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Hannah Sturrock on Role Models, Parity & Pandemic Pivots

As Managing Partner at The Hallway, Hannah Sturrock has achieved the ultimate balance of spirit, heart and strategic smarts. On one hand, her career is a formidable one; she’s worked at Karmarama in London, Leo Burnett and BMF Sydney before spearheading The Hallway’s impressive expansion to Melbourne, helping the agency quadruple in size within a two-year period. On the other hand, Hannah is a dedicated mentor and equality advocate – a true altruist of the ad world.

Leah Morris, copywriter and Mavens founder, writes to Hannah via remote correspondence.

LM: As an insight-driven strategic marketer, you bring a strong element of thought leadership to your role as Managing Partner. What are your driving principles for advertising success?

HS: Be interested in the industry, and dedicate yourself to becoming a student of marketing. Marketing means more than advertising – and I’m always discovering and learning more about behavioural economics, marketing effectiveness and the trends at play more broadly in society.

When you say ‘advertising success’, I know that ‘success’ is a slippery word that we can sometimes confuse with title and salary. I personally feel that success is ultimately inside you, and comes through feeling trusted, recognised and making a positive impact on others. Figure out what it means to you and don’t worry about all the external ‘signals’ that we’re taught to pursue.

LM: The Hallway recently created a vibrant and memorable launch campaign for BINGE, Australia’s newest streaming service. How did the pandemic impact the campaign?

HS: Well let me tell you, it was a crazy time! We’d been working so hard on building the BINGE brand from the ground up for six months, and we’d finally arrived at a brand platform, brand identity and a big, bold launch campaign idea. We’d had to fight hard to get it over the line and we were just about to present a Director’s Treatment.

The original idea centred around the urge to ‘escape’ from the hectic, sociable, adult world and retreat to our sofas, to watch a little bit too much TV without judgement. So when the pandemic hit and we were all forced to stay in our houses, the idea was no longer as relevant. Plus, the production approach needed to be radically revised. So we ended up concepting a completely new launch campaign that centred around ‘The Bingers’ and celebrating them in a mock-lofty manifesto spot. It meant we could leverage some content, but we also managed to orchestrate a remote shoot that ensured we had footage to integrate into the spot. We also created a huge number of copy-only static executions that launched our distinctive Binge tone of voice, with headlines like ‘I feel a Binge coming on’ and ‘We’re for the Tracky Dackers’, all supported by our brand platform of ‘Unturnoffable’.

It was intense, especially given we were all just getting used to working from home, but the result was still epic, albeit a very different campaign. Goes to show that a strong brand platform can, and will, support a wide range of advertising messages.

And so the ‘pandemic pivot’ was born…

LM: When it comes to creative and design, The Hallway has reported a progressive gender split that is predominantly female. How can other agencies change their ratio?

HS: It’s a very difficult shift for agencies that are wedded to a traditional creative culture of ego, awards and long hours, as these cultures naturally favour men. When the rest of the agency leadership team is also predominantly male, it’s hard to find a champion for change. And even harder to find someone who understands that real change is going to be painful, not just something you talk about at a conference.

If there’s a strong female in the business, even if she’s not in the creative department, elevate her, consult her, listen to her, respect her opinions, publish her, make her super visible.

At a leadership level, look at your salaries across departments and check if there’s a tendency to pay your male employees more. If there is, sort that out immediately.

In the creative department, be vocal about your belief in your female team members’ capabilities, potential and success, and speak openly and often about their career paths. Share the work and career paths of other female creatives with the department, shaking up any typical ‘male creative god’ stereotype that becomes the norm.

As a leader, spend your time trying to nurture other leaders and speak to them about the shift between being a good technician, or manager, and what the shift to leadership looks and feels like for them.

Nominate your rising female stars for The Marketing Academy Leadership Scholarship (2021 nominations now open!). It will supercharge their confidence and growth.

Offer your mid-level female team members training and, if appropriate, coaching where they’ll realise the potential they could be unlocking.

Ignite the ambition in your female team and they’ll be your most valuable team members.

LM: As an experienced business leader, you’ve mentored many bright young things. What key advice do you give them?

HS: I always ask people to explore their strengths, potentially using the Gallup Clifton Strengths Finder, and get really intimate with where their superpowers lie and what their blindspots might be.

Then I ask people to think about what they could be ‘giving’ to their employer, rather than focusing blindly and naively on what they want to ‘get’, which is often where the conversation starts and gets stuck.

Ultimately, we have no control over what we get – whether that’s more money, more responsibility, more respect. All we can control is what we give.

Once you accept this, and take responsibility for driving the bus that is your career, there’s a bunch of lightbulb moments that generally happen and hopefully a renewed sense of purpose emerges.

I believe focusing on your strengths is a much easier route to growth and impact, rather than trying to remediate weaknesses.

And then I always ask them what they’re reading, listening to, studying. Because if they’re not actively seeking out knowledge on a daily basis and dedicating the time required to becoming an expert in their field, then expectations of promotion and recognition are ill-founded. I then always provide them with a huge list of things to dip into!

LM: Who are your favourite female role models?

HS: I admire a lot of women who are boldly themselves and who share their thoughts, ideas and opinions with the world.

Dolly Alderton is a great 30-something writer and publisher. She’s smart, she’s cool, she’s a bit messy. My kind of woman.

Laura Brown is an Australian in the US, leading the way in women’s magazines. I love her vibe so hard.

Michaela Coel is a creative force to watch; her HBO series ‘I May Destroy You’ (now streaming on BINGE!) is unlike anything else I’ve watched.

Trinny Woodall is bonkers but she’s such a force of nature, and building a global beauty business in her 50s. I can’t get enough of Trinny.

Jane Fonda is a wicked example of a passionate, unapologetic fighter. Interview here. She’s a legend.

Dame Stephanie Shirley is an incredible tech entrepreneur who carved her own path. TED talk here.


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