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"Stay human" - With Head of Studio at Azerion Beckie Underwood | #GettingToKnow

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To Beckie Underwood, the most important feature of character any creative professional should have is pure and simple humanity.

Beckie dreams of an industry with a 3-day work week and was never scared by not having a typically creative background or qualifications. An advocate for team-driven creativity, Beckie is certainly an inspiring leader and one who finds inspiration in the simplest things – such as taking her dog for a walk.

Today we are Getting to Know Head of Studio at Azerion Beckie Underwood, to learn more about her own path into the industry.

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Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day? 

My role encompasses creativity in so many ways such as coming up with ‘media first’ solutions for clients, building new products, revenue streams, formats and strategy for the business, but a ‘typical’ day will always involve listening. It sounds boring but actually by listening you’re going to come up with better solutions for clients, you’re noticing and embracing the talent and ideas around you and you’re obviously learning. It’s a skill that I’m not perfect at (especially when I’m excited by an idea) but one I’m trying to hone. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position? 

The fact that I don’t have a typical creative background or qualification. It meant I could be underestimated but I feel passionately that there are ‘creatives’ in all areas across our industry waiting to be unearthed. We need to be willing to give weight to more than just the ideas generated by those who know about kerning and orphans. Creative in our industry is very team driven and using people’s experience, knowledge, skills and specialisms means you’re always developing unique solutions. 

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What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career? 

I grew up by the sea in Margate and the surrounding towns. I’m not sure how I got here. 

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss? 

We’re lucky to have had many huge campaign wins for the likes of Warner Bros, Schweppes and Asda, industry award wins for ‘Creativity and Innovation’ and big commercial deals where the hard work and skill from the team has been whitelabelled by big agency groups. The pat on the back and champagne feels great but the smaller wins are great too. I like it when we’ve spoken to a client and come up with a unique piece of interactivity for their campaign. Or when I’ve managed to get training budget signed off for a team member and they’ve come back with so many new ideas and possibilities and when we’ve helped as part of a team to win a new client with ideas, insights and mocks.  

What’s your secret to remaining inspired and motivated? 

Well, truth be told I’m not always feeling inspired or motivated but then I take the dog for a walk, get an idea and I’m off and running again.

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Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry? 

There are many, but I always want to hear more voices and see new ideas. I save this space for some inspiring women from Digital Leading Ladies and the Women in Programmatic groups. 

Shirley Smith and Niki Chana - are possibly the kindest women in media who put others forward to be heard all the time. They make the industry less dog eat dog and it’s better for it. 

Amy Kean - is unapologetically powerful. She’s physically making the industry listen to more unheard voices, especially women through her Practice Makes Unperfect Course and the DICE event initiative. 

Jenny Stanley - entrepreneurial business owner and an amazing example of how to lead others through change. 

How has COVID-19 affected you? 

I am writing my response to you whilst I have Covid, drinking a cup of tea I can’t taste. Covid has obviously brought with it loss, stress, loneliness, uncertainty and worry. The good thing I saw in terms of creative though around 2020 is that ad creative became less formulaic and more considered. Brands were actively asking something we, as creatives, ask ourselves everyday; “How are we making someone feel when they see this work?” and that’s the most important factor in our line of work. Please let’s not go back to using a formula. 

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If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets? 

Nope, not one. 

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing? 

Pub landlady. I’d help in the kitchen on Sundays as I make incredible roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese.  

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry? 

We should be using technology to create space for us to do incredible things both for ourselves and our industry. Instead, we seem to be good at backfilling any automated jobs with ‘stuff’! 

We’re not taking care of one another and we’re so fast paced that I think we sprint past amazing ideas before they are properly formed. 

This sounds lazy, but I think we should be moving towards a 3 day week. Within those two days we claim back ‘ourselves’. I know there will be the best ideas, solutions, connections and clarity for our industry. 

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What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals? 

Stay human. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend? 

I always say to follow the CEOs from the brands you most admire and in turn follow those that are inspiring them and so on and so on. 

Header image: Azerion

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