In an attempt to showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week’s 10 Questions are put to Gemma Knox, MD of northern Europe for Virtue Worldwide at Vice.
What was your first-ever job?
In Scotland, in Royal Deeside I worked in two very eccentric gift shops, called Byzantium and Le Scala.
The Royal Family used to pop in every now and then and Wilma Whitehead who ran them was a total rogue and taught me everything about sales, and gave a 13-year-old Gemma way too much responsibility.
I was basically running the stores, it was hilarious. If you know Royal Deeside in the summer it’s just full of tourists and hilarious clientele. So it was good for learning the pattern of sales.
One piece of tech you can’t live without?
Probably my Sonos because I like music everywhere. It’s a huge part of my life, my family life, to the point where my child wakes up, comes into the bedroom and presses play on the Sonos. Inevitably a Disney soundtrack will come on, there’s a lot of singing in my house.
Which industry buzzword annoys you the most?
Culture. I hate the appropriation of the word; I hate that agencies talk about culture all the time but don’t actually contribute to it in any meaningful way. I hate that the work culture of agencies mean that so few people actually get to get out and experience culture. It annoys me.
Who do you find most interesting to follow on social media?
Lewis Capaldi. Scottish, charming, hilarious. My little brother is a music exec and he had a big hand in bringing him to the world so I’m proud every time I see stuff from Lewis.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Creating the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction and calling it the Women’s Prize because previously it was the Orange Prize.
Getting to work with Kate Mosse (with an e), she’s the most terrifyingly impressive, wonderful and intelligent women I’ve ever met.
Working with the most amazing women from the world of literature, and booze. And then all the judges who would be on the board every year, I would get to meet them. I met Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is just a massive inspiration.
What did you have on your walls as a teenager?
Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, in a lot of leather. Bit weird. It was
ripped out of Kerrang. And then probably David Bowie in his Labyrinth get-up. Again, a weird thing for men in makeup. I loved that film, I watched it going into labour because it was the only thing that would calm me down!
What needs to change about the industry?
Flexibility. More flexibility and not just for parents, for everyone. I want a workplace that allows for people to have other passions, for people to be able to do three or four days a week in advertising. It would make it easier to retain older talent, I hate the obsession with youth in this business. Different voices, different perspectives, flexibility allows that.
It also allows you to employ people to have passions in other places so they’re more interesting. But I hate that I’m the exception and not the norm. The amount of people that come to me and say, I haven’t had my flexibility requests approved in my current job, I’ve just come back from having a baby and they’re making me work on a Friday. We need to get better and more quickly.
What is, in your opinion, the greatest film/album/book of your life?
Greatest album is Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. It’s everything I care about in one album. Gender equality, progressive parenting, nature, creative autonomy. She self- produced it and started making all her own music videos then. Incredibly progressive technology for the time, no one else was using synths or the tech she was using to make that album.
She is awesome. I got to see her at Hammersmith Apollo and just cried for most of the gig.
What industry event can you not afford to miss?
I love new talent so I think D&AD New Blood is great, I also think the direction I want our industry to go in we need to be looking at the Entertainment Awards so things like the Emmys are really important. I hope that comms will be there at some point.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be kind to yourself. And the Arthur Ashe quote: ‘Stop where you are, use what you have and do what you can’. I use that daily.’