Creative Lives — Kate Barker, marketing director at 18 Feet & Rising
Finding herself in a dissatisfying account management job at the age of 22, law school graduate Kate Barker postponed her path in advertising to follow her dreams of performing. Embarking on a six-year stint as a cabaret artist, she was quickly rewarded with fierce entrepreneurial skills, strengthened confidence and “a load of business experience”. Transferring her talents to her new role as marketing director at London-based agency 18 Feet & Rising, Kate shares her unlikely route to mastering the art of marketing and new-business planning.
Marketing Director, 18 Feet & Rising (January 2017–present)
Marketing Manager, Havas Media Group (2014–2016)
Cabaret performer (2007–2014)
Account Executive, Y&R (2007–2008)
Account Executive, Wieden+Kennedy (2007)
Account Executive, McCann Erickson (2006)
LLB Law, Bristol University (2002–2005)
Inside 18 Feet & Rising’s London office
How would you describe your job?
I lead the marketing of the agency, whether that’s managing the new-business process, meeting prospective clients, intermediaries, trade bodies or the press.
What does an average working day look like?
It always involves coffee, emails and some creative and mental jazz hands. New business dominates a typical day and includes drafting an RFI (Request for Information) for a potential client or intermediary, which involves writing a proposal for a potential client with relevant case studies and our capabilities. I get to work with designers on this as we design it bespoke for the client, so it’s really fun to see it come together. I’ll also often have a meeting or prepare for a presentation, meet our PR company about upcoming media plans, and take time to keep up with industry press to think about the bigger business picture.
I work 9am to 6pm, with a couple of later nights thrown in, especially when there is a pitch on. Sometimes there are incredibly busy periods and it does cut into your personal time, but there are also quieter weeks where you can recover and catch up.
How did you land your current job?
Through Major Players [a recruitment agency].
Where does the majority of your work take place?
I’m mostly based in the office – it’s really important I work closely with my colleagues, as it’s their skills I’m representing. Another important part of the job is networking, be that at industry events, award shows or meeting journalists and potential clients.
How collaborative is your role?
I think you’ve got to be naturally entrepreneurial for a new-business role, so being a self-starter is essential. However, pitches are incredibly collaborative – it’s great as to see the best of everyone’s strategic and creative thinking. I sit with our CEO and strategy partner and work closely with our ECD [executive creative director] to share knowledge and ensure all new-business strategy is aligned with company strategy.
“When I returned to advertising I did so without regrets and with a bunch of new skills. There’s no way I’d be as good at my job now if I hadn’t learnt so much about connecting with people.”
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The disappointment of not winning a pitch is tough. Everyone gives it so much and sometimes it just doesn’t come off. But that tension is also what makes it so exciting when you win. You’ve just got to dust yourself off, learn and keep going. Being an eternal optimist helps.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We’ve teamed up with Ocean Outdoor and the charity for elephants Space for Giants on an incredibly ambitious digital project which will run across in Hong Kong, New York and the UK on some of the largest outdoor screens in the world. It’s really technically ambitious as it involves a virtual herd of elephants. I’m helping on the PR side and I can’t wait to see it launch and watch people interact with it.
What skills are essential to your job?
Confidence – not just in what you’re selling but also in yourself. To be a success in a marketing role you’ve got to be creative to spot opportunities and truly understand your company’s offering. So a great knowledge of how the industry works and a good understanding of how to handle potential clients is key.
Inside 18 Feet & Rising’s London office
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A investigative reporter like Lois Lane.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Law involves a lot of analytical thinking and evidence-based research, and I also did ‘mooting’ at university, which is court-style debating. New-business pitches are not unlike a court case; in order to win, you have to back up your experience with examples of your company’s work and strategy and then sprinkle some magic on top.
What were your first jobs?
I did a few internships in my university breaks, including the Publicis summer school, which led to being hired as an account executive at McCann Erickson and Wieden+Kennedy.
Was there anyone or anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
Grant Theron, who was my account director at McCann Erickson – my first advertising job. Not only was he a great boss but he knew, when I was 22, that my heart wasn’t in account management and encouraged me to go off and try new things. I went and became cabaret performer and returned to advertising on the marketing side with a load of business experience.
“New-business pitches are not unlike a court case; in order to win, you have to back up your experience with examples...and then sprinkle some magic on top.”
What skills have you learnt along the way?
The organisational, business, production and presentation skills I learnt in cabaret have been invaluable for my role.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Because I didn’t enjoy account management, I started to think advertising wasn’t for me, but it was the role I didn’t like. My advice would be to get close to other departments to understand what they do when you’re starting out. It’s easier to change departments than you think.
Could you do this job forever?
I think I could stay in the new-business field forever, as it’s constantly changing and continues to be challenging.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I’d love to become CMO [chief marketing officer] one day, and help build a big team.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a marketing director?
I think it’s a great idea to move around when you are young, to see different agencies, processes and ways of working – even different industries. I left account management to follow my creative dream, which was performing. It meant that when I returned to advertising when I was 29, I did so without regrets, with a bunch of new skills, and a life well-lived. There’s no way I’d be as good at my job now if I hadn’t run my own business and learnt so much about connecting with people.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on 18 Feet & Rising.