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Idealog’s one-on-one with Kiwi marketing marvel, Tee Twyford

Idealog interrupted an otherwise peaceful London evening to find out how she got to where she is, what it takes to get to the top of the marketing heap, and what’s next in the world of branding for big biz.

Idealog: Where did you grow up?

Twyford: I was born in Papakura. Childhood was pretty awesome. I have a great family, I loved to learn, and I was always really hungry for knowledge. I loved reading, I was always asking questions, and I was always very competitive. That played out at school when I was on the tennis court and basketball court; I was very focused and I seemed to dance to my own tune. 

I went to Rosehill College and it was awesome. I went to school with a really awesome peer group and I count many of them as my closest friends even today. As someone who loved learning and getting involved and putting my hand up, at a school like Rosehill there were a lot of teachers who nurtured that curiosity. There were heaps of opportunities, whether that was academic, sporting or in terms of leadership. It was amazing. 

Any highlights?

I was lucky enough to do a two month German language exchange to a city called Heidelberg between my sixth and seventh form year and that was an amazing first taste of the big wide world that was out there. I got a feel for what it was like to live in a big, bustling city and an early addiction to the spell of getting out of the country just for the weekend.

Where there certain subjects you excelled at at high school? 

Well I always loved reading and English and history. My dad definitely held out hope that I would continue on the family path, and so I kept up chemistry and maths and biology, just in case I changed my mind at the last minute and went to vet school so, yeah, I kept it pretty broad, but I always loved English. 

So how did you get from Rosehill College to AUT? 

I knew that it was the best place to do what I wanted to do – it was a no brainer. Even though I wasn’t 100% sure about what I wanted to do, I loved that, with a bachelor of communications, you could start broad in the first year and work out along the way what you wanted to do, and I think that’s a theme that kind of followed me the whole way through. Just working it out as I went along. 

There were a few people I knew that had gone and done the degree and I loved hearing about the papers they were doing and it just sounded like somewhere I could continue to learn, enjoy being there and getting to expand my horizons a bit more. I didn’t know what I wanted to be and I wouldn’t have even, at that point, being eighteen, known that the career that I’m in today even existed, but, for me, I just had a gut feel that it was the right place to be and to set myself up for the career I wanted. 

What was it like landing at AUT?

It was a bit overwhelming to start with, in that there were these really passionate teachers, lecturers and tutors who loved their subject matter. That was amazing. The syllabus was a wonderful blend of theory and expanding your horizons in that way, but was really practical, with real-world applications, and I loved that – being able to apply myself as you would in the real world. And then the fact that, at the time, there was only one or two hundred of us in that intake for the year, so it was just phenomenal to be surrounded by like-minds who were all passionate, into their different fields, and I’m still in touch with many of them, even though they’re spread around the world doing hugely interesting, amazing jobs. So I think that combination of awesome teachers, a syllabus that was that wonderful blend of theory and practical, and just those classmates was it for me. 

You achieved quite a bit at AUT – what do you think contributed to your success? 

I think it’s the way the degree is structured. There are a lot of opportunities to put your hand up and get involved. There were lots of great committees – whether it was as part of the AUT student body, I was able to be a student rep for a couple of years, I was able to put myself up for internships – Women in Film and Television and Tourism NZ – and we also did a lot of amazing projects that had real word applications, so I think if you wanted it, the opportunities were there to be grabbed. I think that was a big part of it. 

So when you’re spit out at the end of your degree, it can be quite stressful for some. Did you have a clear direction when you left AUT? 

Well, I think I was incredibly fortunate in that the day I handed in my final paper was the day I also received a job offer. 


Amazing, right? My dad was like ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do a more practical or traditional degree like medicine, or veterinary medicine or law?’ and so it was awesome to come home that day, having handed in my final paper and say ‘Here’s my job offer’. That’s a testament to AUT and the connections they have in the industry. It’s seen as a real hotspot and breeding ground and even now I look out for that when I’m meeting people and hiring people. When you know someone has got book smarts and real world smarts, you can feel confident in hiring them.  

So how did you end up at nzgirl

I remember reading nzgirl as a teenager and just being captivated by it. Jenene [Crossan, nzgirl founder and director] is such a visionary and that was one of my first examples of that, when she created this online platform for Kiwi women. One day in the newsletter they were asking for volunteers to help with the site and I put my hand up and emailed in, and then a couple of years later, when I was at AUT, I emailed the editor to go in and do a day’s work experience. Then I just kept turning up every week and made myself useful. So off the back of that I had a really great connection­ ­– I’m super inspired by her. She does amazing things and we got on really well.

After going away and working at Pacific Magazines I started to think that I really wanted to be back on the other side of the floor – not on the sales and marketing side, but on the publishing side where the content is being created. At about the same time Jenene reached out to me and said they were looking for someone to step into the editor role at nzgirl and ‘was I interested?’ It was fortuitous. 

And then you moved back into the marketing side of it? 

Yeah, it jumps all over the place, doesn’t it? I did a good three or four years at nzgirl and grew from being an editor right up to running nzgirl. Then that sort of coincided with being in my mid-twenties and feeling it was time to go and explore the world. 

I also thought at the time that I wasn’t sure if publishing was going to be where my career would continue, because, I loved content, I loved the buzz of engaging with readers, I loved the analytics, but I was having real trouble seeing where that was going to lead me in a career path, and I started to realise that brands were going to start needing that mind-set and that would become increasingly valuable. So that’s when I started looking for my next role. It was amazing actually the number of skills I could transfer from my editorial days to when I started with Tommy Hilfiger to head up their social media department. 

So do you consider your role at Tommy Hilfiger your ‘big break’ so to speak? 

For me it’s been a squiggly line rather than a linear path and I think each of those building blocks along the way are kind of equal in that they’ve taught me things and introduced me to people. To me it’s that, rather than being one big break.

So what are the issues brands are facing these days in regards to their media and communication strategies? What issues are you chewing over day-to-day? 

Really good question. I think it still comes down to the fact that you’re still competing, whether you’re a publisher or a brand. You’re competing for the attention of your consumer, so it’s about ‘How are you relevant to the consumer or the readers that you’re targeting?’ That’s increasingly challenging with all of the different messages that are out there. 

Also, I think that it used to be that marketing and advertising was kind of ‘dark art’ and no-one really knew what was involved, but now I think there’s so much expectation about how brands should and shouldn’t behave, and brands should be able to respond and treat people in a really personal manner. I think for the bigger brands, unlike smaller start-ups, it’s harder to pivot and be able to connect all your different data points and data centres with the content production arm.

So how do you manufacture that relevance day-to-day? Is it something that’s based on analytics or are you just doing it by feel? 

I think everyone’s got a different answer to that. For me it’s a mixture of both. I think it’s important to always go with your gut but I also think it’s smart to combine that with insight and data. But definitely gut instinct is important. 

So finally, what’s the next big challenge when it comes to branding? 

I think it’s being comfortable with change; being in the position where you and your team can pivot and be nimble and be responsive to the change that’s happening around us. It’s embracing that uncertainty. It’s also knowing when it’s the right time to embrace newness and when it’s the right time to say ‘that’s not the right opportunity, I’m going to focus over here’. Because there are so many things happening that you can’t to do everything. It’s following that gut, following that data, knowing where to be nimble, and knowing where to say ‘pass’. 

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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