Young Guns: BWM Dentsu Sydney senior strategic planner Caitlin Schuch

By AdNews | 28 November 2017
Caitlin Schuch

Our Young Guns profile takes a weekly look at some of the young talent across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles, people and companies across the buzzing industry.

How long have you been in the industry?

Eight years (can’t believe it’s been that long!) between the US and Australia.

Duration in current role/time at the company:

I’ve been at BWM since July 2016.

What were you doing before this job and how did you get this gig?

Before joining BWM, I worked on the dark side of media, as a strategist at Starcom. First in Chicago, then in Sydney, after craving a change of scenery with a little less snow. Then after three-plus years at Starcom Sydney I decided I wanted to have a go on the creative side.

Creativity can be hard to come by on the media side – I used to spend my Friday mornings forcing my media colleagues to spend 15 minutes performing one creative task or another, in an effort to build up their creative muscles. And it’s no wonder real creativity can be such a rare phenomenon in medialand – it’s next to impossible to convince a client to forego an effective yet traditional media plan in place of something untested and experimental. I wanted to go somewhere where there isn’t a fall-back plan, where at the end of the day you still need to come up with an idea and make something. And I also wanted to have more strategic conversations earlier in the process, when brands are being shaped and transformed, rather than further down the track once clients have already decided precisely what they want to do.

Define your job in one word:

Patterns. No matter what type of strategy you’re doing, the job is to see patterns and make connections that no one else thinks to make. It’s that simple, and it’s also that bloody frustrating.

What were your real and cliché expectations of working in the industry?

Where can I begin, as a media strategist only recently converted to creative? I once went along as a plus-one to a creative agency cinema screening hosted by a cinema advertising media vendor instead of the media agency screenings I was typically invited to. The media rep hosting the screening started her welcome by saying to a room of 99% creative agency people, “it’s great to be with the people who actually own the ideas!” My jaw dropped, and I jokingly responded to my mates, “oh so this is how you talk when the media guys leave the room?!” I look back on that with a bit of a laugh, because as surprised as I was at the time, it’s the reason I left media for creative. To be closer to the ideas and to the brands that require them.

How does the reality match up? 

Honestly, it is where ideas are born and live. No, they’re not always perfect, and they may not all be the ideas we aspired to, but at the end of the day, here we have to create something, come up with something, have an idea. Media agencies just can’t say that.

How would you describe what the company does and what does your role involve?

BWM Dentsu is a full-service creative agency and I am a planner. I take client briefs, author creative briefs, brief creatives and review work, but also work with clients to help craft higher-level brand strategies, business priorities and learning opportunities. Given my media background, I also do quite a bit of channel planning, working with media agency partners to map out exactly how, when and where a campaign will come to life.

Best thing about the industry you work in:

The mix of talent, the focus on creativity, and the passion for good work.

Any major hard learnings in the job so far?

It’s been interesting learning just how outcome-oriented the creative side is, compared to media. The quality of the final work produced is so much more important than any one person going above and beyond, or being great to work with, or doing their one job really well. This change in perspective has been an interesting shift for me to make – it further emphasises the need for me to stay committed to a brief long after I’ve finished with it. There is no hand-off here and there shouldn’t be, because if a strategy or idea gets lost or chipped away at along the way, then all involved are responsible. Suits and planners are just as responsible for delivering strong work as the creatives are, and that’s been a new and welcome change for me compared to my media agency past.

If you had to switch over to another department, which would it be and why?

Copywriting. I’ve met a few copywriters who would make good strategists and I reckon it might work the other way-round. 

What concerns you about the industry and its future?

Agencies are lumbering beasts these days; too big, bureaucratic and slow in the eyes our clients and history has not looked kindly upon the big and slow. It’s also too focused on short-term results. Just listen to Peter Field speak on the subject and anyone in our industry would be concerned. Fewer and fewer clients have the stamina and patience to allow for long-term brand-building, and this is leading to a steady chipping away to the value of ‘brand’ in the eyes of the board.

Who's your right hand person/who guides you day to day?

My planning team members are my collective partners-in-crime and sounding board. We’re an odd group of trouble-makers, none of us fans of the pie-in-the-sky planning so favoured by some of our compatriots. 

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in 2020 and how do you plan on getting there?

I’d like to collect a nice mix of hardware over the next three years – creative, planning & effectiveness. To get there I have to stay idea-hungry and problem-obsessed and fight the urge to get lazy.

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be.

Great work is getting rarer and rarer, and we’re simply not making or even recommending enough of it. The creation of truly great work – the “lightening in a bottle” as W+K’s Colleen DeCourcy would say – is up against so many barriers, and too often we blame it on clients, but agencies are just as much as, if not more, to blame for the rapid decline in genuine f*** me moments in advertising.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Outside. I find a walk around the block or a brief-writing session in the sun so much more inspiring than any trend report or wanky ad blog.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you?

I have the hobbies of a septuagenarian professor: I quilt, take pictures of birds, and make things for my cat.

Favourite advert is:

Dream for the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival. An incredibly brave and moving message, delivered with unparalleled craft, put to an exceptional track.

What’s your personal motto?

Look up. There’s a story behind it, but I’ll attempt the cliffsnotes version. It’s a story first told to me by a brilliant man that could be described as a spiritual mentor of sorts back in Chicago, about two women on holiday in California. They had rented pushbikes for a day and wanted to know from the manager of the bike rental shop which trails were the most scenic. One of the women asked him, “With respect to beauty, should we ride up through the mountains or down by the sea?” The man didn’t understand the question, so she repeated it. “With respect to beauty, should we ride up through the mountains or down by the sea?” He still wasn’t sure what she was getting at. “You’ve ridden these trails before, correct?” “Yes,” he replied, “hundreds of times.” Frustrated by this point, the woman asked one final time, emphasising every word with irritation in her voice: “Well, with respect to beauty, should we ride up through the mountains or down by the sea?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I never look up.”

I never want to be that man, who is so stuck in to what he’s doing that he can’t see the world around him – the forest for the trees – and doesn’t find any joy in the things he doesn’t every day.

I got into advertising/ad tech/marketing etc because:

I wanted to be a photojournalist but then decided being a photographer for a living would likely destroy my love for it as a hobby, so I went looking for an alternative within the Journalism College and stumbled into strategic communications. After meeting some amazing professors and mentors along the way, I decided to stick with it primarily because I enjoy the process of interpreting human and cultural contexts in order to identify and then solve all varieties of problems.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be:

Honestly? A dog trainer.

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