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5 Minutes with… Emma Robbins

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M&C Saatchi Group AUNZ’s National ECD tells LBB’s Esther Faith Lew how Covid lockdown was a catalyst that led to new wins and cross-border collaboration

5 Minutes with… Emma Robbins


“Always hustle.” If you’re not hustling, you’re not living life with the intensity and passion to make dreams come true. M&C Saatchi Group’s National ECD Emma Robbins knew early in school that advertising was for her. From a high-school work attachment, she kept her sights focused on an advertising career and eventually made a great connection at BBDO Tasmania where she landed her big break. 

“It took a few years of hustling. As a 16 year old with an imagination, I loved English, debating, drama and art, and I just couldn't believe that you could get paid  to do that in an actual career. I still feel like that every day,” shares Emma.

She adds, “The thing that keeps me motivated is not wanting to get ‘old’ or fired! Whatever comes first. I use that as my push factor to keep going and to stay fresh in an ever changing industry. I love that not a single day is the same.”

Emma keeps herself on her toes, and she lives and breathes her motto “always hustle”; she was even wearing a pullover that said “The Hustle is Real” for this interview. It’s clear where her mindset is at, and the kind of values that she lives by. She switches on every day ready to bring it, and one might say she does that to an extreme, having been quoted as saying she pushes herself by “staying afraid”. 

“I think we have all at one point or other felt overwhelmed by this industry, and this fear or insecurity became a strong driver for me to perform at work. But over time, I have learnt to let it sit with me and to manage it calmly instead of creating that internal turmoil before productivity takes place,” she explains.

As a leader, Emma walks the talk in exemplifying her personal values of being humble, hardworking and never taking things for granted. “That’s something I have always been influenced by while growing up, and I try to pass that along to others as well.

“I prefer to lead with my heart rather than ego.  For me it’s about creatives feeling more inspired and driven if they leave a review with some hope. Not just a ‘no’. I think creatives need that, this job is daunting and confidence-bruising enough. I try to find something in the work in a review, a gem of an idea that’s there, so a team can go away and think more on, which generally leads to some other better, bigger gem.” says Emma.

It’s a work philosophy that is also in sync with that of M&C Saatchi’s values, particularly in the last few years. We've really made a point of hiring people who fit our culture and values, that are driven by doing creative work around social good and to work on brands with that kind of focus. That’s at the heart of how the agency operates, it’s what keeps us motivated,” she adds.

For Emma, experiencing a growth spurt with the Melbourne office during the challenging lockdowns was inspirational, and she is focused on continuing the momentum in her new role as national ECD for the group. “Getting to work on cracking this idea of collaborating across cities and applying that to clients’ problems is going to be an exciting challenge and achievement for all of us.”

LBB> With your promotion, what are some of the key priorities and goals you are working on to bring the group together?

Emma> We’ve gone from a traditional siloed agency set-up to one that is about borderless collaboration, and we will be focusing on putting that into action. We’ve got an amazing talent pool of people across creative, planning, account service, data, media…we will be looking at bringing them together to create impactful and effective work for clients.

With this change, it’s important to cultivate the right mindset on the ground, and that can only happen by setting an example as we lead, and bringing in the right thinkers at the right time to create the desired results. The more we do it, the better we’ll get at it until it becomes a natural part of the process. And that’s exciting because we are changing the way we have worked for a long time.

LBB> As Cam Blackley has said, you’ve had a remarkable track record of having helped transform M&C Saatchi Melbourne’s business and in building a culture of creative ambition. Can you share more about those highlights?

Emma> The transformation in Melbourne has been amazing and it’s due to everyone’s effort. The whole agency has worked so hard to create the evolution. It kicked off with a new leadership team… MD Michael McEwan, head of strategy Mike Hyde, then Jayne Brady came in as head of operations. Straight after, we went into Covid lockdown.

