Interviews

Sinéad Gray, Managing Partner, Kindred

As part of Kindred’s all female management team, Sinéad Gray is at the forefront of a new wave of creative leaders reimagining the creative workplace of the future.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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Despite it being 2019, an all-female management team remains something of a unicorn in the creative industries. When Kindred unveiled its three-strong management team last year, industry headlines fixated on the all-female line up. Yet the success of the management trio Sinéad Gray, Sharon Bange and Tara Austin is more than just a catchy headline. We’ve seen a creative growth which is reflective of the fact that Kindred’s heritage in behaviour change extends beyond the roster of brands it works for, into positively impacting its own business and also working practices of the industry as a whole.

Gray and the team represent a very different kind of management model to what has been traditionally seen in the advertising industry. It is notable that Kindred has placed as much passion and vigour into building its own unique culture, as it has poured into clients such as The Department for Education’s Get into Teaching campaign and Lufthansa.

Kindred’s agency doesn’t just benefit from the presence of the numerous office dogs, but a commitment to flexible working which has seen the agency introduce core hours of 10am to 4pm. Gray’s fellow Managing Director Sharon Bange was rewarded with a coveted spot in the Timewise Power Part Time list, on the success of her four-day flexible working week, proving that flexibility and ambition are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

If you are going to create change, you can’t just do it with 50% [of the population]; you have got to talk to 100%.

Sinéad Gray

Gray extends this support for women in the advertising industry outside the confines of the four walls of Kindred’s offices. As a former president of the Bloom network, she founded the annual BloomFest, the conference which helped spur the creation of the TimeTo campaign to eradicate sexual harassment in the advertising industry. Speaking in support of Bloom’s recent partnership with the Book of Man, she explains: “If you are going to create change, you can’t just do it with 50% [of the population]; you have got to talk to 100%.”

It was a campaign encouraging teenage girls to drink milk however, ‘Make Mine Milk’ that really made Gray fall in love with the industry. Gray says it was the first real moment “I’d experienced integration in a way that worked really well.” She also saw the power of social through ‘the Milk Challenge’ led by an unknown teenage pop star by the name of Justin Bieber who just happened to be in town.

A big part of being able to think clearly and being able to be inspired is doing something that just lets your brain not think for a little bit.

Sinéad Gray

Gray has been at Kindred twice, leaving briefly in between stints to work at Ogilvy before returning to be part of the management team. She feels that Kindred’s “positive change positioning is hugely motivating” and aligns with the “rising tide of consumer awareness.”

As an independent agency, Gray says Kindred benefits from having the freedom to work only with “brands we admire and problems we want to solve.” One of those was the 2018 campaign highlighting the plight of modern slavery. “The estimates are that there’s 13,000 people in this country affected.” Gray reveals that besides the coverage and awareness the campaign received, it also led to two people being identified as being modern slaves, who are currently being supported by specialist authorities.

Being at the top of her game demands that Gray finds the time to make space for her own creative pursuits. As a keen reader, she is following in the footsteps of legendary children’s author Roald Dahl by heading out to the Norwegian fjords this summer on a kayaking expedition. Having boxed for the last few years, Gray believes that it is only by switching off that she can actually think clearly. As she explains: “The way that we work at the moment, you’re completely bombarded all the time with information overload and I think a big part of being able to think clearly and being able to be inspired is doing something that just lets your brain not think for a little bit.”

Q: As Managing Partner at Kindred, what is your primary focus?
A: Setting the direction of travel for the agency in order to secure sustainable long-term growth. Last year we launched our positive change maker proposition, defined our values and took our new approach out to market. This year, we're focusing on embedding this new approach across the organisation both through the work we deliver for our clients and what we do beyond the day job. Being based in the London borough with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, we've chosen that as the cause we'll support over the next two years. As an independent agency, we work to the philosophy of choosing only to work with brands and organisations we admire, and on problems we want to solve. Finding and then investing our energies in the right kind of opportunities that inspire us, make good business sense and enable us to create work that delivers positive change is a core focus.
Q: What has been your agency's best work in the last year?
A: We recently ran a campaign for the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to encourage young men to report underage sexual content they may come across online while viewing porn. The content centred around a talking 'special sock'. I'm proud of the work not only because it delivers on our mission to use the power of communications to create positive change but also because it took a new approach. Where previous campaigns had urged empathy, we led with humour recognising that the cognitive function isn't fully developed in the audience we were talking to. We worked with brave clients who we're prepared to get fully behind the idea and push the work through and that was really energising for the team delivering it.
Q: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
A: I’ve enjoyed both HSBC's We Are Not an Island and Television for ITV by Uncommon for celebrating both broadening perspectives and British culture in a positive light. I got very excited about ABC News Story Lab’s online and interactive game, The Amazon Race that explores working conditions at Amazon. It's such an innovative and engaging use of content to tell a story. And slightly outside of the industry but will have impact on it, Fleabag. Season 2 was flawless, and the writing was just perfection. Phoebe Waller Bridge is having a huge moment and I couldn't be happier about it. At Christmas, some of the team got involved in a pilot by environmental charity Do the Green Thing called Ungifted, an alternative approach to office secret Santa, challenging consumption at Christmas. This year, we’re partnering with them to launch it nationwide and make it as big as possible.

As an independent agency, we work to the philosophy of choosing only to work with brands and organisations we admire, and on problems we want to solve.

Sinéad Gray
Q: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
A: We're living in a post-advertising world, but the industry is still very advertising-centric. Over the next few years, I see the industry changing shape in how agencies approach briefs and adjust business models to remain competitive in an ever-changing market. When it comes to ways of working, I feel like finally flexible working has become more accepted and normal. I'd like to see shared parental leave and job shares become more standard. There's absolutely no reason why our industry can't be at the forefront of embracing and driving that kind of change. We should be innovators not dinosaurs.
Q: What are your ambitions for Kindred over the next few years?
A: I don't want to do things the way they've always been done. The traditional agency model is pretty flawed in today's marketplace and hasn't evolved to keep up with changing consumer behaviours and the need to take a more media-agnostic approach. We're looking at new ways of working in order to be content-first in a way that's future facing, whether that content is part of a media story or a TV ad. My ambition is for us to set a new standard for content creation and delivery. A model that's agile, speedy and cost effective without compromising quality. A client told me this week that we bring them ideas and solutions that they won't get from any other agency. And I love that. That's what I want us to do more of.
Q: What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
A: At work and outside of work I like to do things that make me feel in equal measure excited and terrified. And I hope that I try and encourage others to do the same, to push boundaries and put yourself outside of your comfort zone. I think that’s when the good stuff happens.

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