Creative Lives — How G . F Smith’s brand production manager, Jo Pitts, put pen to paper and landed a job

Posted 29 November 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

How do you land a job at G . F Smith? Take a leaf out of Jo Pitts’ book and write them a handwritten letter – on their Colorplan paper, of course. Despite spending almost a decade working as a designer at Mulberry, Jo admits that she wasn’t a natural graphic designer, and sought a role that would encapsulate her diverse skill set. Now G . F Smith’s brand production manager, her role is increasingly multifaceted – from organising events and helping to art direct social media content one day, to overseeing the production of G . F Smith’s drool-worthy promotional materials the next. Working predominantly from the company’s newly opened Show Space in Fitzrovia, she tells us why you should always do your research pre-interview, and why working on G . F Smith’s Extract range was her biggest ‘paper geek’ dream come true.

Jo Pitts

Job Title

Brand Production Manager, G . F Smith (2015–present)

Based

Works in London, lives in Brighton

Previous Employment

Senior Graphic Designer, Mulberry (2007–2015)

Education

Postgraduate Diploma in Contemporary Art History, Goldsmiths College, University of London (2004–2005)
BA Fine Art, Printmaking, Manchester Metropolitan University (1993–1996)

Jo Pitts

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
My role is incredibly varied – no two weeks are ever the same! I am in the brand team of which there are four of us: director of brand, myself, a senior marketing assistant and a digital brand coordinator. 

I oversee the production and delivery of all our beautiful promotional tools that are created by our very talented creative agencies; Made Thought and Studio Makgill. I work very closely with them alongside our international partners to ensure the brand vision is delivered to both the UK and our global Colorplan stockists – of which there are about 25 currently. During the process of making a promotion, I’m involved with signing off the final concepts, getting any translations approved, spec’ing the job with a supplier and managing the production process.

We do events both in the UK and globally which I also project manage and help to deliver. I support the director of business development who runs our Show Space in W1 to deliver our brand experience in collaboration with Made Thought. We have two floors where we work with talented production teams to create incredible windows and installations that change quarterly. This means making sure it all gets done on time and to budget most importantly! 

“We often teach new employees all about our products from scratch but, it really helps to go into a job with an element of prior knowledge in that field.”

I also help to generate content for our social media and PR images at the Show Space or other events and projects. This can involve booking photographers, and art directing or instructing the retouching. Having worked for so many years at Mulberry, this is something that I feel quite at home doing and really enjoy.

As I manage our support and sponsorship requests, I could be helping someone with 40 sheets of paper or talking to a big creative name about an ambitious new project. Finally, I also work with internal teams to support them in any way I can – the most recent thing we’ve just began this year is our internal newsletter called ‘Paper News’! I am very proud of this as the sharing of stories has made a real difference to everyone.

Inside the Show Space

What does a typical working day look like?
I live in Brighton and commute to London from Monday to Thursday. The good part of the commute is getting two hours a day on the train to catch up on emails and action things which I find so useful. Our office hours at the Show Space at 9 to 5.30pm but we don’t open to the public until 10am. On a Friday, I work from home. It’s always my most productive day of the week and helps me to tie up all the loose ends for the weekend. If it’s a particularly busy week, I will spend a few hours catching up at the weekend so the following week feels organised. I don’t mind doing this because I enjoy what I do so much and am bit obsessed with being organised…tidy inbox, tidy mind!

50% of the day is at my Mac and the other 50% can be installing new things or running around within the space, having meetings on site or going over to see Made Thought (who are conveniently only a 10 minute walk from us.) Sometimes I may do a site visit if we are planning an event but now that we have the Show Space we have a permanent venue! I also go to Hull about once month as that is our main head office and manufacturing site. If there is a lot going on I can be there up to three times a month but I don’t mind this as Hull is a brilliant city and I love seeing everyone there.

Instagram images for the World’s Favourite Colour

Instagram images for the World’s Favourite Colour

Instagram images for the World’s Favourite Colour

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How did you land your current job?
I was a client of G . F Smith of many years and became really good friends with Margaret Sweeney (director of business development). A few years ago Margaret took me on paper mill trip to see the Colorplan range being made. This was a defining moment for me; it was when I fell fully in love with G . F Smith! I had been at Mulberry for 10 years in total and was thinking about moving, but didn’t really know where or what to do next. 

I knew I didn’t want to sit at a Mac all day long anymore. I heard that the person who previously did my job at G . F Smith had left so I thought I would write a letter (on Colorplan paper of course) to John Halsam, the joint managing director, asking for a job rather than waiting for it be advertised. A couple of months later I had an interview with the board, and to my delight they offered me the job. I felt incredibly lucky but I think doing something a bit different like sending a handwritten letter rather than an email probably made the right impression (especially as we are a paper company!). 

I think the combination of my background as a client and with good knowledge of the products and graphic design helped me secure the role. We often teach new employees all about our products from scratch but, it really helps if you go into a job with an element of prior knowledge in that field – even if it just means obsessively researching the company and their work or products before you have an interview. That will only ever impress the right people!

