Megan Raynor of Brand Babes Studio on Being a Successful Creative in Tauranga
Megan Raynor always thought of herself as ‘a a creative’.
Growing up she was equally enamored with art and writing, sometimes staging a nerdy rebellion by escaping from maths class at Otumoetai College to work on graphic design. She loved words, devoured books, and consistently wrote killer essays. So, it’s not surprising that after gaining a first-class honours degree in visual communication from Massey University in Wellington, she found her way into the world of advertising – where creativity, design, and writing meet.
After a surprise redundancy interrupted an impressive advertising career in Auckland, Megan began to questions the narrative that success equates to big agencies, big cities, and big awards, and allowed her attention to be captured by the great work being done by Woods Agency in Tauranga. A quick email was all it took, and before she knew it, Megan was living back in her hometown in a dual art director/copywriter role that Woods created especially for her.
After four years in that role, Megan went out on her own as a freelancer in February 2018, which she continues alongside her role as co-director of Brand Babes Studio, a branding agency with a chart-topping business podcast.
This is her story
Can you give us a quick snapshot of your career before you moved to Tauranga?
After I graduated from university, I was accepted into AWARD School. This is an adverting industry ‘course’ where only 12 people are selected each year to go and learn from Creative Directors at big-name agencies. The day I handed in my AWARD school portfolio I was offered an internship at Whybin TBWA.
For my first six months there I was a dual creative – doing both the copywriting and art direction. I loved it. Some of my first projects as an intern were pitching for an Adidas advert as part of the Football World Cup and writing scripts for 2degrees. At the end of those six months, I was hired as a full-time creative/copywriter and given another creative/art director to partner up with.
My main clients were ANZ and Tourism New Zealand. My Art Director Anna and I became known as the ‘Tourism New Zealand girls’ after our idea was chosen for the premiere of The Hobbit in LA. We worked with WETA to create the world’s biggest pop-up book. Stars were interviewed on it and fans could experience New Zealand as they walked around it.
What made you first think about a move to Tauranga?
In my last year at the agency, we went through three different Creative Directors (CD). Changing CD isn’t unusual for a big name advertising agency, but three times was a lot and the agency lost a few clients during that time. Losing clients meant redundancies. I avoided the first few but in the very last round, it was finally my turn.
I started making a list of other Auckland agencies I’d visited through AWARD School, to decide who I wanted to work for next. In the meantime, I went to Wellington for a week to recoup and work on my portfolio. While I was there my friend asked me if I’d heard of WOODs – a creative agency in Tauranga. I hadn’t and to be honest at the time the idea of working in Tauranga felt like a step backward.
My sights had been set on the Auckland and international agency circuit for so long because that’s what I’d always seen as a success. But after I looked at their great work I figured ‘what the heck’ and flicked the boss, Reuben, an email with a link to my work. After he immediately replied with excitement about my ideas, I decided to continue the process and before I knew it they had created a role for me.
When I saw the email asking me to join WOODS I was so excited. Just visiting them and seeing their work had shown me that maybe I could do great things without being in Auckland after all.
What other factors drew you home?
Every time I came home to Tauranga for a visit before I took the job, I would go back to Auckland feeling like I had been on holiday. That in itself was a massive pull when weighing up whether to move home or not. Plus, I knew my chances of eventually getting a dog were much bigger in Tauranga than in Auckland or overseas. Now, I have two!
I had family here – my three youngest siblings were still at home along with my parents. This was a pull factor. For some reason, a lot of my friends moved back to Tauranga around the same time. It made me feel better about it like I wasn’t going to be starting from scratch with a new job and new friendships.
What was moving home like in reality? How did it feel?
At first, I still felt like I was going backward. I was nervous about my career. I knew rationally that it was actually a step forward as not only had WOODs been amazing and created the role so they could hire me, but being in a smaller team meant more responsibility and chances for growth. Emotionally it took a while to recover from the installed mindset that success equals big agencies, big cities, and big awards. Once I did though I realized how lucky I was to be able to have a career I love, in a place that I love. And even better, be able to stay healthy and have a life.
After living here for a few months I realized how burnt out I had been in Auckland. I had been working six or seven days, at my desk from 8 am until 8 pm – and that was on a good day. I’d even been hospitalized twice in my last month in Auckland but didn’t think anything of it. I was so focused on ‘success’ that I’d be back at work as soon as I got out, burning the midnight oil again.
