Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind with Kate Thompson, Marketing Strategist & Co-GM at littleBIG Marketing & PR

Kate Thompson is a marketing strategist and the Co-GM at Melbourne-based boutique marketing agency littleBIG Marketing & PR.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started my career as a 19 year old in an ad agency while I was finishing my degree.

At that time it was the tail end of the heady days of long lunches, drinks carts and smoking in the office. It was very Mad Men. At 19, it seemed a very glamorous and exciting world, particularly coming from accounting lectures at Melbourne Uni!

Twenty years later and I’ve worked in all sorts of agencies on all sorts of clients – Pepsi, Virgin, Nike, NAB, Toyota, Lion, Air New Zealand, Yves Saint Laurent and have found the exposure to such a variety of businesses and processes has given me a really unique insight into different types of consumer behaviours and marketing strategies.

The mid part of my career was spent in sponsorship and activations, as I loved seeing the transformative power of a truly good brand experience close up.

I was lucky enough to tour with a bunch of festivals including Big Day Out and did a few years in New York where we launched the US Virgin Festival and I had the unique experience of touring the States with Britney’s comeback tour. 

For the past few years I’ve worked as marketing strategist and co-gm at LittleBIG Marketing, a really nimble, smart Melbourne marketing agency with a full service offering from marketing strategy to packaging design, PR, advertising and social media.

We often work with clients to develop their brand positioning and identity, packaging, marketing strategy and then execute it across the various channels.

At the moment some of our clients include Visit Grampians, Preston Market, Wizz Fizz, Procal, QVM, Innocent Bystander, amazing independents in the food, drink and tourism categories. 

I absolutely love being able to work with clients to create real impact, being there from the beginning to see something grow from an idea into a successful brand.

As a smaller agency of specialists there’s no room to hide behind process or layers, everyone is super hands on and accountable and we really do act as an extension of many of our clients’ teams. It’s like no agency I’ve worked in before in its honesty and authenticity and corny as it sounds, I feel like I’ve come home!

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Pre-COVID, it was an insane rush to drop the kids at school and daycare, rewarded with a joyous, podcast filled car ride to our beautiful office by the Yarra and then coffee with the team.

From there it was usually a mix of reviewing client social content and the team’s execution plans, a client WIP, a brainstorm with our team for a new project, a client strategy session, a management meeting and then some time to write up a strategy or new business plan.

I try to take 5 min out to eat lunch and read the paper as I find you can only come up with good ideas and understand consumer behaviour if you’re constantly reading and keeping up with the real world.

I also try to prioritise time for informal office chat and laughs – at the end of the day enjoying what you do and having a good laugh is really important. 

I plan out my day and to do lists the night before as I work part time and I need to hit the ground running. I can’t walk into the office and not be up to date with what’s going on.

At 2.45pm I hit the road and try to take care of any phone calls or loose ends as I drive to school pick up (on bluetooth of course)! Then it’s kid time until about 8pm when I’ll finish off any work that I couldn’t get done during the day. 

In the past six (yes six!) months of COVID lockdown it’s looked reasonably similar, but on a screen and interspersed with homeschooling and 10 million interruptions from my kids for snacks, iPad codes, slime in the hair, full body texta tattoos, a pigeon flying in the kitchen (that happened) and more.

My best COVID hack is that I get up and leave the house by 7am at the latest and work in the comfort of my car with a strong coffee. This means I get about 2 -3 hours uninterrupted, quality thinking time and I know no matter what crazy gets thrown my way during the day, I’ve done the most important “thinking” tasks and it will be ok. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Well, we’re all remote working here in Melbourne nowadays, which has obviously really changed the workforce (mostly for the better). It’s a blessing in disguise that means many people will now understand that it IS possible to work from home. No more 3pm side eye for us “part timers”! 

I’m so lucky that littleBIG has been incredibly supportive and flexible to enable me to combine the work I love with my family life.

This has taken many different combinations of days and hours, but comes from the implicit trust they have in me that I will get the job done and be available for our team no matter what, it just might be across less typical hours.

I also love that they acknowledge the part time “creep” — you always end up doing more hours than you are supposed to as work doesn’t stop just because you’re not in the office. littleBIG allows for that in your contract with four hours to be worked from home over the course of the week – another example of their authentic, realistic approach. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For many years I thought work life balance was this perfectly balanced equation of work, family, health and social. Surprise, surprise, I never achieved it!

Lately I’ve realised that it’s never going to be balanced at any one point in time. It’s about swings and roundabouts. It’s actually a long game. I try to look at it across an extended period now. At times work may take over, at times it might be a family issue.

As long as over any quarter I’m taking time at some point to “fill the buckets” of each category to achieve an overall harmony across my life, it’s ok.

It’s also about looking at things from a bigger picture and recognising that you need to show up for pivotal moments in each area – a game changing new business presentation or strategy workshop, a first certificate at school assembly, what are the things that you will remember in the years to come?

There’s a great analogy about juggling balls and letting the plastic balls but not the glass balls drop and I try to live by that. There’s no one answer to work life balance and you need to be flexible, looking for new ways to achieve it as things in your life and work evolve. 

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

I’ve adopted the well known mantra, “progress not perfection”! I’ve always been a perfectionist and it can lead to a really unbalanced life. I’m working really hard on “letting go” and lowering my expectations.

I know this sounds like a well rehearsed job interview answer to “what’s your weakness?”, but in the past 12 months I’ve finally come to see my perfectionist streak as a real issue that can hold back not just me, but my family and our team.

COVID has actually been quite helpful in this respect for me as I’ve had no choice but to let go of a lot of standards to fit everything in. I’m embracing mess and chaos even though it’s really uncomfortable for me, and it’s opening up more time for the things that really matter.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love all sorts of podcasts! I know I should listen to more “work” ones but for me the drive to work used to be my “me time” to mentally switch off with a podcast.

I love to hear other people’s perspectives on life so ABC Conversations is a favourite, I’ve done all the True Crime podcasts (again, excellent for perspective), the I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast by Mamamia, Ladies We Need to Talk, Parental as Anything with Maggie Dent for parenting ideas, The Dollop is hilarious, and to feel like a good, at times inappropriate laugh with “friends” I can’t go past Show and Tell. 

 I’ve just started reading Balance by Felicity Harley which offers different perspectives from many women and experts in health, sociology and feminism to cut the crap on “cult wellness’. So far it’s been very relatable and helpful.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My phone, the “save” function in Facebook, and my very old school notebook and handwritten diary! I’ve tried lots of different methods and apps but I always come back to writing – I think it helps to wire it into my brain. I have just downloaded a new app Eggy which promises to unscramble life, so I’ll let you know if that works!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Dan Andrews or anyone in the leadership team. I know he’s polarizing but at the end of the day he is also a person, with a family, trying to lead us through an unprecedented crisis. How is he doing it?

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Work life balance is an incredibly individual concept. You need to figure out what your own priorities and values are, and design a work life around these.

Just like a business or marketing plan, you need to regularly reassess and adapt, or to use an incredibly annoying 2020 catch cry – “pivot” to achieve harmony. Only you can own this because it means something different to everyone.

It’s important for employees and employers alike to recognise this. An employee who feels empowered, trusted and balanced will be far more creative and productive. But offering a 6am meditation to everyone is not going to achieve this, so take the time to work out what it is that will motivate individuals, be it a 6am meditation class or the flexibility to pick up their kids or do class reading once a week. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.