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Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind with Warwick Heathwood, Planning Director at Banjo

Warwick Heathwood is a creative strategist who has spent over 10 years working in the advertising industry. He is currently the Planning Director at independent creative agency, Banjo.

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

I’m a creative strategist in advertising. I studied psychology but was always attracted to the drive of creativity.

I was fortunate enough to work at some great agencies and with some great people really early on in my career. This really had a formative effect on me that I’m only just beginning to recognise now.

Today I’m the planning director at an independent creative agency called Banjo.

These last few months have been amongst the busiest and most challenging of my entire career. I’ve been working from home the whole time, which has been a unique experience.

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

Everyday feels like a blur of video conference calls and preparing for video conference calls. Nothing is usually scheduled for the day ahead so I need to get my head clear on what I need to achieve that day. I usually write a list on a post-it note.

I like to think of the analogy of pushing a boulder up a hill. If you lose momentum it’s so much harder to get started again. I’ll try to capture my intuitive response to every task on paper – crazy scribbles.

If I feel a clear sense of direction coming from that process I might jump on my computer and start a document or presentation. Usually I don’t so I put the paper to one side and think of the next task.

Either an intuitive inspiration or a looming deadline will give me the motivation to complete it later. As long as I’m not starting with a blank page, I’m confident.

I’m finding that there’s a lot of unnecessary communication happening right now. The sort of stuff that would happen in a hallway is now calls and emails. I do a lot more of that, guiding other team members that don’t report to strategy – account and creatives mostly.

There’s often 1-3 client presentations to work around. The best part is you can keep working on other things while on a zoom call. The worst part is that by 5pm I’ve been doing 3 things at once all day and my brain is fried.

I try to not work on anything much in the evenings, let my brain rest. Early tomorrow morning is clean up time for all the things I didn’t finish properly late yesterday. I’m usually awake at 5am, not by choice unfortunately, seems to be happening to me with age.

I actually enjoy doing a little work before 7am, my brain is clear and it feels like I have complete focus. But I want to be super clear that I’m not one of those “wake up, work out and start the day on a high” zealots you see ranting about early rising on LinkedIn.

Everybody should just sleep in until 9am, I wish I could!

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

Our organisation is one that quickly went from “how are we going to cope” to “hang on this is easier and better than the office”. Like in a week or two!

We had the demands of a fast moving new account to help us adapt, we all worked together and somehow became more productive than normal.

We’re only just dealing with the thought of going back to the office now. I feel like work wise I only really need to go into the office for internal meetings now.

I can’t imagine that client meetings are going to start happening in a big way again anytime soon. 25 people in a closed in boardroom just seems gross now!

I feel like going forward my workspace will be at home and i’ll take my laptop in for meetings or office workdays. I stand to work so I won’t even really need a desk at the office. My desk is full of old bits of paper that I really thought I needed printed out for some reason – turns out I don’t.

I feel like the whole advertising industry is about to have a flexible working revolution. What we’re doing now, all working from home, isn’t really sustainable long term. Creativity has absolutely nothing to do with productivity, we really need that face to face collaboration to develop ideas and executions.

Whether we still need to rent huge office spaces with harbour views and well stocked bars remains to be seen.

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

The fact that the phrase “work-life” balance even exists insults me as a human! Humans exist to love, create, imagine and be intuitive, that’s life, work is part of it.

Everybody in every job should flatly refuse to do things that reduce their enjoyment of life. If your boss is an asshole, quit. If you’re working too many hours, find a new job. I adopted that attitude early on.

Advertising is really hard on people in their 20s and 30s. I decided I wasn’t going to live that life, so I didn’t. I quit and went and started a record label and toured bands around the country for 7 years. It was amazing!

Eventually I found my way back into advertising for the money. But you learn a lot by being a failed entrepreneur. You learn to understand your value to a business and how to know when you’re delivering. Then you stop worrying about how many hours you may or may not be putting in at any point in time.

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

I’m always trying to meditate more, it has the most amazing effect in your brain and your ability to modulate your emotions.

But I always struggle to fit it into a routine. 12 months ago when we moved back to Sydney from NYC I’d meditate on the ferry on the way to work every day. That was such a great thing to do, really helped me to feel connected to my country again. I miss that routine.

Writing a to do list on a Monday morning then scheduling it all in a calendar for the week, is an old habit that I’ve been using again recently too.

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

My favourite book ever is The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. It’s basically the journal of a guy following birds around a paddock for 10 years. It’s a stunning piece of writing, turned me into a birdwatcher.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is the only business/marketing book I’d really recommend. Every other book really just draws on the research and theories in this giant omnibus (it’s not a fun read).

There’s only one newsletter I read, it’s called Fanbloodytastic – it’s written by a wizard who consumes the internet everyday and spits out the most insightful bits for you to use and share. You’ve got to be accepted before you’re allowed to even pay for it. See if you can find it.

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

Paper. 3M Post-it notes. No other brand. All shapes and sizes, but especially flip charts. Sharpies.

I’m enjoying all devices less and less the more invasive they become. I daydream about living without my phone!

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

Albert Einstein. His process was based around these crazy thought experiments, he always said great moments of inspiration came to him when he wasn’t trying. How do you hold such complex thoughts in your head for such extended periods? What did he do to truly relax and switch off?

Also for pretty much the exact same reasons as above: Kanye West.

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

Don’t try to balance. Never compromise on your life. Make your work fit into your life. Everybody wants to be productive, circumstances can trap you in bad environments, but know your own value and be clear on what your values are.

Eventually this drives you towards work that is more aligned with your values anyway. I’m still figuring this out, it’s a journey not a job title.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.