Once I was in Tauranga I could look back and see the rat race was just too much, my body and general wellbeing was not a fan of it. You can’t be in your best creative form like that either, so it became exciting to see what my brain was really capable of with some sleep!
What was your experience of working at Woods like?
WOODS was a great incubator for me. It was more branding-focused than advertising focus but I actually found I preferred that as it felt like I was helping clients build their businesses and their success. It felt personal.
One of the biggest things that stuck out to me at WOODS was that Tauranga agencies and clients are no joke. You work just as hard, harder maybe (minus the crazy hours usually) than big international agencies because there’s no pile of staff to hide behind. But since you are on a more one-on-one level with them, it feels like their success is your success. To balance out that work, they were big on making us go on active lunch breaks – one-hour ones even! This was new to me and probably the reason why I could still think of good ideas in the afternoon rather than getting that 3 pm brain fade.
WOODS showed me that focusing on the result for the client is a thousand times more satisfying than focusing on getting awards. I believe this approach actually led to me doing much better work, work that ended up getting awarded anyway – just as a bonus rather than as the driver!’
What was it is like going out on your own?
Going out on my own has been much less scary than I envisioned. It helps that I was ready mentally and had already started some freelance writing – some of it for a branding studio I had found on Instagram called Brand Babes Studio. Little did I know at that point that I would actually go on to become a director of Brand Babes Studio. That was much more challenging. It was scary knowing I was becoming a business owner, which felt very different from being a freelancer.
How would you describe what Brand Babes Studio does?
Brand Babes Studio (BBS) helps small/medium business ‘Babes’ to level up their branding. This means whether they have a brand-spankin’ new business idea and need the whole brand shebang (i.e name and tagline, strategy, brand design, website, copywriting, packaging, social strategy, Instagram feed), or already have a brand and need some help with something specific such as Instagram, we can help. We’ve worked with people such as Air New Zealand, Julia & Libby, and worthwhile.
I can’t wait to see who we work with next. I love that every client I work with is someone I’d want to be friends with. We seem to attract and work with like-minded people. It makes me even more excited and passionate about playing my part in helping them create a brand they can build their success on.
I still write and do creative as a freelancer, leaving anything under the ‘branding’ umbrella to be part of BBS. You’ll often see my name in OUR Place Magazine. They’re the bee’s knees.
What does it mean to be a remote agency?
Being a remote agency means we can work from anywhere. In fact, right now my business partner is working from Bali with her three-year-old in tow. Our clients can also be anywhere which is fun. This remote aspect is the main reason I get to stay in Tauranga, walking across the road to the beach between projects.
I can focus on growing in both my life and my career. I no longer have to choose between the two. I can live and love. I can do work with people who inspire and excite me. I can’t imagine anywhere else that would provide both in this way. It really is the best of both worlds.
How has Tauranga surprised you?
There’s so much going on. My list of places to try and events to look at is constantly growing.
The small biz, young entrepreneur culture here has really surprised me too. As soon as I started foraying into freelance it was like I had access to this amazing new world, where I found new self-employed friends around every corner. Each smashing goals and offering different advice, all with a supportive coffee or drink always on offer. The network is so connected too, every person you meet is passing you onto another solopreneur who would love to know you. It’s been the greatest surprise of all.
In what ways is Tauranga different today from the city of your childhood?
It’s busier and more vibrant. When I was looking at coming back I was nervous I’d be coming back to the sleepy old town where everyone knows everyone. There’s still an element of that but it’s actually a good balance to this new vibrancy Tauranga has going on. The Tauranga of now feels so much more opportunity-filled and exciting than the Tauranga of my childhood. Sometimes I almost miss the quietness a little – though only on the days that I drive instead of the bike! #traffic
What has moving to Tauranga meant:
For your career? Growth! Rapid learning and confidence-boosting.
For your wellbeing? I’m well. That’s huge compared to when I was away from Tauranga.
For your relationships? Tighter. More of them! More time for my loved ones. I met my partner at the skatepark here and he moved up from Gisborne a fortnight later to join me. Tauranga must be good if it can convince someone that fast.
Gets You Thinking Doesn’t It?
No one can tell you when you’re ready for a change of lifestyle…but when you are, we’d love to have you in Tauranga!
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