Three Questions with Katie McGrath: Advertising Exec and Cabaret Singer

One of my dad’s oldest friend’s, Jim Murphy, introduced me to a few women after he found out I was interviewing powerful, inspiring women. He’s a lucky man to have that many incredible women in his life.

Katie McGrath is Executive VP at Rodgers Townsend, a St. Louis-based, fully integrated advertising agency that serves national clients.  She joined them in 1998 and can’t believe how the time has just flown by.

Prior to that she held leadership positions at DIMAC Direct and ClarionDirect. Her career path has been boosted more by great luck and wonderful mentors than sound strategy, and she’s loved every day of it (not counting a dreadful stint in Dallas working for a Sears siding licensee – she doesn’t like to talk about that).

She’s single but lives in a house big enough to accommodate frequent sleepovers with her nieces.  Her life’s ambition is to be named Aunt of the Year. She’s the only one in her large family who decided to take a different path from the lawyer/doctor route. We laughed about this, but it’s amazing how much of an impact your siblings’ choices end up having on your life.

My favorite quote of hers was “I’m also better at laughing and sleeping. I wake up in a good mood and tend to stay that way until the day’s end.” – says so much.

1. You mentioned that you’re the only one in your family who isn’t a doctor or a lawyer. So, what do you do that’s better than anyone else in your family?

Katie: Years ago this wouldn’t have occurred to me, but now looking back I wonder if I was better at forging a different path than my siblings. My dad was a warrior and pioneer of sorts, the son of two Irish immigrants who were always broke. He won academic scholarships to high school, college and law school, so he was all brains, yet he also was a WWII hero, winning the Naval Silver Star for heroism aboard his battleship in the south Pacific.I’m not saying I’m smart or brave like my dad, but I believe am like him in that I didn’t feel it necessary to do what my family expected me to do, or anybody else, for that matter. My siblings seemed to feel compelled to walk a prescribed road.

I’m also better at laughing and sleeping. I wake up in a good mood and tend to stay that way until the day’s end.

Marketer Katie McGrath2. If you could give one tip to blooming marketers out there, what would it be?

Katie: My first boss in my first marketing-related job said to me on my first day, “Honey, if you like being wrong you’re going to love it here.” What he meant was that in our line of business, direct response marketing, we were constantly testing things in a controlled environment to see which variables had the most positive impact on results, whether that be transactions, value of purchases, customer feedback, etc. He taught me that I could learn as much from the things that didn’t work as the things that did.

That’s still true. So my tip would be to stretch, to experiment, to use your imagination to do things your client hasn’t tried or customers haven’t seen. Some will work, some won’t. You’ll be ahead either way in the experience department.

OK, I have another tip, a related one: never take a job just for the money. I know that sounds pat, but by the time we get our second or third paycheck at a new salary level we’re accustomed to whatever type of living it allows. Other variables are at least as important. Will you be encouraged or allowed to learn new things? Is your supervisor someone you will enjoy and respect? Is it realistic to expect a decent quality of life? If you find something you love, s place you love, the money will come.

3. If you could pick one characteristic from each of the cities you’ve lived in, and mesh them together into one city – what would those characteristics be?

Katie:I’d love my family ties of St. Louis, the lakefront of Chicago and the vibrancy of New York. I want nothing from Dallas.

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