In our latest blog interview, we caught up with Martha Hutchins to find out a bit about life at DB after working at other design agencies, what it’s like to work in the Client Servicing team, and what you should remember to check when you are packing for a trip to Peru…
Hi Martha! You’ve recently been promoted to Client Services Director in our London Studio, congrats! What does your new role entail?
Well it’s still quite new for me but I’m incredibly excited for the coming months and years! I will continue to work closely with my clients as I can’t imagine working in this industry without remaining fully involved in live client work, but I’m now taking on more departmental responsibilities. A key focus of mine will be to ensure that current talent is championed, and that fantastic new talent comes through the door. Our business is incredibly people focused, so ensuring that we have the right mix of personality, skill and ambition is crucial to our success and to our culture. I’ll also be spending a lot of time ensuring that we are continuing to develop better tools for the Client Servicing Team (or CST as we’re fondly known) so that we’re empowered to support our clients in the best ways possible, and to ensure that everyone feels supported in their endeavours. It’s very exciting!
Sounds it! Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up at DB London?
I’m London born and bred. I grew up in Fulham and went to Wimbledon High School before studying Art History at Edinburgh University, which was amazing. It’s one of the best cities in the world to study art and architecture because it is mesmerisingly beautiful. I was there for 4 years and I loved everything about it.
Did you start your career working at a design agency?
No, my first job out of university was actually client-side. I worked as a Brand Manager for Theo Fennell, a luxury British jewellers. I kind of fell into it. I hadn’t necessarily thought about this as a career but I’d always loved jewellery and the stories it can tell. I focused on brand development and I got to do quite a bit of copywriting, but I quite swiftly realised that the highlight of my week was when the agencies came in and I thought, “I want to do that!”
Like a lot of arts grads I dabbled with the idea of going into the “glamorous” world of advertising, and I worked at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising for a while before moving to Profero, a digital agency. It was really interesting and there was a lot to learn. However, it didn’t feel like the right fit at the time. The recession was hitting quite aggressively and client budgets were being chopped, so I decided that it was time to move on. Packaging felt like a bit of a safe haven in agencyland so I found a job (on Gumtree no less, it was a bit like getting a flat but with a job at the end!) at a tiny agency called Slice Design.
As there were only 6 of us at the agency I had to get involved in every aspect of the work. This was great experience and I learnt a lot about all facets of the business in a very short space of time. I worked on the Mondelez account (a client I have worked with in nearly all of my agency jobs) which I loved but, after a year and a half, there was nowhere for me to progress so it felt like the right time to move on to a bigger challenge at a larger agency. Which is how I ended up at JKR – a gigantic agency by comparison. Here it was very process-driven, with shedloads of people, huge clients and massive budgets. The client services training at JKR was phenomenal, and I initially looked after the Budweiser Global redesign, working with the then-brand new New York office and juggling the demands and complexities of cross-Atlantic working.
After a while I wanted something a bit smaller so I moved to Pearlfisher, working as a Senior Client Manager for a couple of years on a real mix of big brands and smaller, more boutiquey challenger brands. This gave me great exposure to different ways of working. Then I got married and my husband was moving jobs at the same time so we thought, “what a lovely opportunity to explore the world!” so I quit my job and we went travelling for a couple of months. When we got back in December 2014, I came to work at Design Bridge.
And you’ve been here ever since! Which clients do you work with?
I started on Diageo as I had a lot of experience working on alcohol brands (and booze is always fun!), so that was brilliant, but most recently I’ve been working with Mondelez – for the third time in my career! I’m back in the wonderful world of chocolate; it’s definitely my spiritual home in the branding world.
A tasty one, too. What does an average week look like for you?
An average week is predictably unpredictable! You write your “to do” list on a Friday thinking, “I’m all set for next week”, and then you come in on Monday and you’re thrown a curveball. It makes things interesting!
I think my average week is a constant juggle between face time and air time with clients, and making sure that I’m always present and initiating conversations at the right moments to make sure that we are delivering the best value for them. I go to visit my clients in Zurich as much as possible and I try to make sure that I am consistently available when they need me to be.
My time is split between this and the practicalities of managing my team and our creative output. I think creating a really positive work environment is really key. It makes so much difference when you are working with positive people.
Can you tell us about a memorable project you’ve worked on at DB?
