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Kate Sterling: Driving DDB Melbourne Into the Future

Advertising Agency
Sydney, Australia
The group MD talks to LBB’s Adam Bennett about the agency’s future, the ‘necessary evil’ of pitching, and the advice she wishes she heard sooner

In so many ways, we’re in an era of change in the creative industries. From the rise of the in-house model to the importance of big data, the future seems as hard to predict as ever.

For huge industry players like DDB, charting these waters is an enormous task. Do you stay true to your roots, do you adapt to forge a new identity, or can you do both? That’s the dilemma facing DDB Melbourne MD Kate Sterling.

To talk all things DDB, Kate spoke to LBB’s Adam Bennett.

LBB> Where do you see DDB at the moment, and how does that affect your role?

Kate> DDB is a strong, confident agency that is extremely clear about what it is and more importantly what it isn’t. We are a full-service creative agency but can also flex and tap into our specialist agencies (TRACK, Mango and Tribal) simply by walking across the hall. As managing director, having a strong sense of purpose and place helps enormously in how we collaborate and shape the definition of creativity.

LBB> At DDB, you've been tasked with driving a legacy agency into the future. How are you going about doing that? 

Kate> We are proud to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, meaning Bill Bernbach will continue to have a huge impact on how we shape ourselves as an agency. We will always believe creativity is the most powerful force in business. That said, I believe our role today is to ensure that our thinking harnesses creativity in all its forms. For me, that’s the exciting bit.

LBB> In the past, your CEO Andrew Little has spoken about the ‘necessary evil of pitching’. What’s your take on that? 

Kate> It may often feel like a necessary evil but there’s actually a lot that can be gained too. Yes, it can be exhausting but for us pitching has strengthened our management team, tightened our narrative, reminded us what we’re great at and brought the agency closer together.

LBB> How do you feel agencies can continue to add value to their clients in an era where brands are moving to more of an in-house model? 

Kate> Like any industry, agencies need to continually reassess where and how they can add greatest value given changing models. We have no doubt there will always be a role and place for agencies.

LBB> Growing up, was it always your plan to get into the ad industry? 

Kate> I’ve always been really interested in brands, how they position and behave in-market – and I love how advertising plays a really big role in helping shape and deliver that. 

LBB> Over your career, which do you feel was your most defining project, and why?

Kate> There’s been many defining moments but one that sticks out was helping to launch Virgin Mobile in India. Having led the Virgin business for three years in the UK, it was one of the most exciting and humbling projects I’ve ever had the privilege to lead. I felt enormous pressure and responsibility to harness the very essence of the Virgin brand and had the extra complexity of translating it for an entirely different market.

LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd received earlier in your career?

Kate> Breath and have fun. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the pace of it all you forget why you fell in love with the industry in the first place. 

LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions? 

Kate> Spending time with family and friends – it’s as simple (and as much) as that. 

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