From checking drawers full of rats to setting the news agenda, there’s never a dull moment in the life of Frost*Collective’s strategy director, Catriona Burgess.
You’ve got an interesting back story and have been a publicist, journalist and worked in other comms – how do those roles compare to what you’re doing now?
Starting out as a TV journalist taught me invaluable skills for what I do now – being able to analyse situations, prioritise what’s important and link disparate information into a coherent story. When you’re in a TV newsroom you have a hard deadline every night at 6pm so you learn how to get on with it and make things work. I loved being a publicist, because again you’re crafting a narrative and helping people to reach an audience.
You’ve also worked on both client and agency side, which do you like best and what are the advantages/disadvantages of both?
I’ve been agency side for 15 years now so I guess this is my preference. It’s because you get to be so many different businesses and projects so the challenge is always there. When I was client side I enjoyed building up the reputation of a single organisation and being able to ensure that recommendations were seen through. The other thing I love about being in an agency like Frost* is being part of a team that’s devoted to making every project the best it can be and working with some incredible creative minds.I’m a firm believer that if you can’t see the strategy in the creative, then in effect the strategy doesn’t exist so learning how to work effectively with creatives is critical.
What do you think marketers and strategists will be doing in two years, five, or ten?
I think we will see further polarisation of two types of marketer/strategist – the specialist who has very a niche skills set and expertise, and the generalist, who maintains a top level view and provides cohesion across the niche specialities. Agencies will need both types of strategist to succeed. That’s one of the reasons why Frost* has formed a collective of agencies so that we can offer expert advice in areas such as digital and spatial as well as a strong strategic brand overlay.
What are marketing’s biggest threats and opportunities?
I think the democratisation of marketing is interesting as both a threat and an opportunity. These days anyone can reach an audience so it’s getting harder to demonstrate why you need professionals to do marketing – think 99designs. But this also means we can invite audiences into the marketing process and they are able to make meaningful contributions to it – Apple’s “Shot on iPhone 6 campaign” demonstrates this beautifully. So, just who is the marketer and who is the audience, is shifting.
How strategic are you in your personal life? And how well does it go down with partners/friends/families?
I like to question things. It’s good to start from a perspective of “I don’t know” rather than feeling you already know the answers. As you grow older you realise that there are no fixed answers or solutions, especially in your personal life.
What was it that made you take the professional strategy route?
It was a lucky accident! I’ve never been one of those people who have their careers mapped out from an early age, perhaps obvious from the fact that I have changed career a number of times. I prefer to take opportunities as they present themselves. I’ve been a brand strategist for over 10 years now and my passion for what I do keeps growing. I’ve been very lucky to partner with some awesome thinkers along the way – including Naked at its peak and my friend Tom Donald – it’s great to be in a career that constantly expands your mind and your experiences.
What gets your goat?
I hate it when people act out of self-interest and can’t approach a situation straight on because their egos are in the way. Most of the really smart people I know are quite modest – even verging on the insecure – because they have the insight to recognise their own limitations.
What would be your ultimate role?
Working for IDEO in Shanghai. I would love to get paid for solving problems through design thinking and Shanghai is one of the most exciting places on the planet at the moment.
What’s your proudest professional moment?
One of my favourite projects has been working on the brand for Broken Hill. It’s been a partnership over many years, and I have a deep respect for the people of Broken Hill who fought for and won the 40-hour working week for workers everywhere in the world. It means a lot when you are doing something that makes a difference to a community rather than just shifting product.
And your most cringe-worthy?
My 1980s hair when I was a TV reporter.
Tea of coffee?
Herbal tea. I gave up caffeine 12 years ago.
Cats or dogs?
Definitely dogs (despite being called Cat).
What’s your favourite TV programme?
Recently it was Lena Dunham’s Girls but an all time favourite is The West Wing or anything written by Aaron Sorkin.
What’s your quirkiest attribute?
I do my best work in the wee hours of the morning, a habit I acquired as a teenager pulling all-nighters.
One thing no one knows about you?
Elton John is my go to music when I’m under pressure. But only the early stuff!
Your house is on fire and the arsonists have nicked your car. What would you save?
My art collection – including works by mother who is a widely-collected artist. Everything else can be replaced.
What’s different in a strategy role today compared to five years ago?
Brands are really starting to be understood as strategic drivers for business success. Digital and in particular social has reshaped how consumers interact with brands, so these days the focus is on strategic considerations like brand purpose, behaviour and engaging content. This means we can create a lot more depth and form for brands.
What do you think are the most exciting things in the marketing and strategy world at the moment?
The rate of change is really exciting. I’ve been reading the latest issue of Contagious, which focuses on artificial intelligence – the potential for brands just keeps growing. With so many opportunities to craft stories and experiences, we need to stay nimble but resist being seduced by the latest trend. People are open to the new like never before.
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