Three Minute Squiz With… Karen Madden

Everybody needs a Karen Madden in their lives. Yes, she’s a marketing whiz who’s been at the top of her field at Woolworths and Nine. But it’s her ability to forge ahead in any difficult situation with her sharp sense of humour intact that we admire. That’s why she’s been a trusted sounding board for The Squiz since the get-go. Please welcome Karen to this week’s Three Minute Squiz.

How and where to do you Squiz?
It’s one of the first things I look at in the morning when I’m checking emails. Although I must say my mornings have been starting a bit later these days!

What drew you to marketing?
It’s a little known fact that I started my career as an accountant. But after scoring a gig as a finance assistant to the McDonald’s marketing team, I saw the light and quickly moved into an Assistant Product Manager role, which I loved. I ended up looking after the Happy Meal program, which basically involved playing with toys all day – what’s not to love?

What makes a good campaign?
Now that is the million-dollar question! It’s been quite fascinating seeing how brands respond to COVID-19 – and there are a lot of examples of what makes a bad campaign. There’s been a great video showing how many of these campaigns rely on the same tropes and are quite turgid and depressing. I think the campaigns that are working well in this environment are providing timely, relevant and meaningful information in a way that underpins the core values of their brands. For example, do I really need another email from a brand I haven’t actively used in the past year telling me they’re here for me in these difficult times? It’s given me a great excuse to unsubscribe from a whole lot of spam.

Brands that I think are doing it well include Woolies and Aldi, Macca’s and Hungry Jacks talking about their drive-through/contactless offer and also Westpac’s ad about how to use online banking.  They might not be the most entertaining ads, but they are the right comms for right now.

You’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in Australia in retail and media. Got a war story for us?
One of my favourites is working on the first-ever supermarket collectables campaign, Aussie Animals. It took off in ways we were somewhat unprepared for, and the collector albums sold out in a week and caused a mad scramble to reprint. Now for those of you who missed this phenomenon, these albums included games and activities for kids, as well as a handy place to store your full set of cards. However, we found out after about 4 days that the find-a-word puzzle had the letters F-U-C-K all lined up in a nice little row! Given the albums had sold out, we were facing a massive product recall – until we had some mums on social media moderate the issue for us with the simple advice to get a black pen and turn the F to an E. It was an interesting lesson in how sentiment can change very quickly when you have a product people really want, and also in not panicking in the early stages of a potential crisis. And then there was the time at Nine we offended the entire nation of South Korea with a questionable segment pertaining to the K-Pop band BTS

You’ve also tackled study in all that downtime you have… Two questions – why and how?
I’m a glutton for punishment. I’ve done all my study part-time whilst working full-time, including my MBA and a Master of Science in Coaching Psychology. The MBA I did for my career, and the coaching was for me but has also helped me be a better leader. I could not have done it without my incredibly supportive hubby, who not only does all the cooking but also has a zero-tolerance approach to study procrastination.

What’s your favourite recipe/favourite meal at your favourite restaurant?
As mentioned, I am blessed with a partner who co-owns a seafood business and loves experimenting with new recipes. He cooked up a chilli crab last weekend that was to die for! But if I could only eat out of one cookbook for the rest of my life it would be Ottolenghi’s Simple*- every recipe is a winner. And when this craziness is all over, one day I hope to go back to Nopi in Soho and eat all the breakfasts. Breakfast is my happy place.

Name four people – living or dead – you would love to have at your next dinner party.
Given we’ve been in lockdown for so long, it would probably have to be my family! But after we’d had the reunion, the next dinner party would have to have Dave Grohl, Yotam Ottolenghi, Robin Williams and Pheobe Waller-Bridge.

What’s your favourite book?
This is the hardest question so far!  I am a voracious reader who usually has multiple books on the go. Can I pick four favourites? To atone for my Tiger King binge-watch, I’ve been trying to read things which make me think. Some books I’ve read recently and highly recommend include See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill, Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman, Fixed It by Jane Gilmore and The M Word by Dr Ginni Mansberg. Now THAT would be a great dinner party – can I change my last answer?*

What’s helping you get through self-isolation?
One thing I picked up from my coaching degree is the importance of gratitude.  Research consistently demonstrates that having a regular gratitude practice can really help with your mood. To make it less onerous, I have one of those sentence-a-day five-year journals where I record one key moment of each day and why I’m grateful. I absolutely love reading entries from years past! It’s funny and sometimes sad, but is also a reminder of events I’ve forgotten, laughs that I’ve had and my resilience over time. It’s something I look forward to each night.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story we should know about?
*Stands on soapbox* The number of companies that don’t pay a fair rate – or any – tax in Australia is outrageous! Given the economic crisis we now find ourselves in, the Government really needs to have a look at this one to address the huge deficit we’re facing into. I find this infuriating and can’t believe more people aren’t outraged by it.

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