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Harmonica

Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Katy Saeger

Katy Saeger is CEO of Harmonica.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s 40 Over 40 list?

Aside from the weird realization that I'm approaching elder status, I was very surprised and extremely humbled. This is an extraordinary group of creators & changemakers in a life moment where every message in every moment matters. It’s an honor to be included.

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words?

Pour love on it.

Three qualities you need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries?

  1. Love the work. It’s far too challenging to keep pace in this industry if you don’t love and believe in what you are doing.

  2. Deliver from the highest intention. If you give everything your all, you can celebrate your wins and losses all the same.

  3. Keep a beginner’s mind. See everything with fresh eyes. 

Worst thing about the crazy last few months? Any silver linings?

As far as the pandemic goes, certainly the incredible loss of life, along with people losing their jobs and businesses -- that’s been almost indescribably heartbreaking. As far as the country goes, certainly the tragedies of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and so many others remind us how much work remains in the fight for racial equality. To be sure, 2020 has plenty of competition for “worst thing”. That said, there are so many moments  of hope and grace throughout, such as the remarkable courage from the hospital workers and essential workers. It’s also heartening to see the younger generations take the mantle in the fight for equality and justice. On a far more personal level, I will also add that as a working mom to a busy teen in a fast paced city, this time together at home has been precious, and it’s something I’ll treasure.

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While it might be more appropriate to share some of the great advertising work that has been quite moving and unifying from the agency world, what has delighted me most is watching everyday people making the best of their situations. One of my favorite examples was the quirky isolation odyssey parody. The creativity and patience to create such a piece of content was off the charts. More recently, there was the TikTok of the man skateboarding to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” which went viral. It is powerful to see how a relatively simple 26-second video could strike such a chord with people all over the world and create that much connection, positivity and joy. And side note if you’re over your quarantine view, you can window swap here. 

What needs to happen to make the industry truly diverse?

We need to help industry leaders understand that diversity is a strength and we’re nothing without it. The world is diverse and your customers are diverse. To speak to the world and to speak to your customers, your company and your marketing must reflect the talents of a diverse world, period. 

Early in my career, I was a tremendous beneficiary of diversity, learning from communication pros such as Rodney Knox at the San Francisco 49ers, and from entrepreneurs like Sean Combs, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Being around these brilliant people and learning from their experiences has significantly shaped who I am, my view of marketing, and how I see the world. 

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future?

It’s true that we live in a capitalist society and not everything is purpose-driven, but more and more we’re seeing brands find success, and profit, through purpose -- and we’re definitely going to see more of this in the future. In an increasingly connected world, people want transparency and they want to know that the brands they choose share their values. Today’s consumers, particularly young people, want to know what’s in their food, if the chickens were raised humanely, who made their clothing and if they were paid fairly. These things matter to people more than ever.

At Harmonica, we work (very intentionally) with a slew of brands that have found success through purpose including Kiss The Ground (regenerative farming), Zen Water (bottles made from 100% recycled, ocean-bound plastic), Hazel Technologies (reducing food waste), and a number of functional foods and personal care brands such as Jarrow Probiotics, Comvita, and Undercover Snacks

How does the culture at your organization help you thrive?

Our culture is about collaboration and that’s a reflection of the wider industry and how we consume media. Today, communications is so much more than media relations -- it’s the integration of earned and owned content, baked into your marketing strategy and curated for different audiences. To do this well takes a wide variety of skill sets and different types of people and points of view working in lock-step with each other. 

So when it comes to this level of collaboration (and the speed of which everything must happen) the key is open and direct dialog with one goal, our client’s success. I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by extremely talented senior leaders who have known me and worked with me for over a decade and their shared leadership of what has helped us thrive as an agency.

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you?

One of the things I have learned as a leader is that you have to be different things to different people. Therefore, you have to develop many different skills, and that’s a lot to master. Like most, I’m a work in progress. I suspect my team would describe me as very determined while also balancing my more supportive personality traits with both the vision and need to press forward.  Finding that balance can be tough sometimes but it’s also hyper rewarding and inspiring when it works.

Describe one piece of work you produced in the past 12 months that excites you?

I have had the great honor working with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions over the past decade including bringing His Holiness to Facebook, where he can easefully broadcast His teachings to millions of people worldwide. However, my most recent work took place in December 2019, when we brought 40 global leaders to live with thousands of monks in a remote monastery in India. There, the leaders immersed themselves into Tibetan culture, receiving teachings from scholars and high monks, including His Holiness, and how to apply these teachings to everyday life. There is much more to this story, but it was life changing for all of us, to say the least.  

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why?

I have made a living surrounding myself with inspiring people. And, this said, no one inspires more than my thirteen year-old son, Noah Sky. His thoughtfulness and curiosity for the world, and bravery to try new things, it truly reminds me of our remarkable potential as human beings. It is a pleasure to be his parent and in many ways grow together. 

My other great inspiration is my mother, who at 77 is the oldest woman in the world to receive and survive a stem cell transplant. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but she is taking it head on and, among other things, learning to walk for the 4th time in this lifetime. That takes gusto and strength, and she’s got it. 

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? 

Read! READ READ READ! I can’t stress this enough. Your formal education may be over, but your actual education doesn’t have to be. Working in marketing and communications, it is of course essential that you know what’s going on in the world, and certainly, within your industry. The only way to get there is by reading. But in truth, reading goes beyond the profession. It’s about becoming a well-rounded person. Reading the New York Times and/or the Wall Street Journal everyday will make you smarter and it will make you more informed and more diverse. Those are important traits no matter what you decide to do in life.

Any tips for success you'd like to share?

I think the #1 tool for success is to understand the things which you can control -- and those you cannot. I am referring to things like your mindset, work ethic, the company you keep, sleep -- these are things we can control, and it’s wise to do so. I was recently reminded by my dear friend Roman Tsunder to make this a daily practice, and it really is a path to freedom. 

I would also share that resonance and dissonance are a real thing, and to use resonance as a filter for easy, fast decision making. I recently participated in @SuzyBatiz’s Alive OS and there is a week of homework completely dedicated to observing all things resonant and dissonant in your life, and this simple exercise can be life changing.  

What’s in store for the future of your brand – and the industry in general?

It has been a tremendous adventure growing Harmonica as an earned first digital agency. Through our fully integrated model and methodology of performance based PR, we are accelerating DTC brands and companies of all stages at a pace beyond industry standard; such as our work launching CAULIPOWER, a gluten-free frozen pizza that scaled to $200M in the first 2 years. 

Later this year we will formally launch Harmonica Ventures, the parent to a handful of brands and movements we have been incubating over the past two years, which also includes launching a podcast “20 Minutes to Get Om” with one of my business partners Jamie Kent, founder of Yoga Download. 

Big changes bring great creativity and innovation, I'm hopeful our industry will bring out the brightside. 

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