Head of Marketing and Communications - Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre
Gemma Henry is Head of Marketing and Communications at Dundee Rep Theatre and Scottish Dance Theatre.
She graduated from Queen Margaret University in 2011 with BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts.
Tell us more about your career path since graduating from QMU.
My time at QMU was filled with fantastic experiences and gave me countless opportunities to develop a range of skills that were directly transferable to a professional environment. You may think, as someone who studied Drama, that a career in the theatre would be an inevitability but I definitely took an unusual path to get to where I am now.
After graduating, I set up my own dance company called Edinburgh Cheer and Dance Academy (ECDA). I wanted to put dance at the centre of my working life and rather than applying for jobs as a dancer or dance teacher, I thought that I could build something from scratch.
Over the following three years, I built the academy up to the extent that I had five employees and classes running as far north as Dundee and far south as Carlisle. ECDA worked with local primary and secondary schools, became the official dancers for the Edinburgh Wolves American Football Team, and successfully competed at competitions all across the UK.
In 2014, I changed direction and used my skills and experience to get a job with Trinity Mirror selling newspaper advertising and from there I gained a job at STV selling television advertising. Being in sales in a large corporate environment was a big change from running my own company, but I enjoyed the pace and also became friends with Sean who does the weather!
After a few years, I took all my accumulated experience from my time at university, the years of building and running my own business, the years of working in press and television, and moved into marketing at Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre, where I have moved up the career ladder from Marketing Officer to Marketing Manager and now Head of Marketing and Communications.
Tell us more about what your current role involves?
Primarily, my job involves managing a team, creating engaging content for our audiences, mostly centred around our theatre and dance productions both in-house and on tour. I absolutely love it! It’s a fast-paced environment and every day is different. One of the best parts of the job is that I get to immerse myself in the work, from the studio to the stage.
What are your most memorable experiences of being a QMU student?
There are so many great memories to draw on, but my experiences are almost compartmentalised into different areas. There was the Drama and Theatre Arts programme itself, and all the memorable lessons and activities that I was involved in there.
Then there was student life, where I was the president of the Cheerleading team for two years and really discovered a capacity for leadership and direction. I will never forget the successes we had with the QMU Sapphires, including winning Society of the Year and a Chancellors Cup and, personally, winning Female Personality of the Year! These big successes validated a tonne of dedication and hard work, which we did solely because we wanted to.
Then, there were the social elements of university experience, the clubbing and partying, the dinners and events, the countless trips to the theatre that accompanied my progression through the programme.
Finally, there are the very personal things.
"I met my husband at the university as we were both on the Drama programme, we moved in and rented our first flat at 19, got a dog, got engaged. QMU was the beginning of our story and has been such a large part of our lives."
What advice would you give to students and new graduates starting out?
In short, I would say work hard and don’t be afraid to take paths less well-travelled.
Some people have very defined routes, they know exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it, and that can be a powerful driving force for development and career progression. There are so many jobs in the creative industries that would be attractive to creatively minded graduates with artistic skills and many of these you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of during your degree. So, why limit yourself?
I have never been a person who wants to map out my whole life in some grand masterplan. All the decisions I’ve made in my career since graduating have been intuitive and based on what my immediate goals and desires are. For example, so many people told me how risky it was to try and create my own company but all I wanted to do when I graduated was either dance or teach dance. As the popularity of my dance academy grew, I gradually phased out the part-time work I was doing when I was a student, and by six months I was fully working for myself and by the end of the year I had built up so much business that I had to hire my first employee. It was hard but if you know what you want to get out of life you can’t be afraid to follow your instincts.
The same was true when I completely changed direction and went to work in sales. There were plenty of people who felt it was a risk, and worried that I would not enjoy it as much; but, again, I was listening to my instincts and I really felt ready for a different kind of challenge. I brought a lot of skills, knowledge and experience into a very intense and competitive environment – and thrived in it.
I have always worked intuitively, learning new skills, adapting to new environments, taking on new challenges and being mindful about how fulfilling my job is. Everything I have done has always been underpinned with a complete commitment to hard work, without which nothing would be possible.
My advice would be that if you are not someone who has some masterplan – do not worry about it. You will find a route, and if you trust your instincts and work hard, you’ll find yourself in the exact place you were meant to be.
Photo credit: Sean Millar