Susan Pratchett is Managing Director for Europe at Virtue Worldwide, a creative agency born from the Vice Media Group. I recently caught up with Susan to discuss her role and her opinions on the evolution of brand advertising.
Tell us about your role… What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m Managing Director for Europe, at Virtue Worldwide – the agency powered by VICE – so I set the direction for the business across the European region and help focus our offering and what we stand for.
A typical day doesn’t really exist, but as the world and our industry continue to change at speed, it’s really important that we’re growing and evolving as a business alongside that, so a big part of the role is planning; thinking about what we need now, what we need in the future, how we’ll grow and the people we need to do it.
What has been your favourite brand campaign from the past year?
As controversial as it’s been, the Coinbase Superbowl spot was incredibly smart. A real example of understanding culture, audience and brand to do something entirely, and arrestingly different, in one of the world’s biggest media moments. And a great example that bold, provocative thinking generates real business results.
I’m also really proud of our work on Johnnie Walker for similar reasons; it shows a deep understanding of culture, audience and brand to create real world change and results. We worked with the team at Johnnie Walker to get into the local culture of 24 markets around the world, as part of the latest chapter of the famous Keep Walking campaign. Through the themes that emerged, we identified social regeneration as an area in need of focus across the globe. Through local partnerships with cultural change-makers, we’ve started to revive community based social spaces; driving new meaning into ‘Keep Walking’ and opening the brand up to a younger audience.
What will be the key factors for brand success in 2022?
Brands are increasingly being left outside of culture – skipped, scrolled, blocked, ignored. And the landscape has never been more crowded. Brands are no longer just competing for attention with other brands, they’re competing with all media ever made. So marketers have a choice: find ever more intrusive ways to break past the blockades, or find a more welcome way to show up. To be visible and valued today, brands need to actively contribute to culture – and focus on enriching people’s lives rather than barging their way in.
Virtue has experienced a period of growth over the past few years – what has it been like navigating this (and joining the company) at the same time as Covid?
It sounds incredibly obvious, but one big lesson has been the need for clear, simple and frequent communication – to the point of over-communication. With so much going on, and multiple time zones and geographies, things are easily missed. Alongside this, being swift and decisive in decision making, and taking people with you along that decision-making process has also been vital.
On a more macro level, we’ve spent a lot of time future proofing the business and planning ahead in an ever changing and more complex industry – including building out entirely new cultural products and services. You need to be able to look around corners and build a team that is able to grow and adapt as the business changes. But the one thing that doesn’t ever change is the power and value of creativity, and keeping that at the heart of all we do will always be our biggest priority.
What’s been the greatest career advice you’ve ever received?
The one that I come back to the most often – and still have to remind myself of at times – is that other people’s success shouldn’t be how you measure your own. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about whether I was doing as well as everyone else, rather than enjoying my own successes and wins, and following my own path. I’ve also seen my idea of success change over the years, and I think that’s important too – to know that you don’t have to follow one linear path.
And secondly, to own your mistakes. Everyone makes them, and although it’s always easier said than done; being able to get in front of them by being honest about them, and having a point of view on how to fix them, is going to put you back in control. And then don’t wallow in them!
There’s also a quote that I love from Dave Trott: energy beats talent. The communications industry is a tough one, it’s full of twists, turns and changes. And the people that keep us all going are the ones that keep showing up, that keep pushing, that really care.
What’s next for Virtue in 2022?
2022 feels a lot like a coming of age for Virtue. We now have a really strong team in place across Europe, bringing together the strategic and creative expertise of a creative agency, with direct access to the means to shape and create culture through Vice Media Group and all it has to offer – from cultural insight, to production expertise, to award winning entertainment.
Our focus this year will be on putting all of that to work, in the work – and transforming brands from inside culture. That’s what our strongest work has always done, and this year is about doing that at scale.