Anouk Darling's unorthodox childhood laid the groundwork for brilliant, unorthodox thinking. Here Moon Communications' CEO talks us through her digital obsessions, motherly guilt, and her secrets to thriving in Adland's boys club.
At eight years old, Anouk Darling found herself living in a caravan on a remote Greek island trading her toys for meat and cheese. Thus began an extraordinary life of adventure, tragedy and an insatiable hunger for inspiration.
The spirited blonde was born in Australia but lived the first seven years of her life in the UK. The journey back home took her family one year, the majority of which was spent in the Mediterranean living in a campervan with two German hitchhikers and a Swiss au pair.
"We traded toothpaste and plastic toys with a Greek goat herder for meat and cheese," she recalls. "My brothers and I only had our imaginations, dad's insistence on afternoon Latin lessons and one copy of The Lord of The Rings to entertain us. There were no gadgets, no technology, no mobile phones (or any phones for that matter). Just us. I can't remember a happier time."
Darling is one of only a few women to head up a creative agency in Australia – a particularly phallic sector of the advertising landscape. Now, gizmos, gadgets and new media form a central part of her existence.
"Consuming blogs, trends, digital convergence, the new customer experience, the power of the consumer, m-comm, e-comm, the socialisation of retail, geo-mapping and real time. My head swims with it," she says.
"We all know and hear the trends – big data, content, social and digital. Advertising is creating connections through communications and therefore we have to be at the forefront of thinking. We have to be in a constant iterative state, rather than 'set and forget'."
Her path wasn't ever clear but she fell into brilliant luxury marketing roles: brand manager for Louis Vuitton, Oroton marketing manager, group marketing director at Conde Nast. She also did an MBA. Then her world came tumbling down. Her first child died prior to birth and her youngest brother committed suicide three months later.
"This was a once in a lifetime chance that only deep tragedy brings – to re-think everything," she says. She started consulting for Westfield Bondi Junction – one of Moon's current clients – and happened across Moon. They hooked up. Darling began as strategic planning director and quickly progressed to general manager. After STW bought the agency in 2007, she was promoted to managing director. It was sink or swim, and the agency did the latter.
As for working in the Adland boys' club, Darling says her STW bosses – all men – have always been entirely encouraging and supportive. Where she sometimes does feel prejudice, believe it or not, is from some clients.
"Obviously none that we partner with, but in new business meetings there is an uneducated assumption when we walk in with the team that my general manager who is a guy (albeit terrifically talented) is the head, before anyone has spoken or been formally introduced. They just start directing questions at him."
But what perpetuates the glass ceiling, from her perspective, isn't any external roadblock. Getting to the top is about choices and sacrifices and "a lot of women 'choose' not to take the top rung as other things may be a priority, like having a family."
For those who want a spot in the executive echelons, her advice is to find a champion or mentor – "someone to rally their cause and expose them to a broader network of opportunity," she says.
But her "absolute secret ingredient to success" is her husband. "He's the CEO of the household, the stay-at-home dad that allows me to have the career I have and reduce some of the 'guilt' that I'm not with the kids enough."
As for how she deals with powerful men, it's no different from connecting with your consumer.