An interview with Katarina Stefansson

Katarina Stefansson

We spoke to Katarina Stefansson, Marketing and PR Manager at Passion Digital.

“Being born in Belarus (a post-Soviet country) I already at the age of 7 knew that I wanted to live and work somewhere else in the world. Being a very ambitious and assertive girl, I noticed early that I would meet quite a lot of obstacles in my life if I stayed in an environment that didn’t enforce gender equality, where I was told that I wouldn’t be able to work within certain professions because I was a girl – because those jobs are “hard”. 

Thankfully, a lot has changed in Belarus since then. Early on in my life, mainly because of my strong female role model, my mother, was feeding me with inspirational stories, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. So that was the plan for the 7-year-old me – move to London and become a successful lawyer.

So. I didn’t end up working in legal, although I have taken a couple of business law courses at university. At the age of 8, my family and I moved to Sweden. Immigration is a great way to become more open-minded and flexible in life. I have to say that I carry that experience with me at all times when I am working, especially since I have to interact with so many different people, living in such a huge metropolitan city like London.

I always had my eyes on the goal. I studied International Baccalaureate to get a foot into moving to London. Then I did my bachelor’s degree in business management at the Queen Mary University of London and a master’s degree in strategic marketing at Imperial College Business School. I got my first job with my old university in product development of online courses and then continued my career on the agency side, while simultaneously working on some side ideas and doing a bit of freelancing.

I fell in love with marketing in my 2nd year of university. To test my gut feeling about my future profession I did an internship at Saatchi and Saatchi and got my confirmation – marketing loved me too.

Currently, I am the internal Marketing and PR manager at a digital marketing agency called Passion Digital in South West London. We specialise in performance marketing and work with fantastic brands such as Abel & Cole, ITV, Knight Frank, and the National Trust. 

Passion Digital is built on values such as creativity, ambition, transparency, and confidence, but most importantly it is fuelled by passion, and that spoke to me when I entered my role.

Empathy is my strength. From a young age, I think this characteristic has enabled me to be able to read people and build an understanding of what they want, what they care about and what their pain points are. I think it is a vital feature to have in marketing both to build a humane connection to your audience but also to your team because it doesn’t matter how skilled and experienced you are, you are nothing without your team.

I will tell you a little secret by quoting Bill Gates “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job. Because he will find an easy way to do it.” I can partly see myself in this quote because I do get bored easily and to tackle that I have to constantly be on the move and see results, that is why I need to find easy, innovative, but also right ways to get to those results. I have to say that I truly love my job because almost every day is different. It is like putting together a puzzle, you must constantly keep the holistic image in mind but also deep dive to make sure that every detail is perfect, right for our brand and measurable across all channels that I work with. And finally, my absolute biggest drive is inspiring and growing people working with me and for me.

I think that to do great work you need to work with people who are different from you, BUT their core values need to match yours and that is a challenge – to build your team and work together with people that are as ambitious and daring as yourself. People who inspire and motivate you independent of their level. I would say that is the challenge that individuals face, but also agencies as the competition to recruit the best talent is fierce.

I think that great work is achieved if the foundation of the business is healthy, strong, motivated and constantly evolving. Passion Digital is successful due to our amazing staff. Our “passionistas” have their heart and mind in the right place and that is the reason why we have been able to grow so much in the last few years.

A day in the life of me looks like this: I get up, get ready while drinking a glass of lemon water and run to the station to get overground to Clapham.

Between the station and the office, I get myself a coffee and think over what needs to be done that day. When I get to the office, I write my checklists – in the book of my immediate actions and my long terms actions book.

I am not a morning person, so I choose my mornings to be the time to go through my emails and check LinkedIn and other mediums that keep me posted about what is happening in the industry, in that way I use the hours when I am more productive for more brainy things like planning and reviewing campaigns, coming up with ideas for our creative and content initiatives, supporting my team members on any internal marketing activity, make sure things are getting done across our digital marketing channels and of course reporting on our progress to our founder and the management team.”

Female mentors and Mental Health Talk

“There are many strong, ambitious, fantastic female leaders within our industry. However, I would say that something they feel a little bit difficult to approach, they almost make you a bit star-struck.

Maybe due to a large amount of work on the mentor’s side or the competition of other mentees it can be a bit hard to find a female mentor who is on the same wavelength as you.

I can feel that as a woman I have to constantly excuse myself for being too strong or too weak. It is very difficult to find a middle ground and confidence to just be yourself and, finally, not just one version yourself, as every day brings different challenges and requires different reactions.

I have always been very careful not to adopt a cutthroat managerial style (which is often linked to a more masculine dominated environment, although it doesn’t have to be) and every time I catch myself on acting too “masculine” or “feminine” in comparison to who I am outside of work I try to bring myself back to my core. I think it is not about being a man or a woman in the workplace, but about being yourself, knowing what managerial style works for you and your personality, and being fair to your colleagues to gain their respect.

My advice for women looking to break into the industry or move up the ladder in terms of progression is to:

1. Build connections. Valuable connections with people that make you believe in

yourself, that can teach yourself something new and that can challenge you. I think that is very important.

2. Stick together and help each other.

3. Even though I am a huge lover of traditional education I believe that the need for it will decrease in the future – one will still need a platform to learn, I just think that it will become transformed and democratised – experience is very important. So, follow your path and be pragmatic in life like in business you need to have a plan, be strategic and value your time.

Mental health is not such a taboo topic anymore, but I would say that someone who has struggled with it, I still feel reluctant to talk about it in a professional environment. I think being in a more senior position you become more careful about how you affect people and you simply don’t want to spread negativity and personal information around the office. 

On second thought, I think that everyone struggles with mental health issues at some or even multiple times in their life, I just think that people have different definitions of it, and it can take different forms. Very often anxiety melts together with general nervousness and depression can be mistaken for sadness. It is a never-ending process to spread awareness on this topic, keep our eyes and ears open and be able to see the signs of mental health issues to support our colleagues and ourselves in the best possible way.”

Paving the way for the future

“In the next five years, personalisation will reach new levels thanks to data-driven marketing and the increased number of devices the next generation interacts with, further democratisation and transparency in advertising, and product and service promotion due to user-generated content, which will lead to a shift in budgets. And finally, crazy “Back to the future” augmented realities and virtual avatars – of course!

The list of events I’d recommend going too is long, but my top 3 right now are:

Events by the Drum give you a good mix of agency and in-house news.

The Agency collective is a great platform to mingle with your fellow agency people and get the latest insights on what everyone else is up to.

Web summit is a fantastic forum for innovations across marketing, tech and Entrepreneurship.”

You can find Katarina on LinkedIn:

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