We get to spend our days working with generally awesome people across the wonderful worlds of technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership.

And we love exploring what makes these folks tick. So we launched FFS, or Futureheads Five Stories, where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell, to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

This week we sat down with Founder & Executive Creative Director Clare McDonald.

What’s the story of your career so far?

Grab a coffee, sit back and relax….

Once upon a time a young woman started in textiles and fashion and believed she was going to be the next digital Zandra Rhodes. She sold a few collections and realized she was beginning to like the digital aspects more than the fabric.

So I found myself crashing into Digital Media while at the RCA, and I found life at ease. I was an ideas machine and could quickly understand the technology or software, doodle out the experience and work with developers to make it happen. I’d always dabbled in video and styling so a natural next home for me was in the emerging field of digital TV.

Starting out at Silicon, I then joined Open TV and started the journey closer to consumer-facing experiences and content. Then Open TV merged with Sky, and my journey within Sky began.

Over the years I also became good at building and managing diverse teams, from C++ developers to cinematographers. I could see the relevance and convergent skills in all. Great ideas do really come from anyone. I then moved full circle back into marketing and branding. We rolled out channel brands, advertising campaigns and product interfaces. All the while I was writing, leading R&D projects and giving birth.

But I was terrified of being a lifer, so I left after twelve years. Some thought it was an early midlife crisis and I would go and join an ashram, but I thought it was the perfect time.

I didn’t join an ashram but continued to write, worked with the likes of Secret Cinema, Fintech brands, Al Jazeera, and generally had a blast learning new skills and immersing myself in the culture of emerging consumers, audiences and trends in technology.

I only took projects I wanted to and worked with brands I thought were game changers. I didn’t want to join a brand or be in any one place too long. This was all about learning and making.

During this journey, I was approached to join Rosetta (Publicis), a data-driven creative company. It was different and exciting, working with Tech and Pharma brands – not what I expected to want to do. At the end of the year, I was approached to take on a new brief, a real corker – design and roll out a new content product across the Caribbean and Pacific. Simultaneously Publicis merged Rosetta into the business, so I left and took the new brief with me and built a team across multiple countries. It was an amazing challenge, covering different languages, different needs, different financial statuses and abilities…

Over the last few years one project has led to another and I have worked everywhere, from China to Miami, Kingston to London, Ibiza to Innellan.

My creative skills still remain the same in principle, but all of this journey has empowered me with great insight, multi-tasking magic and leadership skills. Taking responsibility for large groups of people, innovation, products or campaigns and driving the benchmark and rationale is where I am now. I still write, still am a fashion addict but my love of building successful brand experiences and doing the right thing for the consumer/user wins hands down.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

If I was starting out again I would tell myself to speak up more, never hold back and believe that you really can do anything you put your mind to. The people over intellectualising, are wrong and you know you are right. That ability to say it in layman terms is going to do wonders for you.

I would also tell myself that nothing will come and find you, so you will have to get comfortable at showing off your fabulousness in PR and media (something I still struggle with. Being the best-kept secret only works with the incredible Secret Cinema company). I would also tell myself to shake off that fraud complex early, have a look at your qualifications and folio, and get it through your thick cranium that you are good. Really good. And that every single one of the “fabulous” you encounter feels the same.

Only you can hold yourself back, so don’t accept that as an option.This is advice I give to all women that work for me or that I mentor.

Oh, and I would also tell myself to start doing Yoga asap, as your years of being an eejit on a skateboard and BMX are definitely going to catch up. And that you cannot keep eating Turkish Delights after 40, so stop buying them or develop an allergy. Please.

What do you love most about what you do?

I am a storyteller. A dreamer, a maker. I love to be given a challenge or a need, and design or create the solution to make it a reality or a success. I love this so much. From building teams and seeing talent creatively secure and truly excelling at what they do, through to hearing a product I led hitting all targets and exceeding them. Totally brilliant.

Loving what I do is easy. I get to design experiences that millions of people use and manage teams of wonderful creative creatures that are all incredibly unique… this is not only a huge responsibility but a massive gift in my life. There is nothing better than knowing you have worked on a product or a campaign that has positive feedback. It’s a wonderful feeling. I love that sense of purpose and achievement.

Over the last four years, I challenged myself to work internationally and travel as much as I can. So far, I have achieved more air miles I ever imagined, but expanding the mind and working in other territories, especially emerging markets has been a joy and an educator. I am also aware of how fortunate I am and have been.

