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Q&A with Bridget Westerholz, MD of FUSE Marketing Group

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Bridget Westerholz is the new Managing Director at FUSE Marketing Group. Originally from South Africa, Westerholz moved to London after graduating with a post-graduate degree in advertising. She then hopped the pond to Vancouver in order to advance her career at agencies Dare and DDB where she worked on clients like P&O Cruises, PepsiCo, Emerald Health and Rocky Mountaineer. Her collaborated work has been recognized in numerous creative and effectiveness award shows including the IPA Effectiveness Awards, Cassies, Marketing Awards, Cannes, and Clios.

AW: Tell us about your career journey so far.

I have been incredibly lucky in my career journey as I have come across many inspiring mentors who have not only demonstrated great leadership skills for me to model off of, but have also supported me in my journey and helped me see that I was capable of taking the next step at each phase of my career. Whilst I have stuck to advertising and on paper, my journey looks fairly linear – I have had many ups and downs along the way. Not all positions were ones I loved and not all of the moves have come when I wanted them to. In hindsight though, each helped me get what I need to be where I am today.

AW: What are the most important things you’ve learned working in various countries around the world?

To be open-minded and adaptable. I have loved each and every single city and country I have lived in. Each one is so different and has really contributed to my growth as a person and leader. Culturally, the biggest jump for me was moving from London to Vancouver, which surprised me. Canadians are a lot less direct in their style of communication and I had to learn to communicate slightly differently in the business world – in particular as I came up in advertising through client services. Finding that balance of politeness yet firmness while being at the service of your client was different in Canada than in the UK or South Africa.

AW: What do you love about the industry you work in? What do you dislike?

I decided at the age of 16 that I wanted to work in the advertising industry after hearing two Creative Directors come and chat with us at a school job fair. I love the people, the creativity you’re surrounded by, and the exploration of human behaviour to mine for insights. No one day is the same and I love that we have so much fun doing what we do. The energy and the buzz of an agency can be a little addictive.

I dislike it when agencies are treated as vendors – there to just get the job done. The best client-agency relationships are partnerships; when agencies are predicting what the client needs before they even realize what they need.

AW: The advertising business has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. What are the 3 biggest changes in marketing communications that marketers need to pay attention to?

So much has changed in my 19-year career. I used to sign off on lithographs for print ads – now everything is digital. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that big ideas that connect to people on a human level will always win. Whether that’s done through digital, social content, experiential or a good old-fashioned TV ad.

The three changes that are hot on our list right now are:

1) Data: How to ensure we’re using data to achieve the above, and will help us be relevant now.

2) Timelines and budgets: clients want more for less and in less time. Everything is time-crunched, as we live in a digital world. We need to make sure that the quality and the relevance is still there.

3) Younger employees:  Work isn’t – and shouldn’t be – everything to our team members anymore. They love advertising, their work, but they also put a higher emphasis on work-life balance than previous generations. We need to acknowledge this change and develop more effective processes that allow everyone to contribute at maximum without having to be “on” all the time.  It’s the only way for us as an agency to keep our team members engaged and turnover low.

AW: What do you feel are the most critical thing agencies need to do right now to remain relevant to their clients?

Results help clients solve their business problems. Finding the best solution to help move the needle on whatever issue they’re facing: foot traffic, sales, increase revenue targets etc. will help clients be relevant to consumers. I still believe in the concept of a big idea, even if the execution is a simple social post. If it’s based on something relevant to consumers, then it will resonate and drive results.

AW: How do you personally adapt and learn with the shift in marketing towards science, data and machine intelligence?

Read, read, read. Industry articles help me, and I have also discovered the secret to audiobooks (while I commute, I listen). I don’t think the fundamentals of advertising have changed, but our world has changed, and we have even more tools and technology to help us fuel great creative work.

AW: Have you ever had to overcome a significant career challenge and if so, what did you do?

I would say the hardest challenge I had was working for an agency whose values really did not align with mine. Eventually I made a huge decision to leave without anywhere to go. This was during the recession and there were literally no jobs out there to be had. I went back to school to study design and took a year out of the game. I lived life on my own schedule. Went for my runs while people were at work. Grocery shopped in the middle of the day. Going back to college was fun and it pushed me in other ways. I look back on it with a lot more positivity now, but of course I was scared, was going into debt, and was frustrated that there weren’t many opportunities popping up.

Advertising is a small industry in Vancouver, and I considered moving back to London many times. Eventually a job popped up that really had me excited and the rest is history – I haven’t looked back ever since. I learned to be patient with myself, how to manage on a shoe-string budget and how to be grateful for the ability to work. I also learned the importance of alignment of values when you work for a company and I’ve been incredibly selective about that ever since.

AW: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in life?

I have overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges and risen to prove myself in each role I’ve had.  That comes with hard work; within the industry and within myself. I continue to learn, evolve and improve wherever I can in my career strategy. I am very proud of the fact that I have relocated three times now and each time have rebuilt my cultural knowledge, my network and my community. It’s so very tough to start again each time, but unbelievably rewarding.

AW: Do you have a “bucket list” and if so, what’s in the top 5?

  1. Taking my kids back to my home country of South Africa. Seeing my family and friends from my upbringing and watching my kids run free on the beaches that I ran free on as a kid.
  2. Do a trip without the kids. Spending time exploring with my husband sounds so freeing right now. I have so many places I would like to go; Nicaragua, Kenya, Botswana, Mozambique (the list is extensive).
  3. Having my whole family together in one place. I have direct family all over the world (from Australia, the UK, the States and of course Canada). I would love to do a family holiday, bringing us all together.
  4. See the Northern lights. I have tried a few times now, including a big trip to the Yukon and they’ve always evaded me.
  5. To see some of Asia. I have explored a fair bit of Europe, but never ventured further East. Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia are at the top of the list, but the list doesn’t end there!

AW: What keeps you awake at night?

Worrying about people in the agency. Am I giving them what they need – the right support, the right tools, the right team members?

AW: How do you take care of yourself physically and mentally?

I don’t do nearly enough of this. I am learning (with age) that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. So I am beginning to have less guilt around making time for myself. I love running. The runner’s high is real for me and keeps me addicted. I also recently discovered spinning, so when I have the time, I try and get myself to a class.

Coming home to two giggling children helps me switch off or wind down from a day and defuses a lot of my anxiety. Mostly, I like to surround myself with good people and have a laugh. I find connecting with my friends always gives me a sense of belonging, and laughter is definitely the best medicine.

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