One slightly different project that comes to mind is when we worked on rejuvenating the visual identity of an outdoor brand. I’d never worked in that category before but I’ve always had a keen interest in travelling and adventure so it great to mix the two. It was amazing to be part of the process of bringing a sense of endeavour and adventure back into a brand that had, arguably, got a bit dusty.
I was part of a small but incredibly decisive internal team and it was an incredible opportunity to be part of something that, within that industry, felt like a pretty bold shift. I always love it when you sit in a client meeting and you know that your client is confident in the decision they are making and the way that the brand is being pushed. I loved working with Wiggo (John Wigham, Design Director) and Holly (Kielty, Creative Director Brand Language) on that project – they are two phenomenal talents and it was really good fun.
And as someone who has done a bit of travelling, did you approach it with your consumer hat on?
Yes definitely. And I had to share a few embarrassing stories about my lack of good kit…
OK so we were asked to share a story about our greatest expedition and mine was about when my husband and I did the Inca Trail. I turned up to Cusco (where you start the trail) with the walking boots I’d had for about 15 years. As I was walking through the airport all I could hear was the sound of flip-flops. Turns out the “flip-flop” sound was actually the soles of my boots hanging off and slapping the floor, leaving a trail of rubber dust behind me. That was my story – I took some really rubbish shoes to the Inca Trail and had to buy some even worse ones from a tiny stall in Peru before heading off. I’ve got an adventurous spirit but I’m maybe not that well prepared…!
But you are much more prepared when you are at work! Back to that – what do you look for when you are hiring new faces in the client services team?
Cultural fit is really key. We need people who will fit in naturally, with a natural instinct to help people around them and make people’s lives easier. Smiley, positive, capable, diligent, driven, dynamic people. You’ve got to be the right sort of person with the right attitude – I don’t think you can necessarily teach an attitude in an individual, but skills can be taught. That’s what I look for above and beyond anything else.
And of course you need to be outstanding at all the practical stuff, have a passion for delivering great work to our clients and a natural hunger to drive our business forward! Our Client Services people need to be commercially sound and strategically minded – by no means a strategist, but certainly strategically minded – and someone who just ‘gets’ brands and has an inquisitive spirit about them. There’s no point just sitting behind a desk and chugging through work. If you don’t have that thirst for brands and design and the wonderment that exists around our industry, then it’s going to reflect in the work and in the culture of the team. This is an unbelievable industry to be working in and we are SO lucky to be in it. Everyone at Design Bridge got into the design industry because they loved the creative world and wanted to be part of it. We want to find likeminded folk.
What would you say is the best thing about your job?
The best thing is definitely working with this kooky collection of wonderful people in this building. It’s a melting pot of diverse personalities and people who fundamentally see the world in a completely different way to each other, and this means that everyone always brings something new and unpredictable to the table. You can never pre-empt what someone’s going to say in a meeting – it makes the dynamics of the team ever-changing and really exciting.
I love spending time with people who see the world a bit differently because it leads to much better ideas and more challenging conversations. It would be so boring if we all agreed on absolutely everything. The people here are absolutely fantastic, and you can see that mixture of personalities and creativity through the work. Our clients can see it, too. I’ve had personal comments from clients saying that they rate us so highly because not only are our strategists exceptional within the industry, but our designers are incredibly strategic too. Beyond just being designers who design, they think so far beyond the executional requirements of the brief that it adds so much value into the mix. People here are just REALLY good and REALLY nice. It makes life so much easier and coming to work a joy.
How about the worst thing about working at DB?
Errrrrrrr, ummmm, [long pause] that’s tough. I think in my new role the most challenging thing will be making sure that everyone finds the same level of opportunity and exposure within the business. Even though we are quite big in the London Studio (about 230 people at the moment) we still have an amazing family feel – everyone says hello to everyone on the staircase, and looks out for each other – it’s important to keep an eye on all personality types and make sure that everyone is being championed in different ways and being given opportunities. It’s not so much of a dislike or “worst thing”, more something I will need to watch out for.
What do I like the least? All the stairs!!! There are so many stairs!! My average daily step count from running up and down those stairs every day must be off the chart. That, and the occasional 4am start to fly to Zurich are probably my least favourite things!
Fair enough, nobody likes an early start. And finally, tell us something we might not know about you…
I spent a couple of months in Honduras training as a diving instructor. I’m obsessed by the ocean and all the watery curiosities that lie beneath the surface.
Who knows what is down there… Thanks Martha!
If you’d like to join Martha’s team, check our Careers page where you’ll find the latest opportunities in all four of our studios.