Kat Towers on the thrill of seeing LOVE's work on Kim Kardashian's Instagram stories
Kat Towers' job title at ad agency LOVE is 'Head of Culture', and while we're still not entirely sure what she does, it seems to be something to do with being on the internet a hell of a lot. We tried to dig a little deeper into the goings-on of the Manchester-based indie firm.
We don't really know what "unearthing cultural truths" or "identifying category orthodoxies" means, but apparently Kat does a lot of that, when she's not hanging out in Reddit forums and generally tinkering about on social media and getting paid for it. Read on for more about working with "mega-brands" (not my phrase, for once, but one I mega-approve of), why everyone's going nuts for AR and more.
What does the job title 'head of culture' mean?
I'd say my role is a hybrid of research, strategy and creative. It's about the now, near and future – scanning the horizon for trends, being in-tune with consumers, understanding the zeitgeist, identifying moments in culture as they play out and sharing them in real-time.
While I author thought pieces and reports, my role is much more dynamic than that. It’s about gaining access to deep-rooted communities, online communities increasingly so, to understand what really matters in their world. I'm not just talking Instagram or Twitter trends, I'm talking Reddit forums, Tattle threads, sending DMs, scrolling the comment sections of brand posts to see how consumers are engaging and reacting—social media is a brilliant tool in that respect. All of this is very intuitive to me but it’s rare, in the marketing landscape, that a person's sole job is to go out and do this.
What does a typical day look like?
Varied, which is how I like it. Most days I'll be working alongside the creatives on anything from identifying collaborators (brands, artists, influencers and tastemakers) to finding cultural connectors who can help send our work up in the world.
If we're working with a new brand or category, there's usually a period of time where I'll work on my own, really digging around the brand, unearthing cultural truths, identifying category orthodoxies, looking sideways, taking that time to understand the subcultures and communities before presenting these findings back to the wider team.
Right now, I tend to structure my day around Zoom calls to make sure I’m spending enough face time with my colleagues and giving their projects love. Back in the office, however, my days are a lot more fluid—dropping in on meetings or having informal work catch-ups on the sofas, in the kitchen or at one of our two bars!
No matter what’s on the agenda for the day the first thing I do, every morning, is scan social to see which celebs have mentioned our brands, what memes are being shared, what’s trending on Twitter or what livestreams broke the internet in China overnight.
What would you say describes a typical Love project? What sort of things do you look for in a client/collaborator?
Although we work with a lot of mega-brands, we don't have prerequisites when it comes to the clients or briefs we take on. Yes, it's cool to land the cult brands, but it's the brands that come to us with big challenges or that are facing extinction that are often the most interesting. That's where you find clients with the highest bravery levels and who are willing to trust in the strongest ideas—when you're broken, you’ve got nothing to lose. I understand why some clients play it safe and want to come away from a brand maintaining growth and a clean slate, but where's the fun in that?
There are a number of projects that have landed big fame—Hollywood fame. Our Johnnie Walker x Bladerunner 2049 Limited Edition took David Palmer (ECD and founder of LOVE) years to persuade the brand to do. After a stroke of luck, a sequel to Blade Runner was announced and the global brand director at the time gave the green light to reprise Johnnie Walker's famous cameo in the film. It was designed under the radar, over a period of a month and then hand-delivered to Budapest where the film was being shot at the time. The liquid is special too and LOVE was involved in its development, flying to LA with the Johnnie Walker Master Blender to work with the film director, Denis Villeneuve, to create a 'Bladerunner style' liquid.
I also have soft spot for our limited-edition packs of Marshmallow Only Lucky Charms. I love that an indie design studio in Manchester can work with global brands to set social feeds alight with scroll-stopping work. I mean, it’s always a thrill to see our work on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram stories, which it often does. It’s hard to say what a typical LOVE project is. They're all bonkers really.
What are your personal favourite sort of clients/sectors to work with and why? And which do you find the most challenging?
I get really bored when things get one dimensional, so I love the mix. Working on ice-cream in the morning and picking up a sneaker launch brief in the afternoon. Reinventing the whisky category one day and creating limited editions for luxury beauty brands the next.
My favourite projects are always the ones that have impacted culture in a meaningful way, created platforms for talent on the come-up, or spun a category on its head, taking conversations into new and surprising spaces and with new consumers.
What have you noticed about the design industry over the last year that's surprised you?
It's not necessarily been a surprise, but a welcome shift, in the talent migrating towards the design industry over the last decade. Having a successful career in the industry doesn’t come down to a design or an arts degree. It’s about curiosity, pro-activeness and being a culture-first thinker that takes you further today. I’m seeing more women in senior design roles and more diversity. My door is always open to anybody who wants advice; I think that’s true for a lot of creative professionals, you just have to ask.
In terms of consumer trends, there’s definitely been a noticeable shift in the mainstreaming of AR (augmented reality). Our virtual and real worlds are converging more than ever before. AR will stick around as a lasting legacy of the way our lives have reprogrammed during lockdown. I'm really excited to see brands become slicker with technology, there are elements of it that still feel quite clunky and beta (although I love the lo-fi charm).
How did you get into what you do now?
Going back to my previous point, I think the fact I don’t come from a design or arts background has given me an edge in the industry. I was all in for music growing up. My first job was at BBC Radio One, and I continued to work in every role imaginable within radio and TV. That was until I started to truly understand the industry's pay realities, especially for a young, female grad up north.
I sidestepped into the creative agency, working my way up the account management ladder at LOVE, learning the ropes as I went until the role of account director was the next logical move. While I could do the job, there was always something very deep-rooted that felt wrong about that role, for me. Everything I love in the industry is centred around the doing, the thinking, the hustle, the creative challenges. The more senior you get in account management, the less hands-on you are in the day-to-day creative.
I expressed this to Dave Palmer (ECD and founder) and it didn't take long to establish where I could really add value to the agency, and our clients. The only issue was that this role didn’t exist. So, we created it: Head of Culture. I’ll always be grateful that he, and the rest of the board, had the foresight to see how the landscape was changing, and what they actually needed was someone dedicated to keeping the agency in-tune. Not another account director.