Hey there! Welcome to the Marketer Of The Month blog!
We recently interviewed Graham McDonnell for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Graham and here’s what we discussed about –
1. Consumer Recognition of Valuable Content
2. Balancing Algorithmic Recommendations and Human Curation
3. Trust as a Crucial Element in Branding
4. Disruption of Branding by Instagram and TikTok
5. Blurring Lines Between Tech and Media Companies
6. Embracing Risks and Challenges for Marketing Success
About our host:
Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co. He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba, ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.
About our guest:
Graham McDonnell, an award-winning creative director & keynote speaker with 19+ years of experience, specializes in crafting immersive stories for global brands across digital, social, and film. As the VP of Brand and Design at TIME, he leads creative vision and strategy, leveraging his exceptional talent for compelling narrative creation.
EPISODE 109: Unveiling the Evolution of Brands With the Creative Director of TIME – Graham McDonnell
Table of Contents
Saksham Sharda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Outgrow’s Marketer of the Month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda, and I’m the creative director at Outgrow.co. And for this month we are going to interview Graham McDonnell, who is the Vice President of Brand and Design at TIME. Thanks for joining us, Graham.
Graham McDonnell: Great to be here. Thank you.
Don’t have time to read? No problem, just watch the Podcast!
Or you can just listen to it on Spotify!
The Rapid Fire Round!
Saksham Sharda: Describe what your organization does in one sentence.
Graham McDonnell: The official tagline is We build a better future for our audiences. We do that by offering facts, opinions, and discussions.
Saksham Sharda: How long does it take you to get ready in the mornings?
Graham McDonnell: 20 minutes
Saksham Sharda: Most valuable skill you have learned in life?
Graham McDonnell: Being able to generalize and multitask
Saksham Sharda: City in which the Best Kiss of your life happened
Graham McDonnell: Manchester
Saksham Sharda: In one sentence, describe one problem that your organization is facing.
Graham McDonnell: ProblemI’d say, Well, I guess it’s not really a problem but more of an opportunity. And that’s obviously the Web 3 space. I think every company is trying to figure out how best to maximize that opportunity.
Saksham Sharda: How do you relax?
Graham McDonnell: I’m a big movie nerd. I guess I’ll go to the movies.
Saksham Sharda: A habit of yours that you hate?
Graham McDonnell: I guess it’s promising myself to go to the gym but not actually getting there.
Saksham Sharda: Work from home or work from the office?
Graham McDonnell: Work from home.
Saksham Sharda: A most embarrassing moment of your life?
Graham McDonnell: Oh, God, there’s so many to choose from. I don’t know if this. What’s the rating of this? I’ll have to pass this one.
Saksham Sharda: How many hours of sleep can you survive on?
Graham McDonnell: I need a lot of sleep. So ideally, nine.
Saksham Sharda: Your favorite app?
Graham McDonnell: Oh! Judging from my screen times? Probably just Instagram to be honest.
Saksham Sharda: Biggest mistake of your life?
Graham McDonnell: Oh, I would say I once took a job because it was paying more. And I quit three months later.
Saksham Sharda: First movie that comes to your mind when I say the word technology?
Graham McDonnell: Minority Report.
Saksham Sharda: How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
Graham McDonnell: Two tops.
Saksham Sharda: Your favorite Netflix show?
Graham McDonnell: Oh, I don’t know if it’s still on Netflix. But Sherlock.
The Big Questions!
Saksham Sharda: How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest trends all the time?
Graham McDonnell: Ah, I guess. Same as everyone else really like, you know, there’s different sort of blogs and different sort of media outlets that I follow. I’ve got quite an extended network just in the industry itself. So usually, I get the scoop direct from the source, just friends in the industry. I guess the biggest difficulty is sort of identifying quick trends versus long-term kind of directions of the industry. And I guess part of our jobs, as creative directors, is to figure out which ones are here to stay in which ones are sort of a flash in the pan.
Saksham Sharda: So what would be a good trick to identify a quick trend versus a long-lasting long-term trend?
