Creative Lives — Moving in interesting directions, not just the ‘right’ one with Mother strategist, Shaun Murphy
After realising that he couldn’t take a degree in basketball, Shaun Murphy soon turned his attention to law. “It didn’t really help out with my ball skills”, he says, “but it was a decent pathway into advertising.” Now a strategist at Mother London, he spends his time coming up with interesting solutions to brand problems. Currently at work on campaigns for KFC, every brief is a chance for Shaun to produce great work, and push a brand in brave new directions – including making gravy-based cocktails. Here, he looks back on the start of his career, early jobs and how how having a supportive network benefitted his first steps into industry.
Strategist, Mother London (2015–present)
Junior Strategist, BBH (2014)
MSc Management (Marketing and Branding), Brunel University (2012–2013)
LLB Bachelor of Laws, Queen’s University, Belfast (2008–2012)
Shaun [right] at work
How would you describe your job?
It’s our role to provide strategic direction on client accounts on a day-to-day basis, making sure the work we create is both of high quality and does good by what the client needs. Often this involves a lot of mediating between different groups involved to push things forward in the right direction, whether it’s in creative reviews, presentations, or workshops. But the biggest part of how we add value in these situations is by offering a fresh perspective on the task at hand, or a new way of looking at a problem, to make sure we aren’t just moving in the right direction, but also an interesting direction that will lead to great work.
What does a typical working day look like?
My typical working day usually starts with a walk into work. When I joined Mother I made a conscious decision not to live somewhere where I needed to take the tube, for all the reasons you’d expect.
“An essential skill is convincing people that the more interesting solution is the right one, even if it’s the harder one to buy.”
My day is often quite varied. You could be doing anything from running workshops, to writing creative briefs, to writing decks for presentations, to working on strategic thought pieces for clients. How many of these tasks you do in one day usually dictates the work hours!
What do you like about working in London?
Working in one of the best cities in the world, with people from all over the world. I think the combination of these two things is what makes working here great. I can’t think of many downsides, except for the tube in rush hour.
How did you land your current job?
I was interviewing for new jobs following my first start in advertising. I got an initial interview with Mother through a recruiter, where I met Katie Mackay-Sinclair and Chris Gallery, the joint heads of strategy.
How collaborative is your role?
Mother has a very collaborative culture. Strategists tend to work closely with creatives to help shape the work, and you spend a lot of time working with clients. Likewise for other departments, for example Mothering (our version of account management) and creative, everyone is naturally strategic, which means everyone inputs into strategic decisions.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable part of the job is working on interesting things, with interesting people every day. Then, the least enjoyable aspect of the job can be the hours you work. But that comes hand-in-hand with the most enjoyable part.
Inside the studio
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Not one particular project, but the work we are doing on KFC at the minute is helping to modernise their brand, and making them relevant to a younger audience, has been great to be a part of.
Every brief is a new challenge, and comes with a lot of potential to make great work. For the last campaign we worked on, we launched a range of KFC gravy cocktails which captured a lot of attention here and across the pond; that was a lot of fun.
What skills are essential to your job?
Listening and empathising with people. Coming up with interesting solutions to problems. Convincing people that the more interesting solution is the right one, even if it’s the harder one to buy. Being able to move on quickly if people aren’t buying that interesting solution. Getting stuff done quickly.
What tools do you use most for your work?
My Mac, and the odd book you can’t find on Google.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to play basketball. They didn’t do a degree in it so I went for law instead. Turns out law didn’t really help out my ball skills, but it was a decent pathway into advertising. I’m still hopeful I’ll achieve the first one.
What were your first jobs?
I washed cars all summer when I was 11 to pay for my first MP3 player. £5 a car, 12 cars a week. I didn’t get around to creating a company name in the end, I wish I had.
Was there anything in particular that helped your development at the start of your career?
I’ve been lucky to have a lot of nice, talented people mentor me and have my back over the last few years. I think it's important for everyone to have that kind of support at the start of their career, potentially even more important than where you work.
“I don’t think any job should feel easy, you’ll quickly get tired of it.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
During my first three-month internship in advertising, I lived in about five or six different places, moving every few weeks. That can be quite a hard thing when you’re trying to focus on working hard and getting a job. Fortunately I got it, so it was worth it. But I count myself lucky I had the right support base throughout that time, I’m sure people go through a lot worse.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
It’s definitely way more interesting at the right times. I still think it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and will be for some time I hope. I don’t think any job should feel easy, you’ll quickly get tired of it.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?
Be interested, work hard, keep the chin up, have fun.