This week we chat with Cassie Govan, Director and Co-Founder of Empirica Research.
What’s your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?
Professionally, I’ve always been driven by two big passions. One is for the pace and creativity of marketing and advertising; the other is for the more scientific side of consumer psychology. I had always thought that they were mutually exclusive – so I tried both. I satisfied the nerdy side by doing a PhD in psychology and then moving to Stanford University in the US. I then moved back to Melbourne to work for a traditional research firm in Melbourne – but I found myself missing the academic world.
So, Empirica brings both those worlds together. As a consumer research agency, Empirica provides all the familiar marketing, advertising and PR research services, but we also bring the science of consumer psychology to bear on projects in a way that I think is genuinely unique and powerful. When projects call for it, we bring academic partners from the US, Europe and Australia into our commercial research projects and we leverage the cutting-edge research that is being done in universities on how to motivate people to attend, process, and ultimately act on a message. This mix of both worlds keeps the nerd and the business sides of me very happy!
When I’m not working, you’d probably find me running at the gym or around the lake, in a Body Attack class or at Bikram Yoga South Melbourne. I’ve been an exercise addict my whole life and most of my good ideas come to me on the treadmill; bikram is my newest addiction.
Tell us about your typical day in communications?
My business partner David Neal, who is also a psychology professor in the US, and I have just launched Empirica in Melbourne and LA…with a new business across two countries, a “typical” day just doesn’t exist. But, any day starts by getting up to date with the news and ads, coffee, emails, talking to ad/pr agencies, discussing upcoming projects with clients, keeping our academic partners in touch with the projects we’re doing, writing, reading, more coffee…and of course a run or a bikram class at some point.
When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?
When I was a kid I used to get in trouble for channel surfing to watch the ads, so I think I always knew advertising would be part of my career… I coupled my love of advertising (fun) with a PhD in Psychology (nerd) and that’s how I landed here. People often think it’s weird that I studied psychology for so long, but work in marketing/advertising worlds. To me, it makes perfect sense – psychology is how people think, make decisions, communicate, and behave – and I think that also sums up marketing and advertising. Plus, it gives me an excuse to watch ads and call it “work.”
Who’s your communication hero/mentor?
Malcolm Gladwell comes in at the top of my list. He has an amazing gift for talking about some of the great work from the academic side of psychology and making it interesting and fun for everyone to read about. His books are also powerful guides on how to ensure that your message hits home in the mind of your audience (e.g., in The Tipping Point and Blink). There are so many fascinating areas of research in academic psychology (like non-conscious influences on decision-making, stereotypes, behaviour change, negotiation tactics, consumer behaviour, and message framing techniques), but a lot of it gets stuck inside the ivory towers. I love that Malcolm Gladwell gets some of those insights out to everyone.
In a way, that’s what we want to do with Empirica – use the great research that’s being done in the academic world and bring it to the eyes of those in the commercial world.
Malcolm Gladwell is not only an amazing writer, but also an amazing story-teller. I just saw him present at a Psychology conference in the US and was impressed that he lives up to his reputation: no PowerPoint, no slides – just story telling.
Which tools can’t you live without?
My MacBook Pro, my iPhone, my business partner (n.b., he just proof read this and officially objects to being called a “tool”), my running shoes, internet, Skype/iChat, google…
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
With our launch of Empirica, David and I are seeing the biggest challenge as simply balancing the business development side of things with the actual research side of things. Working across LA and Melbourne time zones can also be a challenge in terms of finding time to sleep!
Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?
Tough call…I loved working on the ads for the TAC – they really value research and they have put out so many great ads that it’s hard to pick one. Here’s a montage for their 20th anniversary:
I also loved working on WorkSafe’s campaigns – again, hard to pick one, but I loved the Youth campaign. It was a big challenge to make young people take workplace safety seriously and personally.
I think John Thompson (TAC) and Steve Gosbell (WorkSafe) are doing world-class campaigns in “selling safety.”
But, aside from those social marketing campaigns, I loved working on a research piece for Skins (compression gear for exercise/fitness) – they are exceptionally good at communicating to males, but had some early challenges in the female market. I loved that they placed so much importance on a substantial research piece to really understand their female market – I’m excited to see the campaign and product results of that research over the next year.
Which campaign do you most admire?
From a purely superficial point of view?! Calvin Klein X Marks The Spot.
From a branding point of view, I love Apple and Nike campaigns. From a social behaviour change point of view, I think the TAC and WorkSafe are doing great things in this space.
What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?
The meteoric rise in social media tools…and I think we still have a long way to go until we understand how best to harness social media tools in a marketing/communications sense.
If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?
Keep – Research (blatant self-promotion? Yes, but I really believe in the value of good, well-planned and meticulously- executed research)
Cut – depends on the audience and the campaign of course, but hard-copy printed materials are not always necessary…and typically neither are over-animated websites.
What quality do you look for in your communication team members?
Enthusiasm, great writing skills, a great personality, and that indescribable X factor that you can’t put your finger on but that you pick up within seconds. I also look for people who are willing to think harder and deeper than the competition, every time.
What’s your favourite brand?
I know it’s the cop-out answer, but I do love Apple.
What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?
The Perfect Pitch by Jon Steel. Blink and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. …and for a laugh and a bit of a reality check of ad-land: things real people don’t say about advertising
What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?
Network network network…it’s so important. Also, when it comes to presentations, don’t be afraid to do something different…think about how many text-heavy, boring PowerPoint presentations your clients must see every week – give them something different.
Finish this sentence:
‘Communication is…the most important c word.