'Collaboration drives our ability to be original' - talking Creativity with One Green Bean's Kat Thomas

In our latest interview with a leading UK PR creative, PRCA Creative Group chair Nick Woods meets Kat Thomas, global executive creative director at One Green Bean (OGB).

It’s well-established that there are precious few female creative directors in PR, even fewer ECDs, fewer still with global responsibilities, and the number who also founded and part-own their agency? One.

Meet Kat Thomas. If you don’t know her yet she’s one of the smartest people in the industry and every bit as impressive as her agency, which has gone from start-up to international, multiple-Cannes-Lion-winning success story in a little over ten years.

As I said, she’s smart. Not in an intellectual way or in a savvy, street way, but… both. She has the really engaging, seen-it-all-but-absolutely-open-to-everything attitude you might expect of someone both experienced and broad-minded.

Check out our previous Talking Creativity interviews with Joe Sinclair, Mark Perkins, Peter Mountstevens and Lotte Jones

We caught up to talk about her role, where she finds inspiration, diversity, mentoring and beyond.

You’re the founder of OGB, but you focus on the ECD role, how come?

When we started One Green Bean in Sydney in 2007 we had no idea we’d grow quite as quickly as we did. During that time, I realised my business management experience was fairly limited, and that my talent lay in creative. When we were about 40-people strong, we brought in Matt Buchanan, an experienced MD with strengths in organisation and business management, skills that felt very complementary to mine and we split our responsibilities accordingly.

How does having a global role make the creative challenge different to a UK CD?

When you’re delivering a campaign for the domestic market, you know you can tap into native knowledge of the media and the audience, whereas when working internationally that’s far more difficult. So whilst national campaigns will often require a British human truth, with international work being genuinely universal is crucial. And it means being interested in what’s going on in the world, not just Britain, and being aware of cultural nuance and sensitivities.

Diversity is a hot topic in PR generally and creative roles specifically, what’s your view?

Being creative is all about mindset. We hire from obscure and diverse backgrounds, we look for people’s uniqueness and passions, we definitely want exposure to other worlds and cultures within the agency. We hired a direct-selling rep once who became the most incredible publicist, we have hired a number of journalists and bloggers over the years, and someone who ran her own café and catering firm who brought commercial smarts. We even have a former professional athlete on the team and each brings something totally new and interesting. It’s the collaboration of the collective team that drives our ability to be original.

And from a senior female creative’s perspective why are there so few women in the role, and what can we do about it?

Ah, well, I think there are multiple and complex reasons. I often say you need talent, luck and self-belief in this game, and while women often have the first two, they are sometimes more challenged on the third. There is also a ‘swim in your stream’ mentality in some agencies and its hugely frustrating. One big difference we can make is for more employers to empower women with the right training and mentoring, to build their confidence in the instances when that’s the only thing holding them back.

Do you find that diverse people lead to diverse processes?

If you’re open to thinking beyond the established way of doing things, you can benefit from more productive ways of working. When we hire, I’m as interested in an inner-city kid from a comprehensive background as anyone and I’m not hung up on degrees. I’m not always a fan of the old-style brainstorm, or the ad model of a two-person creative team – there are more interesting and productive ways to do things. Find a blogger and hire them, the good ones think in words and pictures simultaneously; when you need an expert view on something, go on LinkedIn and find someone to chat to. Old school processes can help, but I’m certainly not bound by them.

I’m always interested in how creatives find inspiration, what’s your technique or process?

Wherever I am, and whatever I’m doing, I’m looking for inspiration, I am never-endingly curious about the world and the intersection of news, arts, culture and science. I’ve got a strong inner nerd for stuff that makes for an interesting watch or read. I travel a lot which helps and I tend to look at stuff through the lens of whether it’s new or not – a different story, a fresh perspective, a new technology, a film-technique I’ve not seen before… outside of work I never quite switch off, I'm always busy looking around, wanting to add and tie things together – invent things, launch new concepts, come up with ideas for the clients and brands we work with.

You’re one of the mentors in the new Creative Mentoring Project, and I know you mentor in other guises, too. What do you get from it?

From experience, mentoring is very two-way. I have an opportunity to open the eyes of someone young, whose parents or teachers have never suggested PR as a potential career path, or the open the eyes of an art school grad to consider creative opportunities beyond advertising. Equally, spending time with someone a couple of decades younger plugs me straight into their world - how they communicate, what’s on their playlists, which platforms they use, which devices, how they use them, which brands they like and why. It's a total win-win.

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