Graham McDonnell: I guess the biggest thing is just identifying the value in it. My background is primarily in design. So you can clearly see if you go back through the years like which design trends offer something new and actually something valuable versus just looking pretty and look or just different from what’s come before. So when you look at like minimalism, skeuomorphism, brutalism, all of them, you know, they all offer certain things that the previous trend didn’t. But then, you know, as soon as you go to flat icons, shiny rounded gradient skeuomorph ones, a background again. So everything goes in circles,
Saksham Sharda: So speaking of up all these Minimalism and brutalism. What is your background in Like Study vise? Like in your college, what did you study?
Graham McDonnell: well, my career path is quite a strange one. I studied music technology. So the first kind of five or six years of my career, I spent writing music for the film. And then I slowly started working more in video and animation in that kind of area, and then I moved more into the design side of things. So UI and UX design, kind of online web design, things like that. So my role at the moment allows me to sort of tap into all these different areas. And it kind of allows me to be format agnostic when it comes to finding the right solutions for the challenges that we come across.
Saksham Sharda: So consumers are now much better at seeing through the distraction deceit of actual value in the content they consume. What are your thoughts on this?
Graham McDonnell: Yeah, it increases every single day. I mean, I think it’s well known that you know, the quantity of the amount of information out there is getting bigger, the quality is fine, is becoming harder to identify. But I think what’s great is, there’s no trick in the consumer, you know, they’re very, very good at skipping the things that don’t interest them. And quickly identifying what they think will bring them value versus stuff that, you know, they don’t want to consume. So, yeah, I think it’s something that every area of the industry needs to pay attention to. Because there’s no pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes anymore. This is simply too many other options for them to go to instead of yours, so yeah, it’s a big deal.
Saksham Sharda: And this kind of trend gives a boost to content curators more than content creators because people are looking for quality things.
Graham McDonnell: I guess so. I mean, you could say that you know, curation is always been around and a big part of like aggregators and things I remember there’s a big kind of standoff when Spotify relied on the algorithm to sort of generate what they thought would be relevant to the user. And Apple used curation, you know, we’d like they brought on Zane Lowe, and I’m not sure where it stands now. But I definitely think algorithm versus creation, isn’t just a set divide, is, I think, the best results are always going to be from a combination of those two things.
Saksham Sharda: How important is prioritizing branding to drive growth in the coming years you think?
Graham McDonnell: Well, I think the one thing that hasn’t changed, and one thing that is only going to get more important is trust, or you know, consumer trust. So think if your brand has that trust, and can generate that trust and gathering, and especially obviously, I work, in publishing, so the trust is one of the main attributes of any given publisher. But I think it goes deeper than, anyway, like, if you follow an Instagram account, you trust in the quality of what that account is going to give to you. So even, as soon as they start to misplace that trust, or no longer deliver on the reason they came there, then, like, say, users will just go elsewhere. So I think when it comes to branding, it’s incredibly important that trust plays a big part in that.
Saksham Sharda: To what extent have channels like Instagram, Tik Tok, disrupted what it means to be a brand?
Graham McDonnell: Ah, well, I guess, you know, it is just another channel. At the end of the day, I think, you know, at times, we don’t really see us, like, people always ask us who, who are our main competitors. And it’s easy to think of other publishers, but really our main competitors or any other platform that demands attention from consumers, you know, so in that sense, you could say, Netflix, Spotify, Instagram, are all competitors. We obviously use a lot of these platforms for their strengths. But I think, as a brand, it’s important to use each channel to their to the strength of what the audience comes there to consume.
Saksham Sharda: A lot of tech companies are predicted to become media companies. Do you have anything to say about that? Soon to be a trend?
Graham McDonnell: Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, you’ve seen in recent news how the lines between tech and media companies have been blurred recently, but I wouldn’t want to, you know, speculate on any future there. But I guess, you know, I think they’re always going to need each other. But so given. And it’s just, again, finding where the value lies in each different side.
