Rachel Steed-Middleton

Brand and Marketing Consultant

Taking the big picture and looking at it differently comes naturally to Rachel Steed-Middleton, the Brand and Marketing Consultant with Fenwick, Winkreative and Anomaly on her CV (and a penchant for philosophy and Duplo).

Here, our latest Creative Achiever talks brand strategy and president-worthy career advice.

When you were doing your degree in Philosophy did you have an idea that your career would take the course it has? 

That’s a good question. When I was at university I never thought of my undergraduate degree as being directly related to my career, I saw it more as the natural next step for me. I went to a private liberal arts high-school in Toronto where we called our teachers by their first names and classes were very small. In grade ten one of our headmasters added philosophy to the curriculum and on my first day of class he arrived dressed as Immanuel Kant’s long lost fictitious cousin and began explaining the categorical imperative whilst in 19th century period dress. From there I fell in love with the world of big existential questions and the art of forming sound rational arguments (my poor mother).

Although I couldn’t have imagined anything beyond being 20 at the time, now looking back on it, I do think my studies and my career have obvious parallels. Much of creative strategy is about asking the bigger questions and looking for the meaning and purpose of a brand or product beyond what’s immediately in front of you. And a lot of managing the business and client side is about framing a logical position around your plans, strategies and ideas to bring them forward and safely through various stakeholders and into the marketplace. 

You cut your teeth in some amazing agencies before making the jump to client side – what inspired that decision? What’s been the difference so far? 

My career has always had a very tangible energy to it – every big change has come at a point where I’ve felt like I’ve reached the peak of where I am and I can literally feel the gears shifting. 

Sitting on the client side is interesting because you are closer to the functions of the business and can be more effective in both the creation and implementation of the work for the brand. 

The biggest difference so far has been moving from creative to corporate culture. 

Have you had any mentors throughout your career who have really inspired you? What’s the best advice you’ve been given? 

Yes. I have been very fortunate to have some incredible mentors throughout my career. 

The best advice… My mentor Wahn Yoon (whom we affectionately refer to as Obi Wahn) has given me so many words to live by its hard to land on one which is the top top... 

However, I was speaking to Wahn recently about how best to give good counsel to my clients and colleagues and he said, “Rachel, do what you do. You speak truth to power, with the best interests of the business in mind.” And then, true to form, he closed with: “By the way, this advice was given to me by the illustrious David Gergen who was advisor to four US presidents.”

What parts of marketing and brand strategy do you find the most interesting?

Leveraging the brand truth and the cultural truth to produce creative work and product that has actual impact on the bottom line of a business. 

You’re currently consulting at Fenwick, what are the challenges and benefits to working with a heritage brand?

Fenwick is an incredible brand. It is iconic, entrepreneurial, inherently good and British to its core. The greatest bit about working with the brand has been being able to work with such a rich history and help it to express its ‘heart’ in a way that distinctly positions it for success with the customer, the product and the market in 2019 and beyond. 

In terms of the biggest challenge: the business recently underwent a restructure that saw the brand move from being managed individually across nine stores to being centralized as a master-brand. So in many ways you are working with a 127 year old startup. And that’s a big ship to steer. But an amazing opportunity! 

What do you think it is that gives a business a great internal culture? 

Good humans and honest intent.

You’ve zigzagged between the UK and Canada throughout your career, what are the major differences between working in the two places?

Tea culture. Snow days. Global versus regional. Different expressions of the same language. “That’s not bad” in Canada is not the same as “that’s not bad” in England. 

How do you disconnect from work?

I spend time with my family. When it’s time for just me I try and get to an Intelligence Squared debate, an exhibition or the cinema. I also like to disappear into a New Yorker. 

Where do you go for creative inspiration? 

I have been rather impressed with my command over Duplo and Magna-Tiles lately. A credit to my daughter who also inspires me to see objects and their uses differently (I recently learned that a loo roll tube is also a trumpet and the top to a coffee tin can double as a swimming pool for tiny farm animals).