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What I’ve Learnt: Karen Swan, Director at Influential

Karen Swan

Karen Swan is a Director of Influential, the integrated communications consultancy, and has more than 25 years’ experience in research and strategic marketing.

She leads the agency’s insights team, as well as its public engagement work, including high-profile campaigns like the Greater Manchester Healthier Together initiative, and The People’s Project for Everton Football Club – winner of a 2019 Northern Marketing Award.

Swan joined Influential in 2014 before its rebrand from Paver Smith, starting there as Director of Marketing and Insight. Before this, she held roles including GBGroup’s Head of Marketing, and Director of Strategic Marketing at Trinity Mirror Regionals.

We found out the lessons her career has taught her.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

A cup of tea first thing in the morning.

What’s been your luckiest break?

The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) follows the lives of around 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970. I was born that week, and so for the whole of my life I’ve been part of one of the country’s biggest research studies.

It’s been fascinating to see how the data I’ve contributed to has informed so many key policy areas, like social mobility, education, training, employment and economic insecurity. It’s definitely where my curiosity for data insight and all things trackable came from.

What’s your best failure?

I spent the first 20 years of my career at Trinity Mirror (now Reach), the first 14 during a period of growth and the last six replacing a rapidly declining print circulation and ad spend with a more slender stream of digital revenue. I didn’t have all the answers, but I did learn that you do some of your most resourceful and creative work when a business is facing major challenges. 

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

I relocated from London to the North 15 years ago and it remains the best decision I’ve ever made both financially and in terms of time saved – I don’t miss the hideous London commutes.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Pretty good.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I’ve always preferred fiction and my all-time favourite is ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. It’s clever on so many levels.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

It’s going to be OK. Even when things look bleak, with a bit of resilience there is always a way through.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many great and talented colleagues but the one that sticks out as having the biggest influence on me is Matt Britton (currently President of EMEA Business & Operations for Google). He taught me to keep it simple.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m ambidextrous. It’s something I only discovered through the British Cohort testing when I was 11 – I had to catch and throw a ball and move matchsticks from one box to another 100 times.

What does success look like to you?

Happy clients, happy team, happy family (but not necessarily in that order).

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