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Studio Managing; Herding Creative Cats with Kirsty Smith.

Who are you?

I’m Kirsty, I’ve been studio managing at Chaptr for about… 5 years I believe.

Where are you from?

Andover. It’s a small town somewhat close to Basingstoke/Winchester.

And professionally?

I studied art at University (Winchester School of Art), went on to get my masters, worked as an artist for a while but struggled to earn enough money so I started looking for a job. I did bits and pieces in the art world for about a year and a half while working part-time.

What were you doing part-time?

Working at Chaptr, well it was Brightbyte Studio at the time, as a Studio Assistant. I was doing really exciting things like filing things and tidying up – I think Matt (Creative Director) was just nice and wanted to give me a job.

Did you know each other at the time, then?

Yeah, we lived together. I met Matt through mutual friends at university, and when I finished my course, essentially one thing led to another and we ended up living together with another friend. We lived together for about 4 years. He mentioned they were looking for a Studio Assistant and at the time I was working at a shoe shop and hated it, so I looked up and said “Umm… me? Please?” Then I had an interview with the other two directors at the time, which apparently went well enough to get the job.

So, now studio managing, what is your day-to-day at Chaptr?

I suppose it boils down to “I look after the team”. I schedule work, I do my best to keep our clients as happy as they can be, make sure all of our work is being done correctly and to the right standard, and that all the right people have had a look at it and given it a thorough review. Basically a gate-keeper for the majority of stuff that gets seen by our clients. And then, on the flip side, I manage about 90% of enquiries that come through the door and send out cost estimates, proposals, basically managing the sales process. I hold meetings with prospective clients, try to understand their requirements etc.

So do you need an understanding of design theory and development to do all of that? 

Not really, no. I think the most successful projects have been those that we’ve gotten all of the experts in one room. I can do my best to translate requirements to our development team, and vice-versa for clients; but there’s no substitute for having them both sit in a room and talk things over. I mediate between them to ensure a productive conversation. I think it’s important to be upfront and acknowledge when you’re not an expert, honesty is so important with client relationships. I’ve been in the position of trying to talk about things I didn’t really know, but we have processes that clear a lot of that up, which is better for everyone. Sometimes it’s just about asking the right questions, I think that’s essentially what studio managing is.

Do you like it?

I love it.

Oh, good! Why?

I love the people I work with, and I love the people I work for. Matt’s one of my good friends, so I obviously really care for him, and Joe is just a lovely person – I think he tries harder to understand people than most bosses. I just feel very lucky to be working with/for them. We seem to have created a culture that attracts a certain caliber of person, I think we’re all lucky to work in a creative sphere, and it’s awesome to work with creative people, but above all it’s just really cool to work with people that seem to care beyond the 9-5. We’ve got a team that all seem to really care about Chaptr, and that makes me feel really lucky. I know it’s not my company, but having been there so long, and having put so much into it I guess I feel like it is mine, you know? I’m proud to be studio managing here, and I’m proud of us.

What are you most proud of from your time at Chaptr?

I’m proud of the work we’re doing as an agency, how far we’ve come. It wasn’t all that long ago that the majority of the work I was passing out to the team was “stuff to keep us going.” That’s not to say we weren’t thankful for it, but there’s certainly work every growing agency does that isn’t exactly “portfolio-worthy”. Obviously you need your bread and butter work to pay the bills, but as a creative agency, there were different industries that we were keen to work with too. I feel like now the majority of the work we’re winning are briefs that we really look forward to. When the work is naturally exciting, the team care more, and that means a lot to me. It also makes studio managing a little easier, which is nice.

