Catherine Merritt is described on Spool’s website as a problem solver with global agency pedigree and startup hustle. After achieving her goals at one of the world’s largest PR firms, she went it alone to create a different kind of agency.
Let’s find out more about what Merritt’s day-to-day looks like…
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Catherine Merritt: I’m the CEO and founder of Spool, a marketing agency. I founded Spool because while I believe the world definitely doesn’t need another marketing agency, I believe it needs a new kind of agency. We offer our people flexibility, great compensation for exceptional work and have grown our client base because they trust us as partners.
So what do I do? I put the IKEA filing cabinets together and I build strategic mission and vision…and everything in between. I work with all of our clients in a strategic role, I build each client a bespoke team of experts and then empower the teams to run and deliver on what our clients need and remain involved in all our accounts.
I also work to build Spool’s operational structure so we can scale to keep up with the growth we’re experiencing. Figuring out models and ways for us to work remotely and flexibly. I am also working to find other ways to harness and leverage Spool’s brain trust. Right now we’re exploring the idea of making some investments in clients in addition to supporting them through our marketing services. So it’s a lot, but I absolutely love it and every morning I come into work excited and grateful to be exactly where I am.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Catherine Merritt: As the CEO and founder of Spool, and self-funded (i.e. no debt or investment) I am able to answer to myself. However, the people at Spool are so brilliant, inspiring and motivating that I really work to learn as much from everyone around me.
We don’t operate in a traditional hierarchal model; our people are all senior level and we all have agreed (and even signed a pledge) that we will not bring, nor tolerate ego, and it makes for a very collaborative and creative environment. I have learned more from my colleges in the past year than the past 10 years at past jobs.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Catherine Merritt: We have a pledge we ask everyone at Spool to sign, and I’ll share it as it describes not only my skills, but those of everyone part of Spool:
- Collaborative thinker
- Team focused collaborator
- Driven and passionate
- Flexible yet self-disciplined
- Bold yet supportive
- Hard worker and initiative taker
- Genuine and honest
- Thoughtful listener
- Smart and efficient
- Enjoy doing the work
- Looking for interesting work
- Comfortable with uncertainty
- Confident in your skill set
- Interested in learning from others
- Able to leave your ego at the door
- Interested in building something together
Tell us about a typical working day…
Catherine Merritt: As a mom of two young boys, usually the first thing I do when I get into the office is take a deep breath, pour a big cup of coffee and center as I look forward to starting the day. From there it really depends on the day and what we’re working on. Currently we have a global client we’re developing and launching a new product for. So mornings start early so we can have calls with clients in London. I always try to set up time to connect with colleagues in other offices around the country so we’re staying connected despite geographic barriers.
What I love about every day at Spool is that there’s this 1-to-1 equation for energy and impact. By that I mean, no matter what I am spending my time, or energy on, there’s something that comes out of it. I left my old agency role because it felt like the amount of time spent to achieve one deliverable or make any impact was too top-heavy. At Spool, we’re designed to be lean, efficient and effective.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Catherine Merritt: I LOVE our people. I am surrounded by so much brilliance, kindness, creativity and I try to soak it all in every single day. I also love working with our clients and solving real business challenges and helping them grow. What sucks is having total imposter syndrome and waking up each morning convinced that this is the day everyone is going to realize I don’t know what I’m doing! Ha! But seriously! I am charting new territory with Spool, there’s truly not another agency out there like us, so I’m building the plane while I’m flying it, and if I really think about it, it can feel very daunting.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Catherine Merritt: Two very simple goals: growth in people that we can bring on as part of Spool and growth in our client (and revenue) base. And both are thriving. There are of course many other layers below that, but at the end of the day, we need to uphold growth in those two areas for us to keep up the momentum/
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Catherine Merritt: Since many of our people are remote, we use Hangouts instead of conference calls; it helps to see people when we talk to them, especially if some of us have not met in real life. We also use Basecamp for EVERYTHING. It’s our shared drive, it’s our portal, our project management tool, our team chat tool…it’s everything. We use a lot from the Google suite of products and then we try to keep it simple and not too complicated. Of course we have other tools we use for clients (research, databases, consumer insights, etc…) but the lynchpins to keeping Spool moving are Basecamp, Hangout and Google suite.
How did you end up founding Spool, and where might you go from here?
Catherine Merritt: Back in 2016, I was at the height of my career, an SVP at the fifth largest global PR agency and the head of its Consumer Practice. I was at a level I’d been busting my butt to reach my whole career and guess what? I hated it!
Around this same time I was riding the train one day to work and heard the founder of Boston Brewing, Jim Koch, on a podcast. He said something that has stayed with me ever since and it was one of those moments of inspiration that changed everything for me. “There’s a difference between scary and dangerous. There are things in life that are scary, but not dangerous, but we’re scared of them. And then there are things that are dangerous, but not scary. And those are the real problem. Those are the issue.” Long story short- I quit my agency job, took a leap of faith and started consulting. As my consulting work took off, I kept saying “yes” to new clients and then assembling teams behind the scenes to help work on it. I was amazed (shocked, actually) by the caliber of talent who like me, left their last agency to strike out on their own. The only problem is that everyone seemed to be on their own island. SO I launched Spool to work as a fully integrated marketing agency staffed by consultants and freelancers who wanted to be part of a team, but to work in a better way for balancing their lives.
We’ve grown 1,000% month over month since our founding because it’s a model that works for our people and delivers exceptional results for our clients.
Which brands have impressed you lately?
Catherine Merritt: Well, I’m obsessed with Peloton. Not just because I ride it (and just bought a second one for our office!) but because Jon Foley has such a great founding story that totally resonates with me. The way they think about it as a media platform and how the bike and tread are just a means to build their community…brilliant. They’re a dream client and I’m hellbent on making it happen one day!
What advice would you give a marketer starting out in 2019?
Catherine Merritt: I was an English major with a focus on 20th century Irish literature. I had NO CLUE what I wanted to do after college. But it’s funny, there’s a quote I have always gone back to from W.B. Yeats that feels like it really articulates what we do… “A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” That our work should seem brilliant and effortless but of course much labor and time went into it. I say this because I didn’t know what my career trajectory would be, and because of that, I did a lot of things that ultimately built the foundation I have used to create Spool. So my advice is to be patient. Be curious. Be willing to do things that may not seem like the right fit, but know that it all builds towards something.