‘Forget labels and focus on ideas’ – Creative Q&A

PRWeek grills creative comms figures on how they got where they are, their career highlight, solving creative writer’s block, and more. Today we speak to Katie Harrison, group associate creative director at Manifest.

How did you get where you are now?

My mum is an animator and scriptwriter (she turned Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman into the film), so my plan was to follow in her footsteps. After graduating from Central Saint Martins, I got my first job at Blink Productions assisting the wonderful director, Dougal Wilson. At the time, Dougal was directing a lot of adverts for Wieden+Kennedy, which was running a school for creative misfits who didn’t fit the traditional advertising mould. He encouraged me to apply. I got in, and stayed for six years. After Wiedens, I travelled the world, wrote a best-selling book about houseplants, and spent some time in Sydney helping Special launch Uber in Australia.

When I came back to the UK, my husband and I moved to Scotland, and I was offered a senior role with Meta’s internal creative team. After three years working between London and Edinburgh, the birth of my daughter meant I needed more flexibility. When my old boss Kostas (Karanikolas, Manifest’s global ECD) called and offered me work on my terms with clients changing the world for the better, I jumped at the chance.

What’s been your creative career highlight?

I ghostwrote a bestselling book about houseplants for the florist, Grace & Thorn. It was the ultimate copywriting challenge – 60,000 words in someone else’s voice. I loved every minute of bringing a non-fiction book to life. My grandfather was a botanist, and we developed a lot of the structure together – to know how to look after a plant, you must understand where it comes from. Where are its roots? I’m so proud to have worked with him, even though it’s heartbreaking not to have our names on the cover.

…and lowlight?

Wiedens taught us to embrace failure. And there have been many along the way. However, the one that really got away was a ‘hangover prevention drink’ launched by an ex-Nike ECD. A small gang of us created the brand from scratch and it eventually got sold in Selfridges before we were pulled from the shelves for ‘legal’ reasons.

What’s your favourite campaign of the past three months (not one that you or your organisation were involved in) and why?

I think it’s important to look for inspiration beyond advertising. The last thing that really moved me was Somewhere Boy on Channel 4. The delicacy of the scriptwriting paired with the weight of the issues covered was a masterclass in storytelling.

How do you solve creative writer’s block?

I swim in the sea in Portobello, which is a five-minute walk from my studio.

How should PR grow its creative prowess?

I say, forget the labels and focus on the ideas. We have more in common than we think – the ability to articulate an idea into a showstopping headline is a superpower.

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