At last year’s Women in Content event Rowan gave a fantastic presentation about the lack of female leaders, not just in the creative space, but in all areas which provides few role models. We wanted to catch up with her this year ahead of the 2021 event to get her thoughts on whether things have changed since this presentation. Her talk was peppered with quotes from female tv characters. This year we’ll be joined be five different female leaders for the Women in Content event, but it is sure to also celebrate the impact of women in the industry and the success of female leaders.
Rowan is one of the founders of Rationale, the brand purpose and content marketing agency. They support global clients in defining authentic narratives and purpose strategies, delivered through creatively compelling internal and external communications.
Rowan Morrison, Managing Director of Rationale
Check out what we discussed when we caught up…
Hi Rowan! You took part in the Women in Content event last year as a female agency leader, and it’s so great to get you involved again, this time in line with International Women’s Day. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I am Managing Director of a brand purpose and content marketing agency called Rationale. We’re based in Edinburgh, but have offices in London and New York. I have two boys, two cats and a dog and live next to the sea!
How did you get to where you are now? Had you always wanted to start up your own agency?
No, definitely not. I’ve had a very non-linear career path. I started out in book publishing and writing, then worked as a journalist, with a brief stint as a screenwriter and even briefer time where I nearly packed it all in to become a lawyer! I fell into the agency world by accident rather than design and uncovered my entrepreneurial drive over time.
Your talk before was on the lack of female creative agency leaders and what we should do about it. Those that were there would of course remember your inspiration from female tv characters from the likes of Fleabag! But for anyone that didn’t join, can you give us a quick recap of what you shared last year?
Ha, yes, that’s one of my all-time-favourite talks! I took inspiration from some of my favourite characters to highlight the fact that although creative agencies are full of talented women, there are still relatively few in senior positions – and even fewer running their own shops. We need more female role models, and to support each other in developing our operating models and policies in ways that are inclusive and empathetic to the female working experience.
Do you think that things have changed at all since your last talk? Perhaps there are some more female tv character quotes to explore?
I’d love to say it has, but the pandemic has made it many, many times worse. Everyone will have seen the statistics on how many women have ‘fallen out’ of the workforce and we are taking on the majority of the strain of home-schooling. Agencies I think are beginning to see that work hard, play hard, is no longer relevant, but we’ve a long way to go.
As for a quote, how’s this from Michaela Cole who wrote and starred in I May Destroy You: “I think you just have to do you, whatever that is, and not feel like you have to be a certain way for other people to like you.”
What would you say are the key skills to being a leader?
Patience, empathy, energy, thoughtfulness, ambition.
So as a brand purpose and relevance agency, can you share why you think purpose is so important to brands, and how they can amplify that with content marketing?
Purpose is important because we live in a world where everyone’s actions have an impact – as individuals and as collections of individuals – and that includes businesses and their brands. If you act, you have an impact. The more informed you are as to what you stand for and what you want your impact to be, the more opportunity you have to achieve something positive, that benefits others, and that gives your organisation clear direction. At Rationale, we simply help businesses to define, articulate and amplify their message about the impact they make, in a creative, relevant way that makes sense to them and their audiences, and support them in putting the elements in place that back up what they’re communicating. We’re storytellers.
Do you think a brand’s purpose can change, or must it be baked in to every aspect of conception and operation?
Actually, I think it can certainly evolve and you can always do better or do things differently, but a lot of our work involves going back in time with the organisations we work with and remembering why they set up in the first place – what the ambition and aim was at the outset, that may have got forgotten along the way. It’s usually there, if you look for it.
What other values are important to you as an agency leader?
Transparency, care, creativity, responsiveness. I also like to say ‘If you have to choose between being right and being kind, choose kind.’ It’s not always easy in a leadership position, but it’s achievable if you try.
You had your first full year as an agency in lockdown. How did you find that, and what did you learn from it?
It’s been a roller-coaster, I won’t lie! We were lucky to be able to grow during such a rough time, but there were definitely hurdles we could never have anticipated. Remote working has been difficult – we’ve hired people who I’m yet to meet in person, and we feel quite cheated to be a young company with potential and not all be together. But our team are incredible, and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved for us and for our clients. We’ve put a lot of time into finding people with the right outlook and that’s paid off.
Can you share the importance of having the right team behind you?
It’s fundamental. Agencies are people businesses, our team is the most important asset we have and we don’t take that for granted. It’s a hard market just now for talent, though, people don’t want to take a risk and move, so we’re being careful about how and who we hire. We’re also very keen to attract people with a diverse view and/or who have non-traditional agency skills/qualifications. We’re not finding these people are applying for roles in droves, unfortunately and want to change this if we can. Our industry is not diverse – there’s so much work to be done here – certainly not only in terms of gender.
If you were giving advice to someone that has just started out in the industry, what would you tell them?
Be brave and take risks, be sure to represent your value, be a positive force wherever you choose to work, and never apologise for being yourself.
We’ll be carrying on the conversation regarding female leadership and be providing support with navigating the content world and making your way to the top in our upcoming Women in Content event. The event is free to register below, so we hope to see you there.
Rowan and her business partner, Svein will also be joining us for a webinar on purpose in a few week’s time. They will share how you can create an authentic brand story, bring it to life through compelling communications and, crucially, create a pointed operational action plan. Register for free here.