Annabel Mackie's hunger for knowledge and new challenges has few equals in this industry. That much is clear right from the onset, as you learn more about her incredibly multifaceted career and the breadth of experiences she was able to collect.
Annabel has a hungry and curious mind, and this sometimes meant sitting by while industry peers advanced further, developing specialisms as they expanded their brand knowledge and experience. But even this fact was never enough to stop Annabel; always looking to make bold decisions, tirelessly walking away from her natural path, to diversify her knowledge and learn as much as she could about this beautiful industry.
The now Managing Partner at M&C Saatchi is a much self-conscious team leader, an empathic businessperson and one of the most ambitious and inspiring industry professionals to ever appear on these pages. Today we are Getting to Know Annabel Mackie, Managing Partner at M&C Saatchi.
Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?
It involves quite a lot of meetings, but I like the variety I get, from procurement meetings and client meetings on creative and strategy, through to conversations about diversity, equality and inclusion.
In my role I enable and empower each person to play their part to the best of their ability. I think I offer an awareness of different types of people and their different voices, as well as knowing how to build an environment for the best work to be created. Sometimes this is finding ways for people to stay fresh on briefs or ensuring that a newly formed cross functional pitch team can gel and become a highly focused unit in a high pressured, time short environment, to deliver at their absolute best.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
At key points in my career, I’ve made bold decisions to go in a different direction to the natural path laid out in front of me, in order to diversify my knowledge. I started out in traditional ‘above the line’ channels, and I was fortunate enough to work on some amazing brands which I’m super proud of. Then I made a conscious decision to step into the unknown of digital media and social strategy and creative. This was a steep learning curve but one I relished. I was also able to learn about the digital media planning and buying function, further broadening my channel knowledge. Next, I made another conscious choice to learn about the customer space, specifically loyalty and CRM, as for me this was a missing piece of the marketing puzzle. This has enabled me to understand the full customer journey which means I am able to have meaningful, informed discussions and guide Marketing Directors, in a true partnership.
These choices meant that I saw peers I started my career with move past me as they honed their brand knowledge and experience, but I have a hungry and curious mind and this path has kept me challenged and interested in new ways and I think (hope) future proofed my career.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
When I joined the ad world back in 2003, I was not the standard grad. I grew up on a farm in Somerset, went to state school and did a marketing degree (at an old polytechnic) and in fact I didn’t join as a grad as I wasn’t successful on any of the grad schemes I applied for. I started as a team assistant, and I think this has kept me grounded. It taught me how to pay attention to the smallest of details, for instance we had a client who only could be served food from their supermarket and took their tea in a specific way. I think I have carried those grad rejection letters with me through my career and it has kept me acutely aware of two things. Firstly, sometimes entry-level recruitment misses great people and secondly, the impact of imposter syndrome cannot be underestimated. These two things have meant that I am passionately active in the diversity and inclusion space. I sit on the IPA Talent committee, running the Family Network at M&C Saatchi, and I am the DE&I leader for the agency. I truly believe this industry will benefit from enabling people who are different to thrive. Feeling like an imposter makes me work hard, prep hard and sometimes I still have to remind myself of how far I’ve come to realise I can do it despite not being good enough on paper to join a grad programme.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
My biggest win was having children. It gave me focus and perspective on my career and enabled me to stress less about the day to day, as ultimately any problem is fixable. It also propelled my career in ways I hadn’t foreseen. Before returning after my eldest daughter was born, I really wasn’t convinced I could make my role work alongside being parent. I came back to a new boss - she didn’t know me and I didn’t know her – and I was on a new set of clients, with a lot of unknowns to overcome. Within a few weeks of being back, I remember saying boldly to my new boss “I’m bored, I’m not being stretched, please can you help fix this” her response was “sure, want to come and do this pitch with me?”.
We won that pitch and almost ten years later we’re still working together. She gave me as much responsibility as I wanted whilst also ensuring I was supported when inevitably child-related issues cropped up or when I was celebrating my children’s milestones, and she enabled me to return after my second daughter was born in a way that worked for me and the business.
My biggest loss conversely has been working with people who haven’t enabled me to be authentically me, which impacted my mental health and ramped up my imposter syndrome. Thankfully I have a great support network, within the industry and outside of it, who helped me navigate my way through these periods. I know I didn’t perform at my best around these people and my work output suffered, and these less than great experiences really made me understand how important it is for employers to create the environment where staff can show up as themselves – which means both employer and employee win.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
At my first agency, RKCR/Y&R, I was lucky to work under Creative Chairman, Mark Roalfe, and Ida Rezvani, Managing Director at the time we both left. They taught me everything about the craft of creativity, protecting the creative, that everyone can be creative and that everyone can collaborate on strategy. Ida is also responsible for my fastidious attention to detail (I always want to read all the words on all the slides!) and a focus on finance. Both Mark and Ida taught me to go the extra mile to get the best work made (for client and agency), to be curious, to learn from those around me and importantly to be kind and have fun, too. I will forever be thankful for starting my career under their guidance.
If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?
I mean, yeah, there are a few boys I wouldn’t have kissed!
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
Running my side gig, Fighting Fit for Cancer, full time.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
More acceptance and celebration of our differences.
What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?
Be curious, be tenacious, have fun.
What are your top tips for other creative leaders?
Ask your teams how they are and truly listen and act on what you hear, and be kind.
When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?
Their progression and happiness.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
As our clients are communicating to customers, it’s good to remember that those customers are humans, so I’d suggest ensuring you keep your reading lists real, watch Britain’s Got Talent, read the Daily Mail, shop on the high street, go and watch the great British public out and about, and be curious about their worlds. Then you will be able to better connect to the human behind the target audience.