The Brooklyn Brothers
Wed, 24 Mar 2021 09:55:01 GMT
Sarah is passionate about the power of creativity in transforming and growing brands. With over 15 years experience across a truly integrated mix, she has worked with some of the UK's best creative talent at Grey, Fallon, McCann and Momentum. Sarah is a long standing member of New Zealand Business Women's Association and a mentor for the Bloom network.
In my early twenties I was sent on a five day simulated pitch workshop with a bunch of my global peers across the agency network I worked for at the time. A group of people who have never met before were thrown together to attack a pitch brief and present back on the Friday to the client and agency leadership team. Think The Apprentice meets Mad Men (minus the cameras and martinis). My natural inclination was to step forward and get the group sorted in order for us to win. It was the context of doing it with strangers that allowed me to see it for myself.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a collection of wonderful female bosses over the years. All of them have inspired me in different ways at points in my career. I’ve taken a little bit from each of them for my own leadership style – confidence, resilience, empathy, fight. Equally - listening to the next generation about what’s important to them has inspired me to push the boundaries. I don’t want to be a leader that never shows vulnerability or can’t admit to getting it wrong. Being fallible and transparent shows people that they can relate to you, as well as look up to you.
Taking on the role of Managing Director at The Brooklyn Brothers at the very start of the pandemic was huge. Whilst I knew the agency, the clients and the people well having worked there for three years prior, the intensity of the situation was unexpected. What I learnt was that as a leader in the time of hardship and panic, it’s vital to stay confident, calm and consistent. A huge learning curve of a year.
I’ve always lived with an undeniable sense of wanting to progress. I thrive on being challenged. Whatever rung I’m on, I’m always pushing to be on the next one. I think the idea of leadership was a secondary motivation to me. Rather, I wanted to be the best creative business leader I could be. Which naturally takes you to places of running a team, running a department and eventually running an agency.
Leaders are people who have vision and can rally people and motivate them to move towards that vision. You can absolutely coach someone to explain their vision, to understand how to motivate people around them. But there’s a magic in why people will be influenced by some people that I don’t necessarily think is taught. Whether it’s because they relate to the person, or they are in awe of their intellect or the way they think. Or they are a brilliant orator. You can know all the theory of being a leader, but there is absolutely a huge role that personality plays in determining the likelihood people will listen and follow that person.
Leadership can be lonely. Knowing all the aspects of the issue and distilling the most motivating facts to share with the day-to-day team can leave you shouldering stress and anxiety about the future realities. For me, it’s about a brilliant leadership team around me to help make those decisions. And then, one or two individuals that you can lean on for emotional support as well.
Definitely! Failure is a vital part of the creative process in an agency like ours. I am passionate about constructing an environment in which everyone feels able to fail without fear. Ensuring your team feel supported to take risks means you have to be prepared for failure. There are definitely some things I would do differently based on my experience, but I only know that thanks to failing in the first place.
Someone once told me, “leadership is like ice cream – there’s many different flavours”. I think that’s true. Everyone has their own style. For me, yes, I definitely subscribe to a sense of openness and transparency. But that doesn’t mean that the next leader who is not those things isn’t equally brilliant and motivating for their team. For me, it’s just about bringing your authentic self to life in the way you lead. If that’s careful and considered – why not?
I’ve always worked with and been a mentor. Not specifically for leadership, just other men and women working in the creative advertising business. It’s hugely important to get advice from others who sit outside of the organisation you work for – people who aren’t your bosses with their own agenda in mind. Finding your networks early in your career really help to open those doors. For me, it was Bloom and the New Zealand Business Women’s network.
It’s been such a tough year, but we are thankful that our approach to marketing has been more in demand than ever. We believe earned-first advertising grows brands by ensuring that they rise above the noise and earn a place in culture. The strength and clarity of our offering has ensured the whole agency feel galvanised towards a north star, which has been vital during such choppy waters.
For me personally, the support from my family and my partner was vital. Calling for a chat or a zoom wine to unload with a friend or my dad to talk about the stresses of the week was really cathartic when I needed it. Having brilliant partners on the management team to feel supported, both personally and professionally was amazing. Keeping up regular exercise for my mental health kept me sane in the most busy and stressful of weeks.
For us at The Brooklyn Brothers, we refused to let this year’s challenges stop our own commitment to D&I. We ran the second year of Night School, virtually – a 7-week creative course offered to 17 young BAME people looking for a practical stepping stone in the creative advertising world. In addition to the course, we have continued to support the students by partnering them with industry mentors whilst they develop personal manifesto projects which will culminate in a virtual graduation this summer. In addition to this programme, we also launched the industry’s first social inclusion programme in partnership with the Financial Times, called News School. The two-week programme educated 28 young people about the business side of news media, with a series of interactive sessions led by experts from the FT, Guardian, Economist, Wall Street Journal, Spotify, Amazon, The Brooklyn Brothers and YouTube.
Culture is everything in creative agencies. I was fascinated about how the new starters - who had joined during virtual working - felt about our culture versus those that were used to our physical space being part of our culture. Amazingly, there is no difference in their read of what makes up the agency values versus those that were in the agency for years prior to working from home during COVID (apart from the distant lack of pub time together of course). Sharing information little and often with the whole agency has been vital in our regular Brooklyn Briefings. As has celebrating the wins by sending champagne to everyone’s house when we were shortlisted in Campaign’s Creative Agency of the year. And we liberated everyone in the agency to ‘do you’ which gave talent the support and flexibility to work in a way that worked for them and supported their individual situation and needs during these very tough times.
Hearing other people’s stories in business and creative industries is what inspires me. Creativity Inc, is definitely a favourite of mine – the story of Pixar and how it organised a commercial business around a truly creative product and business. Attending WACL talks and hearing women like Dame Stephanie Shirley tell her story of pioneering the progression of women in the IT World. Listening to Julia Guilard’s A podcast of one’s own where she interviews inspiring women about their view on the world, gives me great perspective on leadership from many different walks of life.