Whenever I hear creatives or whomever I am working with moaning about their job, I point out that we are earning our monies by innovating, inspiring and designing – and if you don’t love that then rethink what you are doing. This is a blessing, not hard work. Hard work is working at an A&E, or trying to inspire a room of kids when life is tough and they just don’t care, or working 3 part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Everyone has problems that we cannot see, but we are in a great industry. We get to do what we love every day and get paid, on the whole, very well for it. Every day I get to put pen to paper, or tap those keys, I remind myself how much I love to do what I do.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

I have five, which I check on all the time.

  1. Know your strengths. It is crucial that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Great teams can help make whatever your magical talent is even better and help you with your weaknesses. Feel confident in yourself but allow yourself to always listen. Ask people you trust and value, what do you think I do best, or where do you think I could improve?
  2. Always be yourself. Authenticity is crucial. When I was first starting out I would watch others who were senior, and think I need to be like them: posh accent, calculated, serious, guarded and stressed. But I eventually realised that it was impossible for me to try and be anyone else but myself if I wanted to succeed, and I gain so much perspective by not being any of those attributes. Authentic leaders make authentic teams and that is good for everyone.
  3. Save money. Seriously. Get savings in your bank or have good reserves in your business account. Life can take twists and you need to have something to fall back on, especially if you’re self-employed.Two years ago, I developed Sepsis, and my world stopped. I was one of the lucky ones, and I was grateful that I had reserves in the business account or life could have been tough. So pop that extra cash in your bank, hold back on the lattes and budget. This will enable you to take risks, and support yourself when life deals a blow.
  4. Get uncomfortable. I left a company at the top of my career. Some people thought it was a crisis, but I knew I had to get out and see what else I could do. So I went from huge brand to small brands in Shoreditch and loved it. Of course, being uncomfortable doesn’t always have to be that drastic. It could be taking on a new type of project, or asking for more (or less!) responsibility in your role. Most people don’t like change, and getting uncomfortable is a common theme in transformation projects. But change is as good as a rest as my mother used to say, and in our medium, I would say it’s crucial. So try a wee bit of discomfort every now and then, and have a wee lane swerve just to check you are on the right road.
  5. Have another passion outside your job: learning to speak Russian, building birdhouses, or in my case writing a film or book that one day sees me pick up an Oscar (Yup, I am exercising .2, and being totally authentic here. I fear many texts after this admission to check I haven’t gone all delusional, but this is a dream I have and I will keep tapping away at it). Having a sidekick passion is the best balancer in life and also aids your insights and creativity.

P.S. Before you do put the pennies in the bank, however, please do feel free to donate to the Sepsis Trust to help them not only raise awareness but to support survivors. Sadly one in three diagnosed will die from Sepsis. I truly am lucky.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?

One of the biggest challenges I see is the growing gap of Creative Thinking, both within the talent pool and employers. Through data, analytics and AI we have insights and patterns to draw from on everything and anything. The IOT is nigh. Prescient experiences will be intrinsic to our future world, but, we must be careful not to over-engineer our actual people, our UX/UI design teams by reducing their creative diversity. The function also needs a form as we know.  We need to be careful to build innovative teams, not just factories of skills that bring similar results.

Why do I say this? In recent years I have worked with sectors that must transform to stay relevant in the modern age, but they continue to hire UX/UI talent from their industry and see other experience/influences as lacking the insight needed.

This intrigues me…

Why only hire people with broadcast experience for broadcast? Why only hire financial services experience for financial services? Why only hire pharma experience for pharma? There has never been a more relevant time to create teams that are as customer-centric and innovative as now, and diversity of all forms can bring that into a business, from experience to approach. Day to day iterative issues and fixes can be solved quickly by “outside thinking” or as I like to think of it “consumer thinking”.

A little bit about Clare

Clare McDonald studied at the RCA then went on to have ECD roles at both Sky and Rosetta before going out on her own as a consultant ECD and Creative Strategist. She works locally and internationally helping businesses create the perfect customer experience and brand and recently has been working internationally on long and short-term contracts. 

She is halfway through writing her new cross-device crime drama set in Jamaica and London and is attempting to walk away from Turkish Delights on a daily basis.

You can connect with Clare on LinkedIn.

Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at liz@wearefutureheads.co.uk.

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