Today we’re featuring an insightful interview with Sarah Kirchner, an executive marketing leader with over 15 years of experience in global brand advertising, media planning, digital and social media strategy, relationship building and team management. She’s currently based in Copenhagen, where she’s establishing her own marketing consulting practice.

Sarah’s passion lies in developing forward-thinking creative solutions for brands that harness innovation, technology and digital platforms to drive business results. She was previously the vice president of global brand marketing at Kenneth Cole and the global director of digital and social media at Gap, and has worked at agencies like MRY and Ogilvy

Sarah recently shared her experiences, perspective and advice for marketing in Europe with The Content Mix. Before we dive into the interview, here’s a bit more about her.

  • Where are you based? Copenhagen, Denmark 
  • What’s your current role? Marketing consultant
  • Where are you originally from? New Jersey, USA
  • What did you study? Communications at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts
  • What countries have you lived/worked in? The US (Boston and New York), Italy (I studied abroad in Florence), and now Denmark (Copenhagen)

How did you end up working in the marketing industry?

I always had an interest in the communications industry. When I was young, I dreamed of studying journalism and becoming the next Katie Couric. My career path didn’t end up leading to a morning talk show, but I did study communications in college.

After doing several internships in the industry, I found myself at a career fair in NYC, where I learned about Ogilvy, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. I was recruited for the Ogilvy Associates Program: an entry-level training program in which members rotate between various departments for one year before their final placement is determined.

By the way: If you ever have an opportunity to do a training program at an advertising agency, take it! They’re very rare.

This set the foundation for my career in marketing. I was at Ogilvy for five years, working on campaigns for global brands like American Express, Time Warner and the United Nations. I then continued on to a digital marketing agency called MRY, where I worked with brands such as Visa, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble to develop their digital and social media content strategies.

After that I moved to brand-side marketing and led digital and social media for the Gap. Most recently, I was the VP of global brand advertising for the fashion retail brand Kenneth Cole, where I managed marketing strategy and global advertising campaigns. 

When we got the opportunity to move abroad to Copenhagen, I decided to take a pause from the formal “nine-to-five” workday. I’m currently consulting here, while taking time to be with my kids and enjoy this adventure!

What’s your favorite content campaign ever?

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Ogilvy worked on the campaign; it launched while I was working there, and I’ll never forget it. It was the first of its kind to question the “norms” of advertising and address self-image among women and girls, and it paved the way for many other similar campaigns to challenge the status quo.

The campaign was based on the insight that only 2% of women consider themselves beautiful, and it set out to support women everywhere and help them realize their true beauty. It wasn’t just beautiful content; it also generated action and sparked a movement—and Dove’s sales more than doubled during the campaign.

For me, the best content campaigns deliver compelling stories, invoke action and build community and conversation.

My favorite videos from the campaign are Evolution and the Real Beauty Sketches:

Editor’s note: This Dove campaign also made a huge impact on me when I was growing up; I highly recommend the Onslaught video.

What’s your normal day-to-day like?

My normal day represents the new way to work and live, “COVID-style.” In Denmark, we’re currently in partial lockdown; almost all businesses are closed except for pharmacies, grocery stores and some schools.

I wake up, make breakfast for my kids and get them ready for school. Then I drop them off, come home and work for a while: take a call with a client, brainstorm content ideas, develop media strategies, reach out to potential clients, read up on industry news, etc.

I eat lunch, go for a walk with my husband and sneak in an at-home workout before picking up my kids from school. I feed them a snack, have playtime with them, work a bit more, prepare dinner and get everyone ready for bed. Finally, I “decompress” with a show on Netflix or catch up with friends and family back in the US.

What are the top 3 skills you need to do your job? 

  1. Effective communication 
  2. Collaboration
  3. Multitasking

What’s unique about the content marketing industry in Europe?

I believe culture plays a very important role in the industry here, with regard to both the working environment and the content that’s produced. Family and balance are at the center of everything (which I love!), especially now during the pandemic.

It’s difficult to categorize Europe as one entity when there are so many diverse cultures and countries that make it up, and it’s incredibly important to consider cultural nuances—whether you’re applying for jobs or creating campaigns for each market.

How has the European content marketing industry changed recently, especially considering COVID-19?

While I haven’t been living in Europe for that long, I’ve observed an evolving need to consider the “new norms” of working—being open to remote work, flexibility and the idea that location really doesn’t matter.

I think technology has played a major role in the evolution of marketing and content. Gone are the days when you needed to have cumbersome production equipment to create a campaign.

Now, some of the best content is produced and edited on mobile devices. There’s an expectation for turnkey content to be produced quickly, whereas before it may have involved a long production timeline.  

We’re expected to be more reactive and do everything in real time. And of course, Zoom is the new conference room. The pandemic has forced us to evolve in a lot of ways, and it seems like the industry here in Europe has adopted these new norms.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to break into Europe’s content marketing industry?

Be patient and keep an open mind, especially if you’re trying to break into the market from another part of the world.

It’s important to really understand the cultural nuances of the country you want to work in, and to be respectful of them when looking for opportunities there.

I also recommend proactively reaching out to people on LinkedIn or other networking platforms who are in positions or at companies that interest you. Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to have one networking coffee per week with someone I can learn from (whether in person or virtual!).

Quick-fire round:

  • Favorite app? Instagram (I’m old school). But I also just started using the Blinkist app, which I really like. It gives 15-minute summaries of non-fiction books, and it’s great! It includes a lot of really good professional titles that can help with career growth and management.
  • Favorite book? Currently, The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. It has so many great insights about living in Denmark, and it’s so entertaining!
  • First thing you do in the morning? Make my kids breakfast—usually smoothies and oatmeal.
  • Favorite influencer, role model or someone you admire? Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.
  • An event, publication or group you’d recommend? The Skimm. Also, for those in the fashion world, The Business of Fashion.
  • The best piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten? Don’t underestimate your worth and don’t be afraid to ask for more of what you want…more responsibility, money, flexibility—whatever it is!

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.

This post was edited by Melissa Haun, a freelance content creator based in Lisbon.

For more Q&As with global marketing experts:

Fight for your goals – Ilaria Santesso, consumer marketing specialist

Interview with Clàudia Baldellou & Yee Phillips, founders of POD Studios

Embrace the dynamism and variety of marketing in Europe – Ewa Kwolek-Mazur