“People sometimes give me a funny look when I say that I don’t have a higher education degree. But I have been standing on my own two feet since I was 17, and I’m proud of that.” After high school Kathleen enrolled in a marketing and communications course. While attending classes during the day, she worked full time on the night shift and tried to get her life on track. “That combination was not sustainable. I wanted financial and mental stability first and decided to focus fully on my work.”
Kathleen has been in the media and communications sector for almost twenty years and has worked at various agencies, but this is already her second position at Mediabrands. She loves the company: it has a large client portfolio and people really take center stage. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, the focus is on your skills and on team performance. Even if you are self-employed, like me, you’re not an outsider but part of the team. In some companies it’s very different.”
As Senior Media Advisor, Kathleen sets up media campaigns. She thinks along with the creative team to understand where they want to go. At the same time, she monitors the client’s wishes and maintains good contacts with the media partners.
Quick and tasty
Kathleen joined the communications sector by chance. A media company was looking for a secretary, and she was looking for a job with a permanent contract. From the start, she felt she had so much more to offer. “I wanted to move forward: making coffee soon turned into managing schedules. As a planning assistant, I learned the tricks of the trade and threw myself into competitive analysis. This way, I was able to grow into a purchasing and planning specialist. I managed major customers and worked at the cutting edge. Our team produced a Top Topical for the newspaper in two days. Hard times, but fascinating too. I learned so much.”
She is also a fast thinker in the kitchen. “My husband and I often fight over who is going to cook.” Her husband can spend hours figuring out which flavors go together and is a stickler for detail when it comes to dressing the plates. Kathleen is an expert at coming up with dishes using ingredients that are already to hand. “Quick and tasty, that’s my motto. My top dish is tagliatelle with Boursin, white wine, garlic and crayfish, seasoned with curry-mango powder and finished off with cherry tomatoes.
I once won a culinary magazine prize with it.”
— comes up
and tasty dishes
in no time at all
She devotes much of her time to her daughter Nina. Six years ago, Kathleen and her husband decided to adopt a girl with special needs from Poland. Nina was born with an alcohol addiction that she acquired in her mother’s womb. Following a premature birth, she had to stay in an incubator for a month and a half to gain weight and detox. “When we adopted her, she was so skinny that her size couldn’t even be recorded on the growth curves. She has a slight motor deficiency and her brain is not fully developed, but she’s doing well. We are doing everything we can to help her develop into a young, independent woman.”
Kathleen makes no secret of the fact that Nina is adopted and has a disability. “She has such an impact on our lives that it’s hard for me to hide that. Even when we went to pick her up in Poland, my husband and I were an open book. Literally, even: we kept a diary about our experiences in a closed Facebook group. So many people sympathized with us that the group eventually reached more than 500 members. Everyone wanted to follow our story.”
Adoption was a well-considered choice. Within the first few months of her relationship, Kathleen and her husband agreed that they wanted to have one child of their own and adopt another. “But nature doesn’t always cooperate. We are happy that Nina came into our lives, but I don’t know if we will adopt a second child. Nina needs a lot of care and we don’t know what the future holds.”
Human before digital
Kathleen gets energy from sitting around the table with her colleagues and seeing them swiftly come up with good ideas for a successful campaign. And receiving a thank-you note from the client makes her even happier. “In my mailbox there are about thirty e-mails from clients, labelling us as ‘the best’. Clients are right to be demanding, but things should remain feasible. We need to strike a balance, so that we can keep everyone happy. That makes it all worthwhile.”
At Mediabrands, colleagues are there for one another. For Kathleen, that’s essential: she doesn’t like egocentricity. She struggles with people working in a corner and not sharing anything with others. “Or people who, when you ask them something, immediately make it clear that they cannot help you, without even having read your brief. Surely it’s no trouble to help someone on their way and then check in on them later?”
Kathleen is happy with the path she has taken professionally, but sometimes it stings that she doesn’t have a university degree. Her colleagues don’t mind, but multinationals often ask for that piece of paper. “Maybe I should have persevered more as an eighteen-year-old? I’ve been thinking about going back to university for a while now. When I talk about it with my husband, he encourages me. Yet I don’t dare take that step just yet: my life is already so hectic.”
The future is digital. Many media agencies expect offline campaigns to disappear. “Everything will be about figures, ads will be data-driven. But I believe in human before digital. A creative, media-aware concept is built not only on figures but also on gut feeling.
I will make sure that the human touch does not disappear. The Human Connection: wouldn’t that be the perfect name for a media agency?”