewhat planned.” She continues, “My early days of writing and editing exposed me to the world of PR, something I knew nothing about previously, and opened my eyes to a whole new stream of work. I sent off my application for the role at M&C Saatchi Fabric on the basis that their Instagram page showed the team had recently worked with Kendrick Lamar. I didn’t need much more persuasion.” It’s through her previous roles as well as her current position at M&C Saatchi Fabric that Lily has been continually honing her craft and taking on more responsibility with global brands, pushing her own creative thinking.
Lily reflects on the biggest lesson she’s learnt in the industry so far: “Patience and kindness really do pay off. Listening, absorbing, and treating everyone (at every level) with respect is so important for so many reasons. This has always been my guiding principle.” As she continues to live by this mantra, Lily has worked on various projects such as the Nano X1 Adventure campaign with Reebok UK, staging a ‘Reconnect Retreat’ in the Lake District - where people were able to experience the new shoe. “The event was hugely rewarding, both from seeing an experience through from initial conception to final execution and from helping to carry out a programme themed with something I am passionate about – mental health.”
While Lily enjoys thinking creatively with every project she works on, there’s one in particular that she feels changed her career for the better. “My work with premium British audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has been amazing and has definitely helped shape the work I do today.” For the audio brand, 2021 meant the launch of three new products and an iconic launch event to go with it, which Lily helped to formulate. With performances from Little Simz and Greentea Peng, her experience within music supported the way in which she curated the campaign. She notes that one of the events was held at Abbey Road Studios, “and gave the brand a proper introduction into the lifestyle space.”
“I aspire to be somebody that people wholly trust and have complete confidence in,” says Lily, when asked what she would like to achieve in her work. “I also aspire to have complete trust and confidence in myself. Saying that, I don’t want to ever fall into the path of playing safe; I want to make decisions that go against the grain, diversifying and ultimately bettering a situation.” Aiming to create by pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved, Lily continually converses with as many people as she can, to gain a sense of perspective, which helps her understand more about various specialisms. “Everybody is an expert in something and it’s surprising how much you can learn from asking questions and creating a space where people feel comfortable to talk about their passions and interests.”
Celebrating diversity and working together to achieve an inclusive environment is something that Lily wants to see more of within the industry. “When working to any brief, representation is at the forefront of our strategy. It’s not a request, it’s a given. Yet too often, we’re forced to absorb media that fails to represent; this is made all the more frustrating knowing how many people would have worked on the project and knowing how many stages of approval it would have needed to go through.” As media is the most widespread form of storytelling, Lily strongly believes that accurate representation should be prioritised. But this isn’t too the disservice of creativity and creative storytelling: “I love seeing big brands take a risk and succeed,” she says, “there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a big global brand pivot in a completely new direction, move into a new and uncharted space, or take a positive stand on a controversial social justice issue.”
Lily also addresses where the industry can improve, particularly with the unspoken pressure on new talent joining the industry and the unrealistic expectations that often turn people away. “This could be through a lack of understanding – rightly so – on how exactly to navigate it, entry-level jobs expecting three-plus years of experience or feelings of imposter syndrome – all very real and very valid!” Giving young people the opportunity to take on a role means avoiding the feeling that “they’ve fallen at the first hurdle.” She says, “Entry-level jobs should be exactly that, entry-level.”
Outside of her work in the industry, while Lily explored her passion for running during several periods of lockdown, she also has a newfound love of outdoor swimming - which she has been keeping up with for almost a year now. “I also have an annoying tendency to preach my love for swimming to anyone who dares bring it up in conversation. It’s one hour a week where I can totally switch off and think about nothing else but staying afloat.”
Aside from her love of physical activity, and reflected in her jobs at Sony Music and Columbia Records, Lily has a real passion for music that has been consistent in her life. Describing it as ‘fundamental’ to many of her memories, she notes music’s ability to take you somewhere entirely different: “I find it wild how hearing one album, or even just 10 seconds of a song, has the paralysing ability to transport you back to an acutely specific and totally random moment in time. I hear Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ and I’m suddenly six years old, in the back of the car, driving to school down a distinct section of country road.”
Much like many of us, Lily has also developed a love of watching cooking videos whilst having absolutely no intention of actually trying the recipes. Alongside this and leaning into her childhood passion, she also ensures she reads every day and watches “pretty much every new TV show or series someone mentions.” She says, “Right now, I’m reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt and binge-watching Skins from the start. And TikTok – shh.”
Most important for Lily is what keeps her interested in what she does: “I’m motivated by producing work with genuine meaning and having the chance to make a real impact. My one piece of advice for remaining motivated and driven daily is to stay curious, ask questions, explore something new and empower others!”