OWNED is a global coalition of women-owned creator companies operating in the advertising production industry working together to help women thrive. We are an initiative of global inclusion, supporting, championing and mentoring women in commercial production. A platform where owners can come together to support, share, collaborate and promote each other, leading the way for the next generation of women owners.
We want a body of WOMEN who OWN a piece of this world to join our initiative.
In this interview series, we showcase companies in our coalition.
Next up on our member spotlight feature – Tarryn Burton, managing director of HaasXSwitch in Cape Town, South Africa – whose indomitable spirit can only but inspire. Women owners in ad agencies are even fewer in numbers; this coupled with the fact that patriarchal values are firmly entrenched in South African / African culture, despite some progress, big kudos to her and her achievement! Some real gold in her words, it's a stimulating read.
It is a privilege to be able to share her story with you.
What has your professional journey been like?
Tarryn> I started with junior primary teaching; the psychology and project management skills in those early days were a fabulous foundation. As much as I loved the little ones, I loved design more and very quickly moved into the design world, starting at a small Cape Town based design studio. I was allowed the freedom to learn about everything I wanted. I began to understand the building blocks of brilliant strategy and communication principles, as well as how important relationships with our clients truly are.
From Cape Town my career took me to London, and later on to New Zealand. New Zealand is where my love for digital and experiential design began. We had a team of phenomenal minds that were inquisitive and challenging. After saying “I’m just going for a year” I stayed for eight. The New Zealand design landscape is an experiential platform for global brands and albeit living in the relatively small Auckland, we launched more global brands than I can count. Finally, it was time to come home and Cape Town was calling.
I joined the dynamic team at Haas Advertising, an above-the-line agency that had an incredible reputation for great TV and big ideas thinking. Shortly after joining the team as MD, I became a director and shareholder. Over the years the business has transitioned into a through-the-line agency with a ‘channel neutral big ideas’ approach being the heart of what we do. A year ago we joined forces with Switch, a brand agency and together HaasXSwitch - the joining of great minds to do great things.
As a creator company in our industry, what is the value of a female-owned perspective?
Tarryn> Making assumptions to one’s character or style based on one’s gender is dangerous; however for me traits that come so naturally like cooperation, inclusion and empathy, or simply having the ability to lead from a position of vulnerability are powerful and as women I believe that our nature naturally draws us to these characteristics.
Part of OWNED's role is to shape a more equitable and balanced industry – how would you like to see this happening?
It is no secret that the industry is traditionally a male dominated one. There are many factors for this:
Firstly, I believe the hours and demanding nature of our work. I see so many young women enter the industry, and as soon as they are wanting to start a family it is almost impossible to do so without a huge compromise. I would love to see employment structures being more flexible to accommodate for this, four-day work weeks, shared roles, fast-track training for women reentering the workforce after having children to name a few.
Secondly, on the African continent we have so many young women wanting to either enter the industry or to learn more but either they don't have mentors or due to cultural norms they do not believe this is something they could strive for. I would love to see mentorship programmes in place for these young women so that knowledge transfer does not only take place on our doorstep but on our continent.
Are there learnings from your own journey that have bettered your leadership?
Tarryn> I read a lot and listen to podcasts whenever I can. I have always found that getting a global perspective is imperative. It's a fabulous gauge as to the things I still need to learn, what’s working and what’s not. The greater my understanding of human psychology, the more empathetic a leader I become.
What obstacles have you experienced that inhibit your company's opportunities and visibility in the industry?
Always time. We all know that we need to prioritise time for new business development and our own self-promotion, but in reality when the clock is ticking on multiple deadlines this is the first thing that is discarded. Being Cape Town based, there is often a perception, too, that we are small and possibly would not have the ability to work on / with international clients. This is quite the opposite with our team having worked around the world and our Rand currency being so weak. In fact, clients would be pleasantly surprised!
Do you have any landmark moments as a female business owner that you'd like to share?
The two years of covid will always be top of mind. Navigating the business complexities (we lost 40% of our business due to alcohol sales being stopped), as well as managing our people in the agency – both were incredibly challenging during this period. It was uncharted waters for us all, but having made it through with no salary cuts and our clients still with us will always seem somewhat miraculous to me.
What inspires you?
Most definitely clever design thinking that will create business effect. Beautiful design is everywhere, but when design thinking is used to create real change that's inspiring!
What advice do you wish you were given / best advice you could give?
Come up for air sometimes, it's a marathon not a sprint.
OWNED by Women. Run by Women.