The copywriter at Leo Burnett Sydney tells LBB’s Natasha Patel about leaving a small town for the big city with no job lined up and eventually walking into the advertising industry and not looking back
As a small-town girl who grew up in an area on the fringes of New South Wales, Megan Smith views her early years as the perfect catalyst for what would become a career in advertising. The copywriter at Leo Burnett has had stints working in social media, editorial and marketing before taking the leap to the ad side.
But she knew from an early age that her persuasive nature was a sign of things to come: “Looking back on myself as a child it’s not surprising at all that I’ve ended up in advertising, I always loved writing, art, being creative, and forcing my thoughts and ideas onto people who didn’t want to listen... It's a pretty good match.”
After leaving the small town of Warialda – where she finished high school with just 16 other students in her year – Megan moved to Sydney with two thousand dollars to her name and no job lined up. “As much as I appreciate growing up there retrospectively, after school I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring the world. I can’t believe I didn’t die. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m still in Sydney all these years later.”
Despite living in the city many years later, Megan never takes one moment of her career for granted and instead thanks her upbringing for teaching her to think outside of the box to make her a “resilient and resourceful creative”.
“I think being from rural Australia gives me a slightly different insight, I’ve had to work incredibly hard to get where I am and I never take my opportunities for granted because I know how rarely they come along for a lot of people. Growing up in the country instils a certain toughness in you and definitely helps put things into perspective when things feel rough.”
Shortly after settling in to Sydney, Megan took a gap year where she explored her options before enrolling at the Macquarie University for a degree in Media. “I loved my time at uni and I quickly figured out I wanted to write, so I focused my studies on media theory, non-fiction writing, gender studies and anthropology. In my final year I was the web editor of Grapeshot Magazine, Macquarie’s uni mag, and I took care of editorial for the site. It was the first time I’d found a job I really clicked with, and decided I wanted to write online and make content for a living.”
This led to a job at a boutique agency as social media manager before Megan left to join a small business and go on a “national vlogging tour”. “I was working as a live event production assistant, tweeted, Facebooked, ‘grammed and Snapchatted for major beauty brands and generally had the time of my life. After that I had a two-year sojourn in women’s fashion as a social media and content editor where I Boomerang’d some of the best fashion talent in the biz, ran over 15 social accounts (yes, at the same time) and took home a lot of free clothes.”
After a final stint in hospitality marketing Megan walked into Leo Burnett and hasn’t looked back. “My long list of skills on my resume has given me a fascinating lens into advertising. I never thought I’d end up as an advertising creative, so having dipped my toe in other waters gives me a little bit of an advantage in an interesting way.”
Her years at Leo Burnett have been peppered with plenty of stand out moments from a marketing campaign for Captain Morgan to working with professional athletes to highlight the importance of mental health. But Megan’s personal highlight has been one that helped her create a human story.
“I was super honoured a few months ago to be the copywriter for the Minderoo Foundation’s Walk Free video content series about the greatest feminist issue of our time - modern day slavery. When I found out that one in 130 women and girls around the world are trapped in the cycle of slavery, I just knew that the work had to be impactful and hopefully trigger viewers to feel invested in the lives and stories that so many women and girls are suffering through silently. I have never been prouder of my work and my team. It inspired me to always try and think bigger and to always find the human story, so we can help to amplify and empower.”
When looking at the state of the industry Megan believes that change needs to happen to give young creatives a voice. “I feel very strongly about elevating the status of social creatives. I think we can quite often get overlooked in the industry because a lot of veteran creatives love the traditional way of thinking about and working on ads.”
That’s not where she believes the industry should stop evolving and with a rise in social media consumption comes, in Megan’s opinion, a whole new market to tap in to - if it’s done the right way. “Using social media as a cheap and fast way of advertising just isn’t going to be a cohesive long-term plan, prioritising social needs to be THE plan. I can’t tell you the last time I saw an ad on TV that resonated with me, but the 15 second ads I get on socials are usually spot on with my interests and buying patterns. For me, there’s no competition.”
With such a firm stance on media consumption it's no surprise then that Megan turns to Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest happenings in the industry. She’s also an avid Pinterest user because, in her words, do you even work in advertising if you don’t have Pinterest?
Outside of work the creative is a TV lover, Sudoku expert and author of an “inconsistent but nevertheless fun newsletter”. For someone who doesn’t look forward to the part of her job where feedback on briefs takes a while to come through, having ways to occupy herself is a great way to assuage any guilt she has when looking at her timesheets.
Megan’s aim in the industry is to bring a sense of newness and storytelling to some of Australia’s best loved brands and despite getting into situations where she felt as though the world was crumbling beneath her feet, it didn’t and instead gave her new and innovative ways to get around her work. “There’s never going to be a guidebook on how to do everything correctly and perfectly right away - especially creatively. You just have to dive in head first and try your hardest.”