Diana Marszalek 14 Jul 2023 // 9:00AM GMT
In our Headliners series of conversations, we get under the skin of PR and communications leaders around the world who have made PRovoke Media headlines recently, uncovering what they see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for the industry, where they find inspiration (and how they switch off), what they’ve learned about themselves, as well as the creative campaigns they love and the work they are most proud of.
In this week's Q&A, we chat with Catherine Merritt, CEO and founder of Spool, who is rallying agencies to follow Spool’s lead by working with WGA striking writers.
What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the PR and communications industry over the next 12 months?
Our industry needs to break some habits and that is both a massive opportunity (especially for the challenger agencies like Spool) and a risk for Goliaths who are unable to adapt and embrace the agility needed more than ever. Take the WGA writers' strike, which Spool has recognized as a huge opportunity to hire and work with some of the best-in-class creatives (literally, we're talking SNL, Emmy- and Oscar-winning writers!) and it baffles me that other agencies aren't doing the same.
What’s the best PR campaign you’ve seen recently and why?
This isn't a PR campaign, but the most recent 'break through' creative I can think of is the TV show "Jury Duty" which completely flips the table on how shows and characters are structured and I am obsessed. I'd love to see more PR and marketers embrace a "what if we did something really crazy like..." mindset to shake things up and reimagine the stale, cookie-cutter ways it's always been done.
What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?
Our team for The General Auto Insurance launched The General's Sound Studio, a professional-grade recording studio housed inside a custom-built car in partnership with Epic Records. Building on The General's promise of giving a break when they need it most, this campaign is giving nine up-and-coming musicians their big break with an opportunity to record their next single in the car with the help of a professional sound engineer and a paid social media campaign to promote their work.
What have you learned about yourself over the past couple of years?
Spool will have its fifth anniversary this September and the two mantras that I hold close and most reflect this experience are: "Hard things are hard" and "What got you here won't get you there.” Spool is young and hungry and we've hit plenty of bumps but I am grateful for each and every one of them because it all matters and all shapes us into who and what we are today.
How do you switch off and maintain wellness?
When I'm on vacation and taking time off with family and friends I intentionally do not check my email or engage online because if I do it, others will follow suit (the classic 'do as I say, not as I do' trap). It's summer in Chicago, which is what we live for, so I love hosting dinner and cocktail parties, going to the beach, traveling, dates with my husband, seeing friends and family.
What cultural source has provided creative inspiration for you lately?
Two books I read this year that have stayed with me are The Candy House by Jennifer Egan and Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Both were imaginative, innovative story-tellings that inspired me as a rule-breaker and as a literature and poetry-lover.
If I wasn’t working in PR/comms I would be…
Oh man, this is hard! I am very open about my retirement plan that I want to work at Costco as the person who highlights receipts after the shopping trip; I've worked since I was in 8th grade as a shampooer at Mary Sue's Hair Design in Chicago and I love people and can't imagine not working (see above about toxic productive!). Not sure that I'd be cut out for a lifetime in retail, but I love chatting with people and who wouldn't love that Costco discount?!