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Gemini People: The Insiders meets Pilgrim's Laura Auchterlonie

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Welcome to a series of interviews from DMA Awards talent partner Gemini People with brilliant creatives from around our brilliant industry. Today we meet Pilgrim’s creative director Laura Auchterlonie for a journey through her career.

Hello Laura! Can you tell us a little about your creative journey, and how you got to where you are now?

I’ve had a pretty varied career so far – and it’s changed as my interests and passions have changed too. I mean, whoever thought a packaging-designing-copywriting-art-directing-northerner would get a job as an integrated creative director?

I was a little geek as a kid. I absolutely loved the technical side of things, building stuff – although I originally wanted to become a weather girl.

Professionally I started out as a graphic and structural packaging designer. I designed beer fonts, whisky bottles, 12 types of dried potato SRPs – you name it, I worked on it.

But the first real turning point in my career was writing a series of positioning ads for a shoe chain. The client loved them so much that they ended up being my first ever press campaign and, lo and behold, I accidentally became an advertising copywriter.

“I then got rather obsessed with ideas that surprised people into buying things”

My integrated career took me to fantastic companies like Publicis and Iris. I had a bit of a detour into branding and digital while I worked in Canada, then it was back to Blighty and the world of retail, shopper marketing and social.

All these weird and wonderful experiences have really helped shape me in terms of being a creative director, as they’ve fuelled my passion and respect for lots of different creative fields.

So now I’m at Pilgrim Marketing as Creative Director – and it’s fantastic as I get to juggle multiple skillsets all over again.

You’re really involved with equality in the workplace: tell us a bit about your involvement with SheSays and how that’s impacted you as a creative director.

SheSays is the only global creative network for women and its crucial here in London.

Why? Because we’ve got such a wealth of young female talent at the moment, and giving them the chance to sound out ideas on how to progress in such an open way has been genuinely inspiring for me.

Helping people progress their careers is a real passion of mine, which is why I’m a mentor for the ‘Who’s Your Momma’ programme.

Being involved has been really eye-opening for me. Probably a lot of it has to do with the honesty side of it all (everything is totally confidential), but seeing talented young women so determined to progress is refreshing  - and it’s given me a hearty kick up the creative bum too.

Beyond SheSays, what are your thoughts on diversity and its importance to the wider agency world?

I think the creative world is changing fast – not just with technology, but also in its determination to become more diverse.

Is there still quite a way to go? Yes, but it’s now front of mind and there are so many brilliant people actively driving that change. But we need to keep talking about it, too – and reminding people that it’s our unique experiences that help put unique spins on our work.

As a female creative director who’s also gay, I’m incredibly proud of organisations like Who’s Your Momma, Creative Equals and PrideAM, because they’re driving the broader diversity agenda at speed. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to meet both Ali Hannan and Daniele Fiandaca – two industry trailblazers who are doing so much to help women in our industry – and they’ve been a true inspiration for me.

And if anyone fancies joining in and putting their money where their mouth is, head here and help young female talent get on the creative ladder.

How do you do, what you do?

Thanks to my design background, I often work as a hybrid art director/copywriter and bounce between thinking of positionings and concepts alongside copy and design - usually all at the same time. As for my approach, I like to feel totally free so come up with lots of ideas very quickly, then spend the time refining and pushing ideas further.

What are you like as a boss?

I like to be there for my team.

They’re the driving force of any agency and, as a creative director, I believe you need to help clear the path for them creatively.

“I look for great people who are hungry to learn.”

But I also love acting as a springboard for their ideas too – so I’ve always had an open door policy (even when I’ve not had a door) that meant anyone can come and test the waters or even bounce around new thoughts.

Again, that’s what my previous bosses used to do for me – and it’s something I’ve always been keen to do too for others.

How do you find the next brightest thing?

The same as it’s always been for me: I look for great people who are hungry to learn.

I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing senior people take chances on me throughout my career, and hire me even though I didn’t quite fit the standard job spec.

And so now I’m a firm believer that when you spot someone determined to learn and who has a real passion for what they do, you need to get them on your team.

So I’ve hired people who absolutely haven’t fitted the spec and have raised a few eyebrows at meetings, but they’ve flourished.

A lot of the agency initiatives I’ve come up with have been about helping them learn and develop their skills too.

“Also, in the same way I’ve had a lot of change in my career, I think variety helps creatives too.”

As well as not getting bored, variety also stretches us as creatives, gets us to think differently, spot and solve problems in unexpected and excited ways, and helps us love where we work even more.

Let’s talk about work that works. What’s catching your eye out there at the moment?

Okay, I’m going to blow our own trumpet now as our latest campaign for Champagne Lanson has just launched. Our specially designed tennis-themed neoprenes and ads celebrate the brand’s 40-year collaboration with Wimbledon. I’m especially chuffed as not only is Lanson an incredible brand to work on, but the concepts were a true collaboration between everyone at Pilgrim and one of my favourite clients.

But there have been heaps of incredible campaigns recently. JKR’s Heinz Beans limited edition cans and installation was stunning – a great idea, flawlessly executed. Tesco’s ‘food love stories’ just keep getting better and better. The whole campaign has a real charm to it and keeps drawing me in – I’ve even tried a few recipes. The McVities campaign is still a winner in my book. Kittens and chocolate – what’s not to love? But my benchmark for brilliance still has to be the Vinnie Jones British Heart Foundation ad by Grey.

Yes, it’s been around a while but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched its sneakily educational brilliance. Pure genius.

Great work deserves rewards. So what about industry awards? What do they mean to you?

I’m a firm believer in industry awards. While great creatives are really motivated by doing great work for great clients, recognition through awards add an extra shine to a job well done.

Have you heard of the DMA Awards?

Absolutely! As well as having an incredible range of categories, the DMA Awards also place emphasis on really looking at the results of a campaign. As a new agency, I know we’ll need to bring our creative a-game as well as proving any campaign’s success when we do enter – it’s a challenge Pilgrim’s more than ready for.

The DMA Awards are open for entries. Find out what to do and how, here.

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