But the universe delivered us a valuable opportunity with the Victorian Government pitching   for an agency to partner with to help deliver the COVID-19 campaign. Everything from lockdowns 1-7, to border closures, to vaccinations on the way out. It was an incredible challenge, but it also threw us together in a way we’d never worked before, at a pace we’d never moved at before. We streamlined our processes and relied on each others skills a lot. 

It was also an interesting time in Melbourne where a lot of brands pitched during those two years. I think we pitched nine times, and it got to a stage where we were in a great pitch rhythm. We ran at them hard, learning more and more during each pitch process. We won a few in a row and so ended up really flourishing during lockdown. That meant we had to expand our team, and we were interviewing candidates online to keep adding to the culture we were building. Our spirit and values were being reinforced by the business we were winning and the people we were hiring to help create them. So, that was really the catalyst for big change in Melbourne. 

LBB> How will you be applying that experience to the agency across AUNZ? 

Emma> From the Covid experience, we learnt just how resilient we are and how willing people are to put up their hands to help. But also how natural we can be at collaborating across disciplines, people with a shared passion and energy to come together to solve a problem, or change a behaviour. I have no doubt we will see the same cohesive cross-collaboration as we work on our borderless model.

LBB> What trends have you observed in the kind of briefs you are getting as compared to pre-pandemic times?

Emma> It feels like brands are looking for ways to connect more meaningfully with people, through having a strong purpose or shared values. We’re working across topics like climate, drought, hunger, mental health, sustainability - heavy stuff, but it makes getting up in the morning pretty interesting, that’s for sure. We’re also working inside out with a lot of clients, creating brand platforms that work internally first, uniting the brand and their staff, behind a purpose, then bringing that to life outwards, into the advertising. It’s a great place to be with clients. 

LBB> What are the significant campaigns that have raised bars and pushed boundaries?

Emma> We have an energy client in Australia, Origin, whom we’re working with, and they are navigating massive change in the energy sector. Our platform sprung from the insight that people don't want to feel overwhelmed by “massive”, for how the planet is changing around them. So, we created a brand platform that allowed people to feel like a small change was all they needed to start with. Anything. That’s where Where All Good Change Starts came from - a way to let people feel hope. That change is possible.

LBB> You have said: “We want anything but normal, brands need to bring it.” How can M&C Saatchi help brands to go down that journey?

Emma> It's ultimately about brands finding ways to matter. To be relevant. To have a positive impact. We do that by helping brands find ways to be useful to people, and to talk about how they can make a difference, in a human way. Brands that are willing to find and celebrate their differences, instead of feeling comfort in saying things the same way their competitors are - that makes things interesting. For an agency and for consumers. 

LBB> What do you love about participating in events like Youngbloods Victoria? What else do you think needs to be done to give up and coming talents more guidance and exposure?

Emma> I remember how hard it was to get in to see a CD or get some feedback on your book. So I’ve always been really open to speaking at junior events or tutoring, and seeing folios if juniors get in touch and want some feedback. I find there are two kinds of reactions after that. Those who come back with their folio changed after what you suggested they look at, or those you never hear from again. Says a lot, really. 

LBB> As an experienced judge, what’s your opinion on the work you are seeing, and what do you want to see more of?

Emma> Well, it sounds pretty obvious, but I love to see ideas that I haven’t seen before! The kind of work that has answered a brief you’ve seen a hundred times and you never thought to do it that way; that kind of work is always amazing. Also, great work that’s created from either an impossible budget or an interesting medium. And I'm a bit of a stickler for work with amazing creativity and effectiveness.

LBB> Looking forward, can you give us a sneak preview of what exciting developments to expect from M&C Saatchi?

Emma> We’re always working on something meaty. At the moment there are projects in the works for mental health, banking and finance, tourism, addiction, hydrogen and solar power, child sponsorship, grocery, Christmas retail, equine welfare…we’ve got clients with some big ambitions, and they giving us great opportunities to come together across cities and help those be realised. 


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M&C Saatchi Melbourne, Wed, 19 Oct 2022 07:09:23 GMT