Next Creative Leaders: Kate Desmarais

Posted on Oct 27, 2017

Kate Desmarais
Associate Creative Director - Ogilvy & Mather Chicago

Three words you’d use to describe yourself?
Do > Talk

What work are you most proud of and why?
The integrated campaign I did for Chappies Bubblegum. It’s an iconic South African brand that is famous for the “Did You Know” facts on the inside of its wrapper. The original brief that landed on my desk asked for 100 new facts that they could use to update the wrappers. I could have easily Googled “interesting facts”, typed up a list, and been done with it, but as soon as I saw the brief I realized that I had been given an amazing opportunity to create a little piece of culture. So, I turned it into an integrated campaign that gave South Africans a chance to be part of the brand’s history by having their fact printed on the wrapper. Then we turned some of those facts into Edible Street Art made of thousands of individual pieces of gum. The murals took a couple of hours to create, and literally disappeared within minutes.

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means doing the right thing. When no one’s looking. When you’re tired. When you’d rather be doing something else.

What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I found out about copywriting when I was 17. I applied to advertising school at 18. I did my first internship at 19. And started working at 20. My friend who worked at Ogilvy Cape Town helped me “break in” by telling me when the Executive Creative Director was in his office so I knew when to call him. I called a lot.

You won South African Young Creative of the Year. What doors did that open for you, early in your career?
It was a huge honor to be recognized for my work at that stage in my career. I knew I wanted to travel, and a national accolade certainly helped make that possible, but doors don’t open themselves (well some of them do, but you know what I mean). Winning Young Creative of the Year gave me the confidence to go ahead and pursue that ambition.

You’ve moved around the world with WPP. How has that helped you grow?
When you get to a new place, you’re so eager to figure it out that you learn twice as fast. Every couple of months I have this overwhelming sense of shifting gears, a learning curve, and that’s a really exciting feeling. Working in different countries has also given me a more global perspective, which is an asset as the brands I work on continue to grow in size and scale.

Any advice for creatives who want to work abroad?
Decide that you’re going to do it and then figure out how to make it happen. If you think about the logistics first you’ll get overwhelmed and probably end up not going. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work for agencies with amazing HR departments that help make the paperwork easy. So, that’s also an option.

You have an interesting approach to motivating yourself. Can you share that with us?
I write myself a lot of very serious notes – on my computer, on my phone, in my notebooks. The most recent was entitled “How not to suck at advertising”. I’m constantly questioning myself, the process and trying to figure out how to do better.

In an industry that requires 24/7 creativity, how do you give yourself the room to keep creating?
It’s all about the ideas! The only way to do it is to sit down and ask yourself, “what if…”, and that takes time. My partner and I have a standing weekly brainstorm session that starts at 5:30pm. If you want room to create, sometimes you’ve got to make it yourself.

You recently transitioned from maker to manager. Any advice for other creatives stepping into management?
Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to ask for more from your team. Give people the opportunity to rise to your expectations.

Who’s your biggest #Shero right now?
My heroes are the creative women in my life who I know and love – Mari Basson, Alix-Rose Cowie, Laura Windvogel, Marina Ramos, Marina Arnone…the list is endless. They inspire me with their amazing work, but also their dedication to figuring it out together.

I’d also like to give an honorary #Shero mention to my husband, who has moved across the world with me, twice, so that I could pursue my career.

Click here to view her award winning work 


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