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Q&A with Emily McHenry: marketing’s creative young gun

Meet Em. She riffs on the marketing’s disconnect between pretty pictures and tangible business outcomes, surfing, the “family” gin and The Walking Dead.

Despite being a young gun, Em is wise beyond her years. Some might even suggest she’s (far) more mature than several ULab colleagues! But we digress.

 

Em is renowned for her unwavering customer focus, creativity, exuberance and marketing smarts.

 

She has spent the past seven years, both in-house and at agencies, delivering exceptional marketing and communications across the healthcare, not-for-profit, automotive, retail, and beauty sectors.

 

Interestingly, she also interned with a special-effects company in Los Angeles, working on Grey’s Anatomy and The Walking Dead – a fun fact that’s pretty hard to top.

 

In her most recent role at Mater, Queensland’s largest not-for-profit hospital network, Em worked across a significant rebrand covering content marketing, social media, video production, patient information, web content, search, and Google Ads for Mater Health and Mater Mothers.

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Her brilliance and creativity were on full display when she wrote, produced and published a video series that supported pregnant women who have gestational diabetes.

 

As part of the project, she worked with SBS Australia to translate the videos – into Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Somali and Vietnamese – and update the creative so different at-risk cultural groups could better connect with the message.

 

See what we mean: sharp as a whip.

 

From a personal perspective, Em credits working in healthcare with teaching her about humanity, what’s essential in life and what she wants to get out of it. And when it comes to soothing her soul, she can usually be found in a quaint Brisbane coffee shop or at the Gold Coast, in the surf.

The fact that Em has walked the walk when it comes to integrating a paid, owned and earned ecosystem for big business has positioned her perfectly to take the helm as ULab’s first Integrated Account Manager.

What do you do?

Ask me in a month or so, once I’ve found my feet!

 

I’m sure I’ll spend most of my time meeting with clients, taking lots of notes and sipping oat-milk lattes in between. I’ll also provide strategic insight and creative ideation to support clients to achieve their business goals.

 

I get a lot of excitement and energy from working with different clients each day, unpacking their business challenges and connecting the dots – the versatility keeps me engaged.

As I start to grow more familiar with our diverse clients, I hope they see me as a part of the furniture.

And just as importantly, we present a lens informed by the JTBD framework that helps brands and their partners tune what they deliver at important moments along their customer journeys.

What mantra are you living by this year?

“Run until you get tackled” is a mantra my dad has instilled in me since childhood. There’s a lot to be said for chasing down what makes you happy, what gives you that “Oh, what a feeling” sensation at the end of each day.

 

If the past year has taught me anything, it’s to go after what you want at full speed, mark it close to your chest, and don’t let go!

What’s the most important thing that marketers can do to drive commercial outcomes?

Listen to your clients. Really listen. Too often, I’ve been in meetings, and you can see marketers in the room are genuinely excited about the opportunity to work with amazing clients on phenomenal campaigns.

 

But while they’re sitting there with the creative cogs turning in their mind, they’re missing what the client is really saying (or not saying, for that matter).

 

Clients don’t expect us to have all of the answers straight away – they want to know they’re being heard and understood as the subject-matter expert in the room. From there, you can work together in partnership to create something great.

There are plenty of marketers and agencies out there who can write well and design beautiful graphics, but if you don’t understand the business problem needing to be solved, and how to meaningfully communicate with the intended audience, it’s just art for art’s sake.

 

Expensive, labour-intensive art, at that!

What’s a cracking book you’d recommend or podcast you swear by?

It may be a little controversial, but Dan Lyons’ Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble is a book I struggled to put down. Lyons shares his real-life story of working with HubSpot back in the early days, and the “sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll” attitude of Silicon Valley at the time. There was big business to be had, but beanbags and egos took centre stage.

 

I’m currently reading Salts and Suits by surf journalist and filmmaker Phil Jarratt. This book explores the history of the surf industry and how long-standing brands Rip Curl, Billabong and Quicksilver all started out of tiny warehouses in regional, coastal towns.

 

It’s a fascinating look at how businesses that started with a passion for the surf have become the ultimate chameleons over the years to keep their businesses alive and promote a certain “lifestyle” more than anything else.

Who are your go-to thought leaders, and why?

Surfing legend Layne Beachley is someone I’ve looked up to since I was a grommet. She’s lived an incredible life, broken many barriers and remained incredibly humble at every turn.

 

I also find advertising guru Dee Madigan fascinating to listen to. Her take on consumer behaviour and market change cuts through the evangelical BS and just makes sense (I love watching her on the ABC’s Gruen).

Layne Beachley ticks every personal and professional box when it comes to someone to inspirational leaders.

Our favourite qu: What’s your top beer or wine recommendation?

The gins from McHenry Distillery in Port Arthur, Tasmania, are exceptional! And it’s purely a happy coincidence we share the same surname – but it might make the gin taste a tiny bit better.

 

My family and I are slowly making our way through the different blends. My current favourite is their Federation Gin. It’s perfect mixed with tonic water and candied oranges, and stirred with a cinnamon quill.

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