Putting your hand up: Whittaker’s Catlin Attenburrow reflects on her road to brand manager

Having spoken at the Marketing Association’s recent Women in Marketing and Brainy Breakfast events, we touched base with Caitlin Attenburrow, brand manager at Whittaker’s, to hear about her career progression, managing work-life balance and how she’s maintaining a personal brand.

In 2017, Caitlin Attenburrow was walking across the stage at the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards accepting the Rookie Marketer of the Year Award. This year, she is taking to the stage at the Marketing Association’s events to educate and inspire audiences with talks about her work as well as being a woman in marketing.

Talking to her about her career progression to StopPress now, she refers to advice given to her by Philip Poole, chief marketing officer at Whittaker’s and her boss:

“As Philip says, ‘you should always be a little bit scared, otherwise you are not doing it right’. For me, I wasn’t so focused on an end role, I was just focused on doing the very best that I could do and putting my hand up for things that I was a little bit scared of – it’s a good way to learn.”

Attenburrow’s first step in learning about marketing came at Victoria University where she completed a Bachelor of Commerce, giving her a taste of the different functions within a business.

The marketing paper ended the year with an examination asking her to explain marketing’s purpose. Though at first confronted by the question, she soon realised she could talk on the topic for hours and that was the direction she wanted to go.

“That for me was the moment that it clicked and I thought ‘this is what I want to pursue in my studies’.”

She then went on to earn first-class Honours in Marketing.

Alongside her studies, Attenburrow’s personal interests have also contributed to her interest in marketing as she’s always enjoyed writing and art. She was the editor of her school newspaper and is into painting and drawing.

“Marketing brings together my art, writing and business skillset which is about strategic thinking and taking a big-picture view of things and trying to understand what we should do next and what we should be curious about – everything that I love to do.”

Refining her role

With an honours degree under her belt, four years ago Attenburrow joined the Whittaker’s team fresh out of university. Her title was marketing assistant and with just three members of the marketing team, she was exposed to all elements of it, and was given opportunities to run her own projects.

Those first projects included launching the Tweats and dark chocolate mini slabs products and since then, the projects have continued to grow as she has.

“At the Women in Marketing event, someone said: ‘you should go to work to practice your craft’ and that struck home for me because that’s exactly what I get to do at Whittaker’s,” she says when reflecting on the last few years.

Two years ago, she became a brand manager and today is gearing up for her second year leading the Christmas.

Alongside this, she manages Whittaker’s marketing in Asia with a core focus on China.

Reflecting on her growth, Attenburrow says she’s fortunate to be working alongside “some of the greatest marketing minds in New Zealand”.

These include Poole – who this year was inducted into the TVNZ Marketing Hall of Fame – Matt Bale – a managing partner at Whittaker’s media agency partner MBM – and Andrew, Brian and Holly Whittaker.

“There’s a lot of skills in the company and they are so ready to teach you and help you learn,” Attenburrow says.

“Being surrounded by that fantastic group of people that I think has enabled me to thrive in my career.”

Work-life balance

With a quick rise in her career, it’s no surprise Attenburrow admits she doesn’t have the perfect balance when asked about maintaining work-life balance – but she is encouraging of taking the time to disconnect.

While she acknowledges there are times where extra project work needs to be picked up and longer hours are required, she’s making an effort not to make that the norm and does take time to disconnect.

“I find it so easy to go on my phone when I am on annual leave and check my emails or make sure I haven’t missed anything really urgent, which is a double-edged sword because it’s great to make sure you haven’t missed anything but at the same time you are not mentally where you physically are.”

And with one of her hobbies being hiking, the lack of reception helps.

But setting a culture of work-life balance is not something that can be achieved alone and she credits her colleagues for creating an environment in which it’s encouraged.

“At Whittaker’s, we are pretty good and there’s no shame in leaving on time here which is awesome. That comes from the top.”

Keeping it personal

Having interests outside of work is helping to shape Attenburrow’s personal brand – which is just as important as the brand she is managing for Whittaker’s.

With so many marketers out there, she says having an edge can help you stand out from the crowd when it comes to the hiring process and making connections in general.

Attenburrow reflects on her experience being hired for Whittaker’s and while her interview with Poole was marketing-based, when talking to Andrew and Brian Whittaker, they were more interested in how she grew up sailing the world with her family.

And as well as aiding and forming connections with people, her experiences outside of work contribute to her role as much as her learning on the job.

“When you are sailing, you learn how to think under pressure, you learn how to act in an emergency, you learn to be calm, you learn to be rational, you lean to keep things in mind and be organised.”

Open to opportunities

While her career progression at Whittaker’s is invaluable to Attenburrow’s marketing experience, boosting that further was a marketing course she completed at Stanford Business School this year.

She has since been taking those learnings and sharing them with her Whittaker’s team and says she will continue to do this into the future when asked what’s next for her.

“I guess making sure the work we are doing is making the most of everything I have learned is what I am focused on for the next wee while,” she says.

This focus on what she’s passionate about, rather than a plan, is how Attenburrow approaches her career and what she advises others to do.

While from the outside it may look like people who have been successful in their careers have achieved a well-laid plan, Attenburrow has learned that’s not always the case. Rather, it’s about taking opportunities as they are presented.

“Being in the industry, you realise that most people don’t have a plan. They just go with their gut say ‘OK this is something I am passionate about and I’m going to try really hard at this and that will open opportunities,” she says.

“You need to give yourself the mental freedom to take the opportunities as they come, rather than say to yourself that you must have a plan for what the next five years of your career will look like. It’s OK not to know all the time and it’s OK to change your mind.”

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