With almost a year under her belt as MD, not to mention over 600 international effectiveness case studies, a clutch of awards and no sign of slowing down, Patricia Killoran, Managing Director at The Mission Control Communications is starting the New Year on a firm footing and with a clear objective.
Ahead of a busy month travelling to meet partner brands on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout Europe, Patricia explains the importance of that face-to-face contact and why the agency will frequently travel thousands of miles for just one meeting.
‘The distance is irrelevant,’ says Patricia. ‘What is important is showing partner brands that we are just as committed to their success as they are themselves. Naturally a lot of what we do can be trafficked and managed with email and calls, but nothing beats that face-to-face interaction and in my experience, people achieve more when they actually know the people they are working with.’
Have you a particular trip that you’re looking forward to? ‘I have to admit; I am looking forward to going to the States again. We work with some really lovely people out there and I do look forward to seeing them and just catching up.’
So it’s not all business then? ‘I don’t think you can work in this industry if you’re just all about “the business”. What we do is very personal. You can’t be involved in creating something and not have a personal involvement in it. You only have to look at the team in the studio to see that. For all of the strategy and creativity that goes into a project, there’s an equal measure of personal pride. It’s the same with the brand teams we work with. There’s not a job that goes out the door that isn’t personal.’
Is it just the boss that gets to travel? ‘No not at all! Since we officially started back to work after the Christmas break, everyone has been out and about at meetings. There’s been no shortage of red eye flights out off International the past week or so and that looks like a trend set to continue for the rest of the month. But it’s great that the team gets to meet with the people they are working with. One of the teams happened to be in England last week and they met up with some of their US partners and they achieved so much in such a short space of time. It’s that sharing of ideas and knowledge and getting to know people as people. That’s what it’s all about – people working with people to achieve a common objective.’
So 2016 is starting busy? ‘Starting busy. It’s always busy and that’s the way we like. I think Christmas Day was the only day that we weren’t actually working. We’ve a great team here and it’s the relationships they form with our partners that gives them that level of commitment to not only go above and beyond, but to do whatever it takes to get the job completed.
It was actually pretty funny on New Year’s Eve night. We were working with a partner across 3 time zones so we had 3 celebrations.’
The Mission Control Communications is seen as an agency that puts in a lot of hours, is that true, and if so, why? ‘We live in a world that is infinitely more connected than at any other point in history. Brands are doing business simultaneously across multiple time zones so you need to be on hand to work with them when they need you.
Yes we put in a lot of strange hours, but you have to remember, they are only strange hours here in Northern Ireland. In reality, they are just the normal office hours of our overseas partners. So whilst we might work late in the evenings when needed, there will be other times when we can start late in the morning. It’s swings and roundabouts – we’re not slave drivers.
I was chatting to one of the designers about it recently after he’d came back from a meeting and he made a very good point, ‘we’re at the big table, so we’ve got to put the work in’. I think that says a lot about the attitude of the team. They know we are getting to work on some amazing brands and that people listen to our suggestions. Our team sees that and appreciates it.’
What do you mean by being at the ‘big table’? ‘We work with brands that are valued in the billions of dollars and that truly understand the power of effective marketing. These are brands that set trends as opposed to following them. They are brands that want a partner that engages with them and is capable of taking them to the next level as opposed to simply giving them the same old year in and year out.
You only have to look at some work that is out there at the minute and you know the agencies responsible are following a formula that hasn’t changed in decades. That’s not servicing a client. It’s opting for the safe route and ensuring you’re leaving the office at 5pm everyday. That’s not us. We’re constantly looking at how we can work with our brand partners to engage with their audience in new and relevant ways. Granted – you spend a lot of your time in unfamiliar territory – but that keeps it interesting.
It also means that when we are working with international agencies, we are doing so with confidence and authority.’
There has been some criticism of the agency from your competitors for seemingly placing strategy over creativity. How do you respond to that? ‘Oh we’ll always have our critics. But what’s interesting is that those critics seem to end up weaving a lot of our thinking into their own messaging and positioning. Look, I’m not saying creativity isn’t important. It is. But it needs to be channelled. It needs to have a defined outcome. It needs to achieve an objective. We work with multi-billion-dollar brands. They want effectiveness. They don’t want pretty pictures.’
So is strategy more important than creativity? ‘I don’t think it’s an either/or option. You need strategy to direct creativity so that you can enable an effective outcome. So if we had to be labelled as anything, I’d prefer to have us labelled as an effectiveness agency. That’s what we do and that’s what the brands we work with expect. Strategy and creativity are just two of the tools we use to be effective.’
What do you make of agencies that position themselves as creative then? ‘Other people can do as they want. If they feel the need to constantly remind people that they are creative, then that’s their right. But for us, creativity is just one of the strings to our bow.’
You mention critics weaving your thinking into their messaging and positioning, does that happen a lot? ‘It happens. But we take it as a compliment. Truthfully, I’m happier that we’re in a position to inspire, inform and educate other agencies. If the roles were reversed, then I think I’d be having concerns. It can actually be funny at times when one of the team comes across something. I remember we did a campaign for one of our scientific partners and a few months later, another agency replicated the concept for a large inward investment organisation here in Northern Ireland.’
Are you ever tempted to weave other agencies thinking into yours? ‘That’s not who we are. When we launched The Mission Control Communications, we did it with the objective of challenging ourselves to constantly strive for better. If we were to simply take our lead from another agency, that defeats the purpose and we might as well just go work for another agency. That and truthfully, our partners wouldn’t stand for it. They work with us because we are that bit off centre. We don’t go to presentations and start with, “here’s an idea that we did for company X that really worked and we think it would work for you as well”. We’re constantly pushing boundaries and challenging not only ourselves, but also our partners.’
So what will be the next lesson you hope to teach those following your example? ‘Be yourself and stand up for what you believe in. Companies don’t want ‘yes’ agencies. They are paying for your expertise so bring something to the table that is worth paying for. That’s why we keep the lab bench in the middle of the studio to constantly remind our teams of that. Everything we do needs to add value to our partner brands, so before we bring it to the presentation, it has to pass our own internal bench test.’