Laura Auchterlonie on breaking into advertising, diversity and gender equality.

Tell us a bit about your journey into the advertising industry.

I’ve had a pretty varied career so far. It’s changed as my interests and passions have changed too – but they’ve all been useful as I’ve always managed to add some elements of my old roles to my new ones. I mean, whoever thought a packaging-designing-copywriting-art-directing-notherner would get a job as an integrated CD?!

I was a little geek as a kid. I absolutely loved the technical side of things, building stuff – and that’s something that’s translated into the weirdly methodical way I work  (although you may dispute that if you saw the state of my desk). That said, originally, I wanted to be a weather girl, but I think that was probably more to do with the fact Ulrika Jonsson got to hang out with Vic Reeves a lot. But I actually started out as a graphic and structural packaging designer. I designed beer fonts, whisky bottles, 12 types of dried potato SRPs – you name it, I worked on it. I even got to invent ice creams for a while too (Viennetta for breakfast, anyone?). But the first real turning point in that career was creating some positioning ads for a shoe chain. The client loved them so much, they turned into my first ever press campaign and, lo and behold, I accidentally became an advertising copywriter. I then got rather obsessed with ideas that surprised people into buying things too – and so started my integrated career at places like Publicis and Iris. I had a bit of a detour into eco branding and digital while I worked in Canada, then it was back to Blighty and the world of retail, shopper and social at Mesh. All these weird and wonderful experiences have really helped shape me in terms of being a CD, as they’ve fuelled my passion and respect for lots of different creative fields.

Advice for someone new?

First off – don’t be afraid to follow your passions. Career changes don’t need to be as scary as they sound as long as you’re eager to learn and prove yourself. They can really help shape you as a creative as you grow.

And don’t be afraid to take control of your career. No one will ever care about your career as much as you will, and while there are great senior people out there who do give a damn about you and want you to succeed, when it’s driven by you, you’re in control. Get a mentor.

What makes Pilgrim unique as an agency?

Pilgrim has an incredible combination of strategy, research and creative. The people involved are hugely experienced and they have a way of seeing business problems in a whole new light. It’s a fascinating place. Here, it’s all about working from great strategic insights, collaborating, testing and creating – all in a very short space of time. There’s certainly no time to get bored!

What are the standout pieces of work for you so far?

We’ve just had our latest campaign for Champagne Lanson hit the underground – so next time you’re sweltering on the tube, check out our Wimbledon-themed ads. They celebrate the brand’s 40-year collaboration with the most famous tennis event in the world – and they look stunning. I’m over the moon with them as not only is Lanson an incredible brand to work on, but the concepts were a true collaboration between everyone at Pilgrim and one of my favourite clients. Our new Pipers Crisp campaign is out now too – check it out next time you’re buying a sarnie or down the pub.

What is your strategy for finding new talent?

The same as it’s always been for me: I look for great people who are hungry to learn. I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing senior people take chances on me throughout my career, and hire me even though I didn’t quite fit the standard job spec. And so now I’m a firm believer that when you spot someone determined to learn and who has a real passion for what they do, you need to get them on your team. So I’ve hired people who absolutely haven’t fitted the spec and have raised a few eyebrows at board meetings, but they’ve flourished. A lot of the agency initiatives I’ve come up with have been about helping them learn and develop their skills too. Also, in the same way I’ve had a lot of change in my career, I think variety helps creatives too. As well as not getting bored, it also stretches us, gets us to think differently, spot and solve problems in unexpected and excited ways, and helps us love where we work even more. And, while working like this has its challenges, I’ve always had great traffic people on-hand to make it work.

As well as being a female Creative Director, what else can you offer people coming through the ranks? 

I like to be there for my team. They’re the driving force of any agency and, as a CD, I believe you need to help clear the path for them. But I also love acting as a springboard for their ideas too – so I’ve always had an open door policy (when I’ve had a door) that meant anyone can come and test the waters or even bounce around new thoughts. Again, that’s what my previous bosses used to do for me – and it’s something I’ve always been keen to do too.

What are your thoughts on diversity and the importance of this in the agency world?

I think the creative world is changing fast – not just with technology, but also in its determination to become more diverse. Is there quite a way to go? Yes, but it’s front of mind and people are acting. And who’d have thought 20 years ago that me, a gay woman from a tiny village in Manchester, would ever be a CD? Not me, for one. Unsurprisingly, diversity and helping people get on is a driving passion of mine these days, which is why I’m a mentor for the ‘Who’s Your Momma’ programme. It’s a fantastic scheme that offers free mentoring, networks and events for women in our industry. And I love it! Yes, getting up at 5:30am to meet someone for a coffee can be a touch challenging, but I’ve met some truly inspiring women who are taking control of their careers in ways I never did at their age. And if I get to help them even a tiny, tiny bit, I’m happy. I was also part of the first CS for She course recently, where I got to meet Ali Hannan and Daniele Fiandaca – two absolute industry trailblazers who are both doing so much to push the diversity agenda. And if anyone fancies joining in and putting their money where their mouth is – head to and help fund the Creative Equals creative bursary – helping young female talent get their first rung on the ladder.

Tell us a bit about the work you do with SheSays and how that’s impacted you as a Creative Director.

The ‘Who’s Your Momma’ programme has been eye-opening for me. London has such a wealth of young female talent at the moment, and giving them the chance to sound out ideas on how to progress in such an open way has been genuinely inspiring. Probably a lot has to do with the honesty side of it (it’s a confidential thing), but seeing talented young women so determined to progress is refreshing and has given me a hearty kick up the bum too. Plus it’s a great way to meet similar people – I met so many of the Momma’s at their recent Speed Mentoring event that you can’t help but come away inspired.


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