Having been here a while, I suppose I’m very proud of ‘what we’ve become’, if you like. I think when you start out with a small team, it can take you a very long time to break bad habits, but there’s so many processes we’ve put into practice that makes Chaptr what we are today. We’re doing things properly and the work speaks for itself. I think recently we’ve made some great hire choices (she pointed at me, isn’t that nice?), and that’s something that isn’t always easy – it isn’t always in your control as a small business. But, like I said, we seem to attract the right kind of person now, getting that mix of someone that fits in with the culture and can have a laugh – but also does their job to the standard we need them to. It means a lot to find people who will put in the extra time if they need to, pay that extra bit of attention to catch any mistakes that creep through, and not just walk away from problems. That makes studio managing easier, and it also makes it much more fun.

My role means that I naturally find myself relying on the team to deliver. When you’ve got a great team; studio managing is the best job in the world, and everything runs smoothly, but when you’ve got a team that isn’t quite what you need it to be, things can get tricky.

What are some of the things you’ve learned since being here?

We talk about our culture a lot, and I think that’s because we’ve invested in it so much. I’ve certainly learned that it’s not something you can just say you want to improve and leave. You’ve got to live it and nurture it, you’ve got to consistently check in with people and ask them how they are, and more importantly, how you can make their working lives better. You need to make time for people, and make sure they’re getting the most out of their role.

What challenges have you found in your career?

Well, the big one is keeping clients happy. We’re a small team taking on a lot of work for some big companies, trying to meet deadlines the best we can, while also delivering something amazing beyond expectations. That’s the constant struggle anyone in my role will face, and at the end of the day it’s just a case of being realistic, and sticking up for your team when you have to. Quite often the reality is that everyone involved needs to have a degree of flexibility – and the clients that can recognise this are always our favourites.

What’s it like being in a growing agency?

You have to be resilient. It can be easy to feel like you’re wading through the same problems, fighting the same battles – but when you can look back and recognise all the solid changes you’ve made for the better, it’s very much worth it. We certainly all want Chaptr to grow; we’d love to work on big exciting projects, expand our team and overall offering – but I don’t think anyone here wants us to be the biggest agency in the UK. For us, it’s more about being a leader in the field. We just want to make great work.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Oo. The coffee machine…

It’s probably the people. I know I’ve already spoken about our culture a lot, but it’s true. I laugh so much at work. Sometimes I come home from work feeling guilty for having had fun, thinking “that’s not what work’s meant to be like”. It’s the main reason I’m here; I just don’t envisage anywhere else having the same environment. I also get to meet a load of clients from a whole range of industries, and get involved with some pretty cool projects, which keeps things exciting.

What would you be doing if you weren’t working at Chaptr?

I would probably be a very poor practicing artist, and working part-time at a job I cared very little about to pay the bills. I always liked the idea of working in an art gallery as part of an exhibitions team – so I’d like to think it could have been that too – but it’s really hard to get into, so who knows.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Joe gave me some advice that might sound bad, but it’s helped me out a lot which is “it doesn’t actually matter”.

… Right?

Like when it feels like everything’s falling apart, it’s important to remember that no matter what’s going on at work; it’s not killing anyone. We can get stressed, but whatever we’re doing isn’t life and death. It’s a good perspective if you’re having a bad day – setbacks happen, and more often than not, the solution is just to keep moving. 

What do you do for fun?

I play with Casper. (This is Casper, for any concerned readers).

What else… I spend time with my fiance. We like days out, is that an answer?

Sure. What’s your favourite day out?

A day out to the New Forest is perfect. Being out in nature, going for a long walk, just peaceful.

What’s the best holiday you’ve ever been on?

There are two that come to mind. My first holiday with Joe (the aforementioned finance) was a trip to a really grotty caravan club. It was gross. But it was before we lived together, and it was just so much fun. It was the first time we’d had a space that was really our own for any solid amount of time. There were a few drinks involved, and it was just a really lovely time.

The other was a trip to Rhodes. It was very civilised.

Favourite TV show?

Grand Designs. It’s incredibly relaxing.

Favourite film?

This is England. Bit different to Grand Designs. 

Thanks for reading. Want to learn more about our weird little team? Why not read all about Connor the design nerd’s rise to greatness here.