How I made it, featuring Catherine Keddie, Managing Director of Health (BCW)
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
We sat down with Catherine Keddie, Managing Director of Health at Burson Cohn & Wolfe, to find out how she made it in the healthcare communications industry.
Catherine has worked in healthcare communications for the last sixteen years helping pharmaceutical and healthcare clients navigate the increasingly complex world of communications. She learnt her craft in roles at Hill & Knowlton, Ketchum and Edelman before taking the opportunity to lead the healthcare practice at Cohn & Wolfe, now BCW, back in 2014.
Read on to find out all about Catherine’s journey into healthcare communications, what keeps her sane on the crazy days, and that one piece of technology she just cannot live without.
How did you get into communications?
“I left university with a degree in biochemistry and a clear idea of exactly what I didn’t want to do, but I had no clue what I did want to do.
“So, I temped in various random jobs for a bit, moved to London and eventually moved in with someone who worked for a healthcare agency. We were sitting watching TV one day when she asked me to read a breast cancer paper because of my scientific background. She ended up telling me about her job and I realised that it was exactly what I wanted to do. Within two weeks I had my first junior account executive role and, as they say, the rest is history.”
What keeps you sane on those crazy days?
“First, a little bit of time to focus on myself. I’ve learned the hard way that making time to be well and be your best self is very important. I get up at 5am almost every morning to exercise. I find that giving myself this time and focus enables me to get my mind straight and set up for the day ahead.
“Secondly, working as part of a good team. When work gets crazy, being in a team that is supportive and is striving for the same things is essential. We have that here at BCW; as much as we’re colleagues and professionals we’re also good friends and we have a lot of fun.
“Thirdly, I love what I do. Healthcare has purpose and meaning and here at BCW we do it in an exciting and unique way. By being able to work on things you care about, those crazy days just become part of your learning experience and help you do something important.”
Do you have a mentor?
“The person who has had the most impact on me during my career is Mike Kan. He is and has been a support and inspiration since he gave me my first JAE role 16 years ago. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever worked with and he is exceptionally client service focused, so there is always something to learn from him. He has this amazing strategic mind but also an ability to focus on the practical. If Mike works on a project, things get done and they get done really well.”
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
"Authentic. Passionate. Motivating."
With the knowledge you have now, what career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
“Take the opportunities that are in front of you and make the very best of them, but also create more opportunities. I spent quite some time being afraid to ask or just to create things for myself.
“Also, I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for not being as good as I could or should be at certain things. But when I learned to focus on my strengths I found my sweet spot in moving forward. I wish I had done that a lot earlier.
“The other thing is never limit your thinking. This year, I was at Cannes Lions Health and realised that now more than ever it’s about looking up, looking out, and seeking input from outside of yourself and your immediate surroundings as much as possible. I love my job. I learn something new from the people on my team and those we work with every week without fail.”
As a female leader, did you face obstacles you weren’t expecting?
“I’ve been really lucky in this regard. I don’t feel I’ve ever been held back in any way. But I have two children, and the hardest thing for me was figuring out how to balance things when I came back to work after having them. It’s an endless juggle and logistical nightmare, but with support and flexibility, it is possible to find that balance and not let it hold you back.”
What top three things do you think businesses should do to improve diversity?
“In healthcare comms, we should be better at doing more from the grassroots. We need to get out there more and talk to people in more places to let them know this is a career that is aspirational and rewarding.
“Secondly, we should ensure we broaden our descriptor of diversity. We focus a lot on gender, ethnicity and disability but everyone is an individual and different types of academic background, life experience, geographical and cultural influences can all be valuable to a business.”
Name one piece of tech you can’t live without
“My phone and Whatsapp specifically. More than email or text, it is a fast, friendly communications vehicle, especially as we are required to be so instantly contactable and responsive. I wouldn’t use it for absolutely everything, but almost!”