Creative Lives — “Be kind, patient and gracious” Why relationships are vital to Studio Makgill’s project manager Roxy Rafter

Posted 16 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

After graduating from Kingston’s Fine Art course in 2005, Roxy Rafter spent six years building up contacts and industry experience across a range of companies including the Oscar-winning visual effects company, The Mill. She then left London in 2013 to live and work by the sea for the Brighton-based Studio Makgill. Joining a team of five as project manager, she has since worked with clients G.F Smith, U+I and Nike. Roxy chats with us about 27” wide Google spreadsheets, having a good sense of humour and keeping people at the heart of projects. 

Roxy Rafter

Job Title

Project Manager, Studio Makgill (2013–present)

Location

Brighton

Previous Employment

Freelance at Electric Theatre Collective (2013)
Rouge Films (2010–2011)
The Mill (2006–2009)
London College of Communication, University of the Arts London (2009)

Internships:
Purple PR (2004)
Norman Foster & Partners (2002) 
Ridley Scott & Associates (2001)

Education

BA Fine Art, Kingston University (2002–2005)

Social Media

Inside Studio Makgill

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
While my official title is ‘project manager’ I also have roles and responsibilities similar to that of an account, studio and finance manager. I look after everything from company staffing to company cash flow. We’re a small agency, so I carefully spin a lot of different plates. 

What does a typical working day look like?
I am fortunate enough to live a 15 minute walk away from the studio in the heart of Brighton. When I get to work, it’s heads down while I blast through emails to action them as quickly and efficiently as possible. When my inbox is in a good place, I update our project Trello boards so the designers are clear on what they are working on and to what deadline. My average day involves talking to clients over email and telephone as well as working closely with Hamish across all areas of the business. 

On Monday mornings I also hold a production meeting with everyone to go through all our projects, their individual statuses and associated deadlines. On Friday mornings I’ll also update everyone on where we’re at and what’s left to do before we leave the studio. That way we’re all working to the same Friday deadline – 5pm drinks.

“We’re a small agency, so I carefully spin a lot of different plates.”

How did you land your current job? 
I lived and worked in London for six years before I saw the job at Studio Makgill advertised on the It’s Nice That jobsboard. Living and working in London is something every creative should experience; it’s where I built up my industry experience and contacts, which opened the door to work for great agencies like Studio Makgill.

I had my interview at an independent coffee shop here in Brighton that we’ve since designed the brand identity for! It consisted of some standard (typically awkward) work-related questions, one flat white and some banter with Hamish. 

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
I spend most of my day staring at my monster 27” iMac. Imagine 27” wide Google spreadsheets for a moment. I’m also out of the studio on average once a week to meet with new or existing clients. Most of our clients are based in London but I have travelled as far as Germany to visit clients.

Studio Makgill’s work for G.F Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Studio Makgill’s work for G.F Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Studio Makgill’s work for G.F Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Studio Makgill’s work for G.F Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

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How collaborative is your role?
We are a small team of six, so it’s easy for me to catch up with the team throughout the day. I work closely with Hamish across all areas of the business on a daily basis. He has the pleasure of sitting next to me and being distracted regularly. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable part of being a project manager is the relationships I make with our clients. Studio Makgill has some fantastic clients, including G.F Smith who I adore.

The least enjoyable part is when your team is stressed or overloaded with work or tight deadlines. This can’t always be avoided, but I work hard to ensure the workload and project scheduling is carefully considered and spread evenly across the studio.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The G.F Smith Gmund Applied promotion and launch was a fantastic project to see come to life. We designed so many brilliant things for three UK launches. It consisted not only of the gorgeous printed promotion, but German beer tankards, invitations, artwork for live letterpress, tote bags – you name it.

Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance? 
Hamish has created a business that encourages everyone to have a healthy life-work balance. I have worked in so many companies where the subtle game of “who is going to work the latest” was continually being played. This game isn’t being played at Studio Makgill.

What tools do you use most for your work? 
Trello, Teamweek, Slack, Harvest, Xero, Google Drive

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
0 to 11 years old: an actress
12 to 23 years old: a music video director 
24 years old to present: happy.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
At university I studied Fine Art with a focus on film and photography. I then went on to work in advertising for six years. Neither were that relevant to graphic design but it didn’t matter because my passion, knowledge and experience in these creative sectors was still relevant to what I could bring to Studio Makgill.

What were your first jobs? Did you do an internship?
I did a broad range of internships while at college and university. Internships are a fantastic way to figure out what industries and companies you are suited to. They give you a rich insight into a company and their respective industry cultures. 

“Living and working in London is something every creative should experience; it’s where I built up my industry experience and contacts.”

Sony ‘Paint’ project Roxy worked to promote while at The Mill

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career? 
Working for The Mill (an Oscar-winning visual effects company) kick started my career. Once they were on my CV it opened doors to other fantastic companies. Aim high – once you have a well-respected company or brand on your CV it will open doors. Trust me.

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
The most challenging and rewarding project I’ve worked on was the It’s Nice That 2014 Annual. We designed and delivered a 300 page book and the supporting website in just 4 months. We’re very proud of this body of work. So was D&AD – they awarded us a pencil for it!

“I have worked in so many companies where the subtle game of ‘who is going to work the latest’ was continually being played. This game isn’t being played at Studio Makgill.”

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
I’ve worked at Studio Makgill for almost four years now but I’m continually learning on the job. My skill set and industry knowledge grows with my client’s business objectives and the growth of the studio.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Believing anything Ollie (our design director) tells me. When I first started at the studio he convinced me that Hamish didn’t pay regularly; if he did you had to meet him at the nearby coffee shop where he would hand over your wages in cash and inside a brown paper bag. And more often then not it wasn’t the full amount owed. I completely fell for it. Four years on I’m still an easy target for Ollie’s wind-ups. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?
My role is much more diverse then I could have imagined. It has grown beyond my original my job description; that’s the nature of working in a small company.

Roxy at work

Thinking Ahead

Could you do this job forever?
It was always a life goal to live in Brighton and work for a great creative agency. I am now living the dream – working and living by the sea. It would be a hard push to walk away from the life-work balance that Studio Makgill allows me to have.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I’d like to stay and grow with Studio Makgill. But if I was going to pursue a new opportunity elsewhere the natural progression would be an account director role focussing on large revenue grossing clients and maintaining and retaining large client relationships.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a project manager?

If goes without saying that if you want to be project manager (or any kind of manger within the design industry) you need to not only be organised and efficient, but have a good sense of humour. This is key when working with designers and building client relationships. 

Also spend some time finding project management tools that work best for you and your team, whether this be a particular software or apps. Don’t be afraid to try several until you find the right one(s) that work for you and your team.

Be kind, patient and gracious to all your suppliers and freelancers. These relationships are vital to a project management role. Keep them on side.

This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Studio Makgill

Posted 16 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: by Hannah Mornement
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design
Mentions: Studio Makgill, The Mill, Roxy Rafter
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