Saksham Sharda: It is said that the Vice President of Creative role is one of the best but most complex jobs in the world. What are some of the challenges that you face in your job?
Graham McDonnell: Well, I guess, yeah, the biggest thing, like saying, the biggest role I’ve got to play is just finding the right solutions for the challenges we have. And it’s like, I know plenty of, like, film directors or, you know, video creative directors that are amazing. Like they make some of the best films in the world, but whenever they see a challenge, every solution would be a video. And that’s not wrong. It’s just, I think it’s important to think, to look at every tool in your arsenal, as the sort of VP of creative and brand, this is really important to sort of take a step back, keep an eye on like, what is it we’re actually trying to achieve with this? What are the goals, and just make sure that you’ve got one eye on the big picture, but also one eye on the details as well like that the final sort of 10% of the details sometimes makes up the majority of the value.
Saksham Sharda: To what extent do you find yourself sometimes getting lost in micro-management Instead of the over rocking view or fame of something?
Graham McDonnell: Yeah, I used to a lot because, like, I’ve kind of come up through the ranks. And I very much still like to stay hands-on where I can. Just so I don’t get left behind. To be honest, you know that the industry is moving faster than it’s ever moved before. In the past, I’ve worked for kind of dinosaur creative directors that, you know, would swear that InDesign or Macromedia Director will still be the best platforms to use just because that’s all they know. My big fear is, you know, some of the new tools that come along that offer something that I have no idea about. So I do try to stay kind of hands-on where I can. But yeah, it’s definitely a skill in itself to kind of delegate and makes sure Creative Directors surround themselves with good teams who I would say, you know, it’s a mistake if I’m the best designer on my team, because, like I’m hiring people for their specific skill sets.
Saksham Sharda: So, would you agree that a great challenge and risk are linked to a brand to achieve marketing goals?
Graham McDonnell: Ah, I would say so. Yeah, definitely. Because, I mean, if there’s no challenge or risk, then what you’re doing is safe, and safe, rarely gets attention. So, I guess in any marketing campaign, there has to be some element of risk. If there isn’t, what are the chances that it’s either going to be retained by the audience you’re going after? And I guess, one interesting thing that I’ve seen in the industry sometimes is, the bigger the budgets, the more likely it is to stay safe, which is kind of competing directions, sometimes, you know, it’s like that the brand is so worried that this the budgets too high, so they want to play safer and safer and safer. But then, again, as I say, you’re kind of reducing the potential of it by doing that sometimes, so it’s never completely black and white. But yeah, I would say sometimes, the riskier moves have the biggest payoffs.
Saksham Sharda: The last question for you is then, what would you be doing in your life if not this?
Graham McDonnell: Well, I guess obviously, like, like I said, earlier, my career started in music. So I would probably go back to that in some capacity that the industry’s changing way more than I thought it would since I was last in it. And then I don’t know I guess. Yeah, maybe back in music, but again, that’s such a hard industry to actually survive and so who knows?
Saksham Sharda: Do you think what you’re doing is because you were afraid of the music industry?
Graham McDonnell: I was relatively successful there, but I think the majority of it is I’ve got a really short attention span, so even if it was primarily working in music still, I’d still have one hand in other areas, and you know still be an experiment in you know, just things that just interest me, I guess you know, so it’s I’ll forever just be a multitasker in that sense.
Saksham Sharda: So, what hobbies do you pursue outside of work?
Graham McDonnell: I guess I’m a big football fan. So yeah, try and keep up to date with that. And yeah, like, say I’m a huge movie nerd. So I’m trying to see as many films as I can at the cinema. Keep up with all you know the threads in the Marvel and DC worlds. I’m useless at that, but luckily I’ve got plenty of nephews and nieces that keep me up to date.
Saksham Sharda: Thanks, everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outgrow’s Marketer of the Month. That was Graham McDonnell, the Vice President of Brand and Design at TIME. Thanks for joining us, Graham.
Graham McDonnell: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Saksham Sharda: Check out the website for more details and we’ll see you once again next month with another marketer of the month.