Built on the foundations of VICE Media Group, the creative agency Virtue has always drawn on its entertainment DNA to help brands engage audiences through culture. Award-winning work like Carlings - ‘adDRESS the Future’ and Google Chrome - ‘Don’t Be a Browser’ demonstrate how the agency helps brands add to the world and culture they want to be a part of — not distract from it. More recent work for Johnnie Walker and Lovehoney further prove its pedigree there.
But while the VICE roots of the agency go deep, Virtue is full of characters from backgrounds in more conventional creative shops. Susan Pratchett, who was appointed in 2020 as managing director of Virtue Europe, has worked at atop agencies around the world. Now based in Amsterdam, most recently she was at Droga5 New York where she was the business lead on the global partnerships for Facebook and JP Morgan Chase. Before moving to New York, she was based in London as managing partner at Grey London for over five years. Her career has also taken her to Colenso BBDO in New Zealand, LOLA MullenLowe in Spain, Ogilvy & Mather, Lowe & Partners and EURO RSCG in London.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Susan to find out more.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were there any clues then about the business you'd end up in?
Susan> I grew up in New Zealand, which is a pretty great place to be a kid. I was always interested in creative writing at school, and being pretty shy I always loved reading and losing myself in books. So I guess it makes sense that I was drawn to a career where people are using their imagination every day.
I think New Zealanders are generally pretty nomadic by heart, and most of us travel and spend time exploring overseas; I was always drawn to the energy of big cities and creative communities, which is where I’ve spent most of my career.
LBB> What were your first experiences working in advertising? What do you remember most vividly about that time?
Susan> The first agency I worked at was Colenso BBDO in Auckland, New Zealand, which really set the bar for me in advertising. The advertising and marketing community in New Zealand and Australia is so brilliant because it’s fearless; they’re unafraid to try new things.
Colenso in particular is a place where creativity is in its DNA, and there was always a good spirited desire to push things just that bit further. I think that really framed my whole mindset and approach to creativity; and I’ve looked for that in all the agencies I’ve worked at since.
LBB> What experiences early in your career taught you the most?
Susan> I was lucky enough to be part of the team that launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
in the very early days, and that helped me understand what a powerful tool creativity is – that it can actually transform the way a business behaves and generate real change and results.
And that experience on Dove also taught me perhaps the most important lesson of all: you can’t make great work without a great client. A shared ambition and vision has to be at the heart of everything you do.
LBB> You've worked for various network agencies in your time, including Colenso in New Zealand, LOLA in Madrid and a long stint at Grey in London – then three years at Droga5 NY. What were the biggest differences in how things were done across those business cultures?
Susan> I’ve been really lucky to have experienced so many different countries and cultures over the course of my career. It’s helped me shape how I think about creativity, problem solving and the importance of diverse voices and perspectives. But despite the different agencies and markets, there are more similarities than there are differences; because I think the one thing that all of those agencies have had at their heart is the belief in the power of creativity.
LBB> What attracted you to Virtue last year?
Susan> The opportunity at Virtue was really a case of the stars aligning for me. Virtue has such a unique position in the market – all the benefits of being an independent creative agency, but with the power and capabilities of VICE Media Group behind us.
And the fact that the role has a focus across London, Amsterdam and Berlin was really the ‘icing on the cake’. I’ve always loved the creative culture and community of those countries, and it’s been such a great way to get myself immersed back into the European creative community.
LBB> Now that you've settled in a bit, what are you most excited about moving forward?
Susan> 2022 feels a lot like a coming of age for Virtue. With a really strong team in place across Europe, I’m excited about really starting to scale the unique proposition that Virtue can offer brands, and bringing that to life through the work – transforming brands from inside culture. That’s what our strongest work has always done, and this year is about doing that at scale.
LBB> On a day-to-day basis, how does being part of VICE affect the way you work as a creative agency?
Susan> Being part of VICE gives us a really unique perspective; it allows us to bring together the strategic and creative expertise of a creative agency, with direct access to a culturally influential audience through the VICE Media Group and the ability to look ahead via the journalists, editors and collaborators that see and shape culture. So we’re not just reflecting culture back in our thinking, but making ideas that actively shape it, that are embedded and part of it. That gives us a fresh perspective on how to help brands navigate through an ever-changing world, and find them new ways to matter.
LBB> Finding, nurturing and retaining talent is a key priority for so many creative businesses right now. What are the biggest challenges in that space as you see it?
Susan> The past couple of years have forced a reset. The ‘one size fits all’ approach that the industry has had for so long just doesn’t work anymore.
We’ve got to recognise and work with the changing needs of our people – everything from how we use the office, to flexibility around how and when we work. It’s also about stronger support systems within the business – more structured mentorship programmes for people coming into the industry, and getting better at feedback and recognition.
I think we’ve also got to move past the mentality of people being either permanent or freelance (lots of people don’t fit into one or the other) and recognising the value they can bring and reflecting that in the way we build our teams brings new diversity and flexibility into the way we do things.
And finally I think we have to show our values everyday; it’s not just about our internal culture, but the clients we choose to partner with; shared values and goals have never been more important.
LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you inspired and/or energised?
Susan> I love exploring, whether that’s locally or travelling – anything that pushes me a bit out of my comfort zone. I’m a big reader as well. I find it really hard to concentrate on TV and movies – my double or triple screening habit means I generally have absolutely no idea what is going on, but I can get completely lost in a book.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from my school friends, a lot of whom are still in New Zealand. I’m constantly amazed by their entrepreneurial spirit, and how bold and fearless they are in following their dreams.