Young Guns: Sarah Barcatta McDougall at The Pistol

By AdNews | 16 February 2023
Sarah Barcatta McDougall

Young Gun profiles takes a look at the young talent across the Australian advertising, adtech, marketing and media sector. Aiming to shed light on the varying roles, people and companies across the buzzing industry.

Sarah Barcatta McDougall, technical project manager at digital solutions media agency, The Pistol.

Time at the company: 1.5 years

How long have you been in the industry?

I’ve been working in tech and digital marketing since I left university in 2018, and I’ve officially been working in the Project Management field for 4.5 years now.

How did you get here? Was this always the plan?

This was definitely not the plan! I studied a double degree, majoring in History and Genetics at university.

I loved the idea of becoming a scientist in theory, and I was super passionate about military history. However, it wasn’t until I did my research year that I realised the daily reality of the career path wasn’t for me.

I felt really isolated and creatively starved in that environment and I took the leap to not continue with post-grad and to start a whole new path!

I came across a digital marketing position on LinkedIn and it must have been fate. Taking the leap to switch career paths was the best thing I did, having found an industry that challenges me to use both my critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as allowing me to be creative at the same time.

Who is your right-hand person/who guides you day to day?

A super cliche one, but my partner.

My partner comes from a management position at Medibank and now owns a Body Fit Training (BFT) studio, and his role is both the client facing studio manager, but also all the behind the scenes day-to-day of managing a business as well. It’s really inspiring to see how he approaches his work, he’s really passionate about community and people first and this is something I really admire and aspire to.

It can sometimes seem like project management is centred around hard skills like documentation, time management, scoping etc. but I find that being a Project Manager is actually about people at its core.

Communication, understanding motivations, building relationships, creating trust and building rapport. These are the skills that are the most challenging yet most rewarding to develop, so I’m glad I have someone so close to me who is amazing at doing that and can always provide me alternative insight that helps me navigate when I need it.

What’s the best thing about the industry you work in?

I love how this industry is rapidly changing and growing. Just looking back at how different it is now compared to five years ago is amazing. There’s entirely new roles and positions that exist now that never did before.

Just the other day we had Dave King, founder of Move 37 and an award winning creator, inventor and innovator, come in to do a workshop on generative AI and we got to trial what it meant to be a “prompt engineer” and learn more about how generative AI is changing the face of our industry as we speak.

It’s really exciting to know that I’ll constantly be challenged to learn new skills and work on vastly different projects. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to work on building out a generative AI product?

And the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is the inverse to the best thing about this industry - it’s always changing!

A challenge isn’t necessarily a bad thing, staying curious isn’t necessarily the challenge, the challenge is how to channel that curiosity into tangible actions that can help you keep up with all the changes happening around us.

Something that was true and relevant six months ago might look totally different today, that’s of course part of the fun though.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I love that project management allows me to utilise both my technical brain and my creative brain, so I don’t see myself moving away from this, but I do see myself stepping into a more strategic or transformation focused role.

I love the prospect of taking what I’ve learned working on individual technology projects to drive change across a whole business.

It’s really fruitful to see the impact of months of work from you and your team on something. And it’s really exciting to think about focusing that effort and energy on one business and one goal over a long period of time, especially as it pertains to using technology to transform a business across every department and drive a true shift in thinking to a more digital/tech first mindset.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I can’t put my finger on a particular person or source, but generally anyone who thinks differently to how I think. I’m inspired by people who are able to attack a problem from an angle that I haven’t thought of, and I’m always keen to understand how or why they arrived at that idea.

I encounter these people at The Pistol every single day, everyone brings with them really unique perspectives and a rich background in knowledge and experience that is so different to me.

I find that when I get stuck in the weeds and have tunnel vision with a client strategy or a project related-problem, it’s always inspiring to ask for advice and have someone look at it with fresh eyes and come up with something left of field and yet totally brilliant - that is always a major ‘wow’ moment for me.

My favourite advert is:

A suuuuper popular one, the Cadbury Gorilla x Phill Collins ad. I remember watching this on TV every time it came on, and I watched it all the way through, every single time. It had nothing to do with chocolate, yet ironically, had everyone talking about Cadbury.

This was the brainchild of Phil Rumbol (Cadbury UK marketing director) who was helping the brand bounce back from a salmonella scare, and he said that it was the hardest thing he’s ever had to sell in his career, and despite how successful it was, I can see why.

I suppose as a kid it fascinated me how something so random and seemingly unrelated to Cadbury got greenlit by a bunch of the greatest marketing minds - except now looking at it with the experience I do have, I could only dream of working on such a bold concept.

I love the idea that we get to mix data, research, market insight and strategy with creativity, innovation, out-of-the-box thinking - it’s the best of both worlds and I think we all collectively do our best work at the intersection of those two areas. 

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

I am a total history buff, like on a level that would annoy most people if they got stuck at a dinner table with me and I got started on the topic. I grew up in a military household where we had an ANZAC Shrine and a shelf filled with history books and movies.

I was obsessed with learning all I could about military history, and then this spilled over into archaeology, ancient history and just about everything else you could think of. I majored in military history, and even though I didn’t pursue a career in it, I still love learning about it in my own time.

Also, I annoyingly curate all of my Spotify playlists and I have 70+ curated playlists for every possible mood or vibe you could think of - still waiting for my side hustle to kick off and to receive my first pay cheque from Spotify.

Whose job have you set your sights on in the future?

This is a good one! I don’t have a particular one in mind, but I know that I enjoy focusing on using tech to transform businesses.

I think with things changing so much, it’s really easy as a brand to be overwhelmed by the amount of things you could be doing, so much so that you end up trying to do 30 things at once and getting lost in the noise of it all.

Being involved in transformation strategy, from identifying business goals, research, prioritisation, creating a roadmap, building out supporting infrastructure, driving a change mentality within the internal team and beyond - the idea of being a part of the legwork to turn this chaos into clarity is really exciting for me.

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