In Conversation with Kellie Northwood

Kellie Northwood is the Chief Executive Officer of The Real Media Collective, an industry Association representing the paper, print, mail, publishing and distribution sectors across Australia and New Zealand.

She provides expertise across brand, marketing and communications with efficacy strategies of through the line channels, corporate and sustainable branding programs and tactical evaluation modelling. Ms Northwood has held many senior roles, most recently Executive Director, TSA Limited and the Chief Executive Officer of the Australasian Catalogue Association and Australasian Paper Industry Association.

She has held Group Sustainability and Marketing roles across the Tasman and sits on international Boards representing our region. Kellie is a regular contributor to marketing publications, as well as media presence across radio and television, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications (majoring in Journalism) and post-graduate studies in Education and Corporate Sustainability.

How did you get into the print media industry – was it by accident or design?

By sheer accident. It was the 90s, the recession hit the agency sector pretty hard. I was a production assistant in a CRM agency ad the first to go were the assistants. I had rent to pay and a temp role came up for a major print group looking for support for some of their large clients.

I was always a good writer and took the job writing tenders and client reports. Before long, they were setting up mini client services teams on-sites at their major customers and I was offered the role to run Shell’s entire marketing output with a team.I jumped at the chance. I was pretty young and ended up all but living there because I had no idea what I was doing, however I put in the hours and learnt fast. It was the hardest few years of my career, hours wise, however the work paid off, it accelerated by career significantly and I never looked back. I certainly never considered going back to agency land. I fell in love with producing things I could hold, see and working hand in hand with the client as ‘one team’ was a game-changer for me.

So far, what’s been the biggest challenge of your career?

Sexism. Yes, the usual stories of some blokes just being jerks, I’ve got a good handful of those, that when I was in my 20s were really disconcerting to navigate. However, also on my journey, women who have been extraordinarily competitive because the opportunities have been so much more limited for us, some generations have been so ruthless and I’ve often found women to be more aggressive than men. Women often have had to fight each other for the one spot. It is much better now and it is why I am so passionately involved in Women in Print, because it is all about providing support to a community of women across their professional development. Sexism has definitely been my biggest challenge across my career, sexism when returning to work from having children, judgement because I wanted to come back to work. Sexism because the majority of my professional world are men, therefore some men think that’s an invitation or some women think that’s fodder for gossip.

I have only had Chairmen, and when they have spoken highly of me, I’ve had industry commentary that, that is because we’re having some torrid affair – of course, it couldn’t be because I’m good at my job. Learning how to navigate sexism has been my greatest challenge and one I continue to learn how best to navigate to this day. I’m not alone here of course, however I am getting better at acknowledging it and calling it out more publicly than I ever have before.

Name one person in the industry you’ve truly admired?

Michael Boyle. He is the Vice President and Managing Director, HP, ANZ. A teacher by trade and I think that is where so much of what I respect about him comes from. He is an extremely senior executive for a global company and has held some amazing positions across the sector, those roles, and his success, in them aside, the admiration I have for him comes from his intelligent consideration and engagement with others. I am an avid student of all things communication – and one thing I watch carefully is how people communicate with others.

Michael, communicates and wins the hearts and minds of people of all levels, all parts of society and all around the world with a very calm, yet engaged demeanour. When speaking with him, he is genuinely listening and then he responds with a considered thought process. He reminds me of a philosophy I try very hard to live by, but don’t always succeed in: two ears, one mouth.

Every single engagement I have with Michael I find myself thinking through a new idea, a new approach, new concept. People we look up to or admire, are often not so much because of a single act, rather how they carry themselves, or their presence or perhaps this is simply how they lead. Michael is one of the best and I respect him tremendously.

If you could change something about your industry, what would it be?

It’s brand. Unfortunately, print media needs a brand-lift. The perception, that it hasn’t helped itself with to be honest, is that print is dead, it’s old-fashioned, it’s for the elderly. The reality is far from that. The research shows the engagement is very high across all demographics, ages, socio-economic cohorts and regions.

In fact, in recent times, print media has demonstrated higher engagement points over non-traditional media channels and is still the most trusted channel. Less defensive engagement of our channel and more proactive positioning will prove a good outcome for the industry today and into the future.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Be kinder to myself. Imposter syndrome is common for many of us, overlay that with perfectionism and you have a fairly crippling emotionalization whenever anything in the professional world doesn’t go to plan.

If I don’t achieve that very high target or fail on a project deadline or stumble in a meeting, don’t get that deal across the line and so on the feeling of failure and ‘I’m not supposed to be here’, ‘people will think I shouldn’t be doing this job’ and so on, start circling with the emotional self-doubt and internalisation.

It’s not only incredibly deflating, it’s also completely unhealthy and unnecessary – be kind to yourself, back yourself and switch off. Every single one of us do not win every time. If we did, we wouldn’t learn and evolve. When we do have those self-doubts, ring a colleague you respect and just say it straight – I feel like a failure because. I find venting and their supportive validation dissolve the dark moods pretty quickly. I wish I’d learnt that trick earlier though.

What do you think the future holds for print media?

Greater advertising customisation than ever before. As production technologies evolve – increased remote content collation, collaboration, consolidated media brand houses, printing technologies – and shifts in consumer purchase behaviour trends, advertising will be less mass and more targeted via print.

A subscriber will receive a publication with advertisements tailored to their demographic, their seasonal purchasing patterns and followed up with digital content and ecommerce platform to close the sales window. Even further into the future, pages will carry internet connectivity with videos embedded into the pages we turn and purchase options all whilst you sip your latte.  

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