Jo at work

How collaborative is your role? 
It’s 50% completely collaborative, with the other 50% spent with my head down getting through all the day-to-day things. I like this balance as I enjoy working with people and having quiet time in equal measure. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I would say my work-life balance is a bit unusual because I really enjoy hanging out with some of my colleagues and consider them friends. I find it hard to stop working sometimes because I enjoy it so much as there is always so much to do!

The least enjoyable tasks are perhaps fielding the large volume of sponsorship requests for free paper. We don’t really do that in most cases, so I have to turn people down in a friendly way. But I always explain why and normally still offer to support them and find that people are really happy to pay something in order to still use our papers. 

Sometimes I can spend ages helping someone as they need a lot of advice on the best papers for their project, but when I then give them a favourable cost after about 10 emails they don’t even reply because they wanted it for free! Luckily this happens quite rarely but I find that a bit challenging some days. 

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Launching Extract in November! This was my biggest ‘paper geek’ dream come true! Extract reuses upcycled coffee cups that would normally go to landfill or end up in the ocean. The message has real impact and meaning and there is a realistic action that everyone can take on board. Plus, the 10 colours are so beautiful and Made Thought designed the most unbelievably sublime swatch and Show Space take-over. It’s been the project of a lifetime to date really and I feel really proud of it.

“I went on a paper mill trip to see the Colorplan range being made. That is when I fell fully in love with G . F Smith!”

Installation with Made Thought in the Show Space; photography by Guy Archard

Marrs Green installation in the Show Space; photography by Guy Archard

Extract in the White Space; photography by Guy Archard

What skills are essential to your job?
Being organised; a creative thinker; a good problem solver; proactive; diplomatic(!); enjoy working collaboratively; love paper; love all things design and being committed to pushing our amazing brand forward – 1885 onwards!

Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
Not really but I do help friends all the time who I’ve met along the way. Lots of my Mulberry friends have gone on to work for other brands or have ended up starting their own companies or initiatives and often ask me to help them with design, print or paper advice. I’ve realised I could probably survive as a freelancer if I had to as I’ve acquired quite a lot of knowledge in these areas!

What tools do you use most for your work?
My MacBook Pro is indispensable. I use InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator all the time, although this would not be essential to my type of job necessarily – it just so happens that I picked up these skills as a graphic designer and am happy to use them daily. Also knowledge of ‘paper language’, print, finishing & retouching etc is pretty essential. 

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
At a very young age a pirate; and then a fighter pilot in my teens; and by sixth form a fine artist.

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
My parents both worked really hard and my Dad had his own business for about 40 years. He worked six days a week for all this time. This definitely had a good influence on me in instilling a good work ethic. They always made it clear that I would have to work, so I got a job as soon as I was old enough to be employed and always enjoyed being paid for it! My first job was a stable-hand at my local riding school. I got £1 an hour for shovelling horse manure and grooming the horses. I also got free lessons too so I learnt about skill swapping from a very young age and how beneficial that can be – I still do it all the time to this day!

“When I stepped in to the graphic design role at Mulberry, I lived every day in utter fear that I didn’t deserve it and that I wasn’t good enough.”

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role? Studying fine art allowed me to grow creatively, but I discovered that I could be academic and a thinker at Goldsmiths. Studying contemporary art history there was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but the best year of my life. 

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
When I stepped in to the graphic design role at Mulberry, I lived every day in utter fear that I didn’t deserve it and that I wasn’t good enough. The first year was definitely a baptism of fire. I was the only graphic designer, so there was no one to help with things like sending expensive jobs to print. I can’t believe I didn’t make more mistakes but I met some great account managers at a couple of good printers who really helped me and gave me a tonne of advice. Even though I was there for eight years, I wasn’t a ‘natural’ graphic designer and my skills were more diverse and varied. I needed to slightly change the direction of my career to accommodate that. 

Colorplan Colour Directions work

Colorplan Colour Directions work

Colorplan Colour Directions work

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What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’ve lived through the era of there being virtually no digital platform for a brand presence, to it being a main marketing tool. After joining G . F Smith I ironically realised the importance of the digital realm and we now have an astonishing 83k followers on our Instagram thanks to our digital brand coordinator.

I’ve learnt that if you work hard at something, it’s likely you will get noticed and then new opportunities will present themselves to you. Also, don’t put up with bad behaviour if you are on the receiving end; always deal with it professionally and articulately, but don’t become a wallflower if someone is making you really unhappy in the work place. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Not speaking up for myself and not putting myself forward enough because I lacked confidence! But sometimes, these things can only be learnt through experience; if you don’t make mistakes then you won’t improve as a human. Anyone who thinks they have never made a mistake is lying – they are just arrogant!

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
Yes and more! My job is everything I could have hoped for. 

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
My career goals for the near future are firmly set with G . F Smith and being a part of the amazing team who push our little brand from Hull forward. We have so much to do globally with Colorplan and maybe even selling Extract internationally. 

Could you do this job forever? 
At the moment, yes! But nothing is forever… certainly not me, and not even the planet!

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position? 
If you have the ambition, commitment, energy and opportunity then a head of brand or brand director. 

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work? 
Read all of my answers - there is a lot of advice in there!


This article is part of a studio feature on G . F Smith.

Posted 29 November 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Sophie Stafford
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Jo Pitts, G.F Smith, Mulberry, Made Thought, Studio Makgill
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