KC & the Sunshine Brand: Kate Croft talks to Pf Magazine

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If spaghetti westerns were set in Bedfordshire, I’m certain that Hitchin is the kind of place Clint Eastwood would ‘pass through’; alighting at the Millstream Bar, to stare menacingly at the locals. And this is precisely what I am doing, as the saloon doors fly open, revealing the towering figure of pharma marketing legend, Kate ‘Lara’ Croft. 

JP: Howdy Kate, what are you having? 

KC: A decaf, please. 

JP: I don’t get it – that’s like taking heroin, without opium in it. 

KC: If I drank coffee after four, I’d be dancing on the ceiling. 

JP: So, how’s it going? I’ve just had eleven days off with my children, Charlotte and George, so there hasn’t been a moment’s peace. 

JP: Hang on, Kate, George and Charlotte…what the… 

KC: I can’t believe it either, but I got in there first – Charlotte is seven! Fortunately my husband is not called William. 

JP: Was there a moment in your childhood when you thought, ‘I fancy a crack at pharma’? 

KC: No, I arrived in pharma purely by chance. I am a farmer’s daughter, and did a Bachelor of Science degree at Harper Adams Agricultural College, in Shropshire. 

JP: What’s it like living on a farm? 

KC: You are different from ‘normal’ children – very isolated, and constantly surrounded 
by farmers. Farming is your life. I grew up on an arable farm, and now I’m living on a mixed farm, because I married a farmer. 

JP: Of course you did! 

KC: It’s a comfort thing – it’s what I’ve always known. I must admit, I set out to marry a farmer – not necessarily the one I ended up with, but a farmer nevertheless! 

JP: If you don’t mind me saying, it doesn’t look like you’ve ever got your hands dirty. 

KC: I’m quite happy being muddy, but this is me on a glamourous day. I also shoot. 

JP: You shoot things? 

KC: I shoot pheasants and partridges, but we do eat them. It’s the simple life, and it’s better than getting meat from a supermarket, where battery chickens have been shoved in a shed, to fatten for a few weeks. The birds that have been reared on my father’s farm, enjoy a fantastic life for six months – they are fed, fly all day, have total freedom and die doing what they love. 

JP: You’ve convinced me. What was your first job after graduating? 

KC: I went back home, to work for my father. As well as being a farmer, he’s a high-end fencing contractor. Among other celebrities, we carried out work on Madonna and Guy Richie’s Ashcombe House estate. I started running the office completely, after my father’s second wife walked out. It was a difficult situation and, although I tried to make it work, I decided to start looking in Farmers Weekly, for something else. As a result of the vacancy, my father duly met his third wife. 

JP: Where did you go? 

KC: There was a perfect job for me – it was in agricultural marketing, and 20 minutes down the road. They’d interviewed 40 people before me, but I got it – it was just meant to be. It was a role as a marketing assistant for FAF – Farming and Agricultural Finance – a specialist mortgage company. After a while, it was bought up by RBS, and I was made redundant. 

JP: What did you do? 

KC: One day an agency – RFA – came along to pitch for some new business. They were involved with both human and animal healthcare, as well as agriculture, and the two owners sat at the end of table, like Laurel and Hardy. They were absolute opposites, but both engaging, knowledgeable and funny. I sat there, completely entranced by everything they said. After leaving, I gave them half an hour to get back to the office, before phoning them, and requesting a job – which they offered me. 

JP: You’re an opportunist! 

KC: They wanted me on the animal health and agricultural side – the company did focus groups, and I was well connected with ‘young farmers’. After a few years animal health went global, and the budgets got cut, so we had to be really creative. We worked with Pfizer Animal Health, and managed to get the rights to Garfield visuals. Imagine, the iconic Garfield image, in the middle of a very generic journal – it was majestic. Then 
I went over to the human side in 2005. 

JP: How did it go on the ol’ ‘human side’? 

KC: RFA had some big hitters on the books – AstraZeneca, Servier and Roche – so 
it was a really creative period. At that time the minnows could compete with the sharks, but then procurement started to dominate. This partly inspired my move to London in 2006. 

JP: Laurel and Hardy must have been devastated. 

KC: Rod and Martin tried to persuade me to stay, but I had to get away. Working in Farringdon at GSW was a shock to the system, because suddenly I was a number, within a huge global agency. I only lived in London for a few months. 

JP: Why? 

KC: The place I was staying in was sold, and we were kicked out. Having moved all my possessions to London, I just didn’t fancy the hassle of finding somewhere else. I decided to move to Bedfordshire, and commute instead. That’s when I became 
my future husband’s lodger. 

JP: ‘My Future Husband’s Lodger’ – it sounds like a West End farce. 

KC: The room he gave me was absolutely revolting. 

JP: I can see the attraction. Meanwhile, what exciting things were happening in London? 

KC: Quite unexpectedly, I was suddenly made the director of the Lilly account. The brief was to take a diabetes pen and ‘make more of it’. Unfortunately, this had previously been taken too literally, and the result was a man ‘straddling’ an enormous diabetes pen. I had to go down to Lilly’s UK head office, in Basingstoke, and convince them to give us another shot. 

JP: Did you pull it out of the fire? 

KC: I managed to turn it around with a subtle and classy campaign, which underlined 
the discreet nature of the product. They became my biggest clients, and I ended up launching Byetta, which was such an innovative and exciting product – it uses the hormone found in a Gila monster’s saliva. 

JP: Good Lord. What happened next. 

KC: When I became pregnant, I left, and had no intention of coming back. When Charlotte was two, however, I was called by a recruitment consultant, on a bad day, so I took a position with Mass, where I spent a couple of years with Pfizer vaccines, during which I rolled out a nationwide flu vaccine campaign. Then I had my second child, resigned, and had no intention of returning to work. 

JP: You got a phone call on a bad day, didn’t you… 

KC: Yes, I joined MJL, who recently won a PM Society Award for the post-war nostalgia-inspired box for sales representatives. It was an amazing project to work on – when you get a chance to be creative, you have to grab it with both hands. 

JP: It’s been one hell of a career! Where are you now? 

KC: Hug Advertising, in Hitchin. There are only seven of us, but what a bunch of people! There is never a negative response to a completely unrealistic deadline. We work with clients, such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Lilly, AMCo and Consilient, on everything, from traditional mailers, to apps and iDetails. I’m as happy here as I’ve ever been. 

JP: You deserve it. So long, Kate, 

KC: Bye John! 

Go to hug-advertising.co.uk