In Conversation With Nicola Cast, Head of Client Partnerships

Nicola Cast, Head of Client Partnerships

8 March 2021

Kendra RogersHead of Insight & Strategy 375 6465

Every time I sit down to interview one of the team at psLondon, I’m inspired by how their passions feed directly into their work. The work they do is impacted by the experiences and interests that they’ve formed over the years.

Nicola, our wonderful Head of Client Partnerships, is no exception. She grew up in England, but has formed a strong relationship with New Zealand, where she spent almost a decade and started a family. I was interested to discuss how this has affected both her career and the way she looks at the world.

First, I asked her what she thought the differences between New Zealand and the UK are.

NC: New Zealand has a really clear sense of self-identity and personality – a confidence about their place in the world. No longer the little sibling of Australia, Kiwis are fiercely proud and clear about who they are as a nation, and what they stand for. Before I moved there I knew nothing of Māori culture, but it’s a vital part of the nation’s identity and mindset.

The Kiwi attitude is all positive – entrepreneurial, outdoorsy, sports-mad, easy-going. There’s a relaxed, comfortable-in-your-own skin vibe. And there is a renewed pride in the ‘Kiwi’ moniker too, with two-thirds of people now wanting to be known as Kiwis rather than New Zealanders.

“But in the UK, we’re having a bit of an identity crisis.”

What are we known for? Being reserved, overly polite, keeping ourselves to ourselves, bad food, bad teeth, warm beer, drizzle… With Brexit divisions and the way the world now sees us, which wasn’t helped by our handling of the pandemic, we’re going to have to work so much harder to define a personality that we’re all comfortable with, and that rings true.

Given Nicola’s experience working in both the UK and New Zealand, and her differing perspectives on the two countries and how they are viewed, I was interested to learn how she thought cultural differences impact the advertising world.

NC: New Zealand is a proudly tolerant, multicultural nation. With English and Māori as the main languages, creating truly culturally appropriate strategies and executions for clients is deeply important. Everyone has a duty to be understanding and respectful to the Māori culture and values, and to reflect that understanding in their work.

For agencies, this means being able to sensitively participate in a pōwhiri – a welcoming ceremony for new client and agency partnerships. It also shows up in things like being aware that Māori people regard the head as very tapu (sacred), so you must never crop someone’s head out of a photograph. What might seem like a small change to a creative solution could be hugely culturally insensitive or – worse – offensive if not corrected. Inclusive creativity and considerate design are crucial.

UK advertising, meanwhile, doesn’t have an identifiable streak in the same way that Kiwi ads do. Or if it does, it’s rooted in a parody of what it’s like to be British – it’s not the real us, living life as we do today.

But, according to Nicola, there was one similarity that might come as a surprise to some...

NC: New Zealand is recognised – particularly in the advertising world – as being a small country with big ideas. I didn’t know that before going over there. Having come from a hectic, fast-paced London agency, I was expecting a more laid back lifestyle. While that may be true on some levels, there’s a hard-working ethic, tenacity and grit to the NZ way of working that parallels the London agency life.

“The opportunities I had over there were no less challenging than those in London.”

Thankfully for us at psLondon, Nic did return to London. I wondered how her time in New Zealand has fed into her work back in the UK, especially heading up our client services teams at psLondon.

NC: My time in New Zealand changed the way I approach work in so many ways. In particular, I have a heightened appreciation of other cultures, languages, and sensitivities. I’ve also gained a new perspective: people are just people at the end of the day – realising that and bringing everything back to a simple human connection is definitely an ethos I picked up in New Zealand.

New Zealanders are every bit as friendly as you’ve heard they are. Believe me, starting out as a total stranger, I was welcomed so warmly. In the UK, we have traditionally avoided eye contact with strangers on the tube, ignored our neighbours, kept our heads down. In Wellington, I knocked on a few agency doors (virtually) and everybody was happy to meet for coffee. People were inviting me over for dinner. Once I started working at an agency, we all cooked lunch together on a Friday.

New Zealand is a small country, an island nation. The creative industry is even smaller – everyone knows everyone. So, agencies work together, creatives collaborate, and interesting conversations take place. Creative cross pollination occurs. Egos are batted away. For me, that’s something which should be embraced. It all comes down to that focus on human connection.

I think homeworking during the pandemic has helped us gain that same perspective here in the UK – the glimpse we’re getting into our clients’ lives has helped us to build stronger personal connections.

Despite the country’s size, there’s so much exciting work coming out of New Zealand. I asked Nicola if she could think of any examples and what we can learn from them.

NC: Kiwi brands beat global brands hands down when it comes to using humour in their creative, and in their advertising in particular. As a nation and people, they are generally more light-hearted than us Brits. New Zealanders tend to err on the dryer side of good humour. And they’re not afraid to use it as a device to help people talk about difficult issues and poke fun at themselves.

Kiwis keep it real, in their own unique way. ‘The Dance’, an ad for beer brand Speight’s (no relation to our Creative Director), is a classic example of Kiwi culture and authentic humour. It’s playful, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has real heart. You’ll see cardboard cut-outs of the characters from that ad at point of sale in supermarkets – one more nudge to remind shoppers exactly which beer it was that made them smile at home in front of the TV. It’s a simple but brilliant example of combining long-term brand building with short-term sales activation.

You see this same playful approach in Air New Zealand’s reinvention of aircraft safety videos. They totally changed up the classic safety video, using humour to draw in their audience and diffuse the tension around – and fatigue for – a really serious message.

“New Zealand’s approach to advertising reminds us that we shouldn’t take ourselves or our work too seriously.”

It’s obvious that Nic misses New Zealand and loves the country deeply - I asked her whether there is anything else she especially misses from her time in New Zealand.

NC: Good coffee! This sounds flippant but it shouldn’t be underestimated. The coffee in New Zealand is so much better than over here. Coffee culture is at the heart of agency life. And, as we all know, good coffee drives great creative work. Wellingtonians would genuinely not be seen dead in a Starbucks – independent coffee culture provides the caffeine that runs through the blood of creatives. It baffles me that London hasn’t yet got this right.

Oh and wine. New Zealand makes great wine, which means that every agency event is fuelled by the stuff. Their work get-togethers are in wineries too and they escape to vineyards at the weekends. It’s another necessary creative ingredient that’s greatly missed in the UK!

Drink with Nic! Here are her top Kiwi wine suggestions:

  1. Any of the Framingham F-series range (their Gewurztraminers and Reislings are gorgeous but all their wine is incredible)*
  2. Seresin Estate Sun and Moon Pinot Noir*
  3. Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay
  4. Mount Riley 17 Valley Chardonnay*

*Worth noting that these three were branded or labelled with the help of Nicola!

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