Meredith O’Shaughnessy is the founder of experiential marketing agency, the Meredith Collective.
We caught up with her to talk about the path to success, her goals for the future, and why she believes getting out of your comfort zone is the key to being creative.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: Ostensibly I am a creative brand strategist and founder of the Meredith Collective – an encompassing agency bringing together the often-disparate elements of marketing, PR, and experiential. What that means in reality is that I wear many different hats!
One day I’ll be embedded with a client consulting on brand positioning, the next leading a creative workshop with a PR team. All while bringing creative vision to life through the design and delivery of experiential marketing campaigns.
My business has grown from roots in event design, build and management to creative consultancy where my skills can be parachuted in to help drive strategy forward through bold experience-led ideas.
For the last five years I’ve also satisfied my sweet tooth heading up Ohlala where we create handmade, luxury macarons and design delicious experiences for brands and fans.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: I lead a crack squad of professionals with expertise across the marketing, experiential and PR mix to deliver campaigns for clients across luxury, retail, technology and fashion for example, Whirlpool, Kitchenaid, Marriott, Manolo Blahnik, Bang & Olufsen and Microsoft.
As a consultant, in the strictest sense I report to my clients of course! However, it’s their fans, the consumers who engage with campaigns and experiences that ultimately decide the success of any project and it is the audience who are always front of my mind.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: Firstly – fearlessness!
At its core, marketing is about creating emotional responses. Experiences are proven to be the most effective tool in achieving lasting emotional engagement and there’s now a strong movement towards brands owning a ‘share of experience’ over and above ‘share of voice’.
Of course, emotional responses are achieved through surprise and delight. That means embracing bold, innovative and surprising strategies. I push brands’ boundaries and challenge them to be ambitious in their use of emotionally driven experiential – positioning and proving the worth of that challenge takes a certain amount of fearlessness!
Bravery has been fundamental to the development of my business, for example in my early days I self-funded experiential events direct to consumers which meant I really demonstrated creative credentials alongside business acumen, and proved the worth of taking a risk. By self-funding experiences and bringing brands on board as success was proven, I was able to gain trust, demonstrate ROI and impact and developed a reputation for spotting the zeitgeist. For example, I launched the world’s first Avocado popup restaurant just as the avocado-craze wave broke – a risk that was proven to be worth taking!
I’ve developed an ability to spot trends on the up and that comes from being a cultural sponge! I strive to explore inspiration across sectors, disciplines and geographies – for example, this summer I traveled to Japan to learn about how they are embracing experiential art. It’s a skill to derive meaningful inspiration from outside your bubble and know how to translate it into actionable strategy.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: Without wishing to turn to cliché, I really don’t have a typical working day! I am not sure I could survive a 9-5 routine and can’t function glued to a laptop. Most of my time is spent with people – meeting clients, running workshops, supervising an experiential build, briefing or sourcing suppliers, visiting venues, speaking at events or turning ideas over with other creatives.
However, I also carve out time out to give space for ideas to brew, I love visiting new experiences. if I see anything exciting happening in Time Out or hear of something I must visit I’ll get myself a ticket and immerse myself into it. I see it as research, so a morning visiting an art gallery is still work for me (work I love).
The only constant feature of my working day is Phoebe, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who accompanies me from meeting to event with consummate professionalism and unerring patience.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: I love the freedom I have to explore new ideas and bring some of my seemingly crazy ideas to life, seeing the reactions and emotions an experience can bring up. My passion is about making people feel something.
Being able to anchor emotion to a brand in through experience is really powerful and I love that the brands I work with are bold and brave enough to go beyond the norm. I’ve found myself on a mission to prove the worth of creative experiential and elevate it to its rightful place as a foundation of impactful strategy. I love delivering the proof of the pudding and rewarding that bravery.
What sucks is that so many brands are trotting out the same old tropes, recycling ideas and claiming innovation where there’s none. We’re increasingly getting to a point where if brands don’t take risks, they’ll be left behind.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: My goals are constantly shifting, they mostly revolve around working with people I like and creating work I believe in. I think having very defined measures of success can lead to you losing the bigger picture. Do you enjoy the work you do? Does it delight you? Does it delight others? Failure for me is boredom. Everything else is success.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: Underpinning great ideas you need the tools to actually bring them to life. An idea without delivery is just something that lives in your head. One of my greatest challenges has been learning how to systemise parts of my life so that it frees me up to do the more exciting stuff. I love Asana – the project management tool and we use Dropbox Paper a lot to share projects in a really simple way with clients. I’m always trying to simplify things. If an app or program is too complicated people just won’t use it.
How did you end up founding The Meredith Collective, and where might you go from here?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: My career path hasn’t been typical. Having studied engineering, I realised my passion for creative problem solving was centred on people rather than physics!
I dropped out of my engineering degree because I started working in the heady world of nightclubs. I travelled the world and looked after some of the world’s most well-known celebrities. That’s what taught me what people want – but also meant I didn’t have the normal restrictions and barriers about what was the “acceptable” thing to do
I saw the contrast between stale corporate events and the experiences people were having outside of work that made an impact. I couldn’t understand why brands were using tired formats to communicate messages that were quickly forgotten.
That drove me to set up an events business that saw me working with the Russian Space Federation and British Council to unveil a statue of Yuri Gagarin, broadcasting live to Russian cosmonauts on the space station! After this success I approached Manolo Blahnik to launch its second store, culminating in two large-scale campaigns with Vogue. Thirsty to experiment I created a 21-night Nordic Yulefest, running for three Christmases, bringing premium brands such as Finlandia Vodka and Working Title Films, on board as it grew. The world’s first Avocado pop-up restaurant followed, alongside large-scale experiential campaigns for Whirlpool, Campari and Bang & Olufsen.
Having delivered a flow of headline experientials the Evening Standard named me ‘Queen of Popups’ and while I love this nickname, I have evolved with the experience I’ve gained.
Now with the Meredith Collective my offering has progressed, offering creative marketing consultancy, most recently for Marriott, Nyetimber and California Walnuts – from brand identity, creative ideation to integrated experience strategies.
Which campaigns have impressed you lately?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: I loved the Anya Hindmarsh Postal Maze – such a brilliant example of a brand taking a chance and in turn using an experience to forge an identity. As a smaller accessories brand they don’t have the budget to put on a fashion show but by creating bi-annual experience tied to their collection they create a space to delight people, converse with their buyers and win new customers whilst letting people into the heart of who they are.
Do you have any advice for new marketers?
Meredith O’Shaughnessy: Creativity doesn’t just happen; it takes work and lifelong learning to come up with new ideas. I am thankful that I have the space to explore inspiration. I’d encourage them to be brave and wherever they can take themselves out of their comfort zone. Whether that’s by listening to new music, travelling to new places or just striking up conversations with people they wouldn’t usually – it’s all about immersing yourself in experiences which give you a different perspective
The UK is a swimming with creative skill and young, impressive talent. As we ride the waves of current political turmoil, I am confident that our creative industries will continue to be a beacon of the success British business.