In her 17 years working in advertising, Laura Stayt, President of Zambezi in California, USA, has seen many sides of the industry. She began her career in an Account Management role at AMV BBDO in London before moving to Los Angeles to join TBWA\Chiat\Day, then spent a period at Crispin Porter & Bogusky before joining independent, female-owned, integrated agency Zambezi in 2018. Over the years, she has led multiple world-class brand relationships such as Beats by Dre, Under Armour, PayPal, AirBnB, Nissan, Traeger Grills and many more.
As President of Zambezi, Laura currently leads all day-to-day operations for the agency, maintains oversight of brand relationships, and has close involvement in growth efforts. As a Worldwide Partners Next Gen Council member, she continues to spearhead the development of global relationships and ways of working for the agency within the global network of independent agencies.
We asked Laura ten questions to learn more about her background, what excites her about the advertising industry and what independence means to her.
WPI >> Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Laura >> I grew up in the UK, in a tiny village near Bath, before moving to London when I started work. I now live in Los Angeles and have been here for almost 12 years..
WPI >> How did you end up in the advertising industry?
Laura >> I applied to the AMV BBDO Graduate Scheme during my final year at Oxford University. I was studying Geography and had toyed with the idea of going into International Relations or something with an NGO, but then stumbled upon advertising a little bit by accident. I went through a rigorous interview and application process with BBDO, got to know the industry and was totally inspired by the amazing leaders there, as well as the opportunity to use my dominant left-brain in ways that could support and nurture creativity. Got the job, finished university, and the rest is history.
WPI >> What excites you about the advertising industry? What pisses you off?
Laura >> I'm excited by continued evolution. It feels like every year or so there's another reason for someone to herald the 'end of agencies'. But here we are, continuing to adapt, grow, and find new ways to provide value to brands. I don't think there's another industry that brings together so many different skill sets and points of view, and when you find the right combination of these things alongside brand partners that share the same values and mindset, it's a powerful combination.
I think the biggest frustration is when the work we do is under-valued and as agencies, we're seen as a disposable expense, versus when we are valued properly and compensated fairly. That's when we are truly able to do our best work, provide the right value and drive business impact for our clients.
WPI >> What was your first job and what did it teach you?
Laura >> I worked in a baked goods factory in my home town when I was about 16. I stood on a production line glazing donuts and filling eclairs for 8 hours a day.
It taught me that I didn't want to work in a baked goods factory when I grew up... but also that pretty much anything can be made enjoyable and productive if you have a great team of people beside you.
WPI >> What is a book, movie, TV show or podcast that you find inspiring?
Laura >> I would probably say 'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts. I've read it many times and I always discover and learn something new. It's dense and immersive, not a light read by any stretch. The central themes in the book are around self-discovery, resilience, adapting to surroundings, growth, morality… all things that are important to me in my own life.
WPI >> What is one of the favorite projects you have worked on at your agency?
Laura >> My role has evolved a lot since joining Zambezi 5 years ago. I started in Account Management, then my role changed to be more operationally-focused, and now as President I combine all of those things, so there's a couple of ways to answer this.
From a work-output standpoint, I would say leading the integrated Traeger Grills team over the last couple of years and launching 'Welcome to the Traegerhood'. As brand partners, the dream is to create communications that transcend just an advertising campaign and become part of the fabric of the company itself. Not only did we create a highly successful launch campaign that brought together all of our capabilities—strategy and creative from Zambezi, media planning and buying from Scale (our media division), and production from FIN Studios (our in-house production studio)—but 'The Traegerhood' is now part of the company lexicon. The CEO, Jeremy Andrus, even refers to himself as the 'Mayor of The Traegerhood'. When you can create something so compelling that hits the core of the business, that's success. And this was the best of us as an agency.
A totally different way to answer this question is leading our company office move in 2022. From an operational perspective, things don't get much more complicated. We downsized our physical space massively during COVID, recognizing the trends in hybrid/remote working, and wanted to find a space that better reflected the changing workplace needs. Designing the office space, negotiating with landlords, re-imagining our operational and IT needs, and setting up more modern and equipped production studio spaces—all things that were totally new to me, but really helped me better understand the workings of the company and focus on our operational priorities.
WPI >> How has Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally?
Laura >> I think I would answer the same way personally and professionally. It has taught me the most enormous amount of patience, resilience and appreciation for finding the right support group around me (friends, family, employer, co-workers). The value of 'Team,' in all its forms, took on new meaning, and that is something that will outlast COVID. It's also why I believe Zambezi was so successful through that period, as we truly do value our people and the team mentality.
WPI >> What is the biggest takeaway you have learned since being elected to the WPI Next Gen Council?
Laura >> This is relatively new,, however I'll say the reason I wanted to take this position is because I believe so strongly in the power of the network and the opportunity it offers all of the agencies, our staff and ultimately our clients. I've had the chance to use network partners in a few different ways and I'm really inspired to see how I can implement new ideas, find new ways to collaborate and raise the profile of what we're doing. I've run a lot of pieces of global client business in my career, many of which were part of the big holding companies, so I see a real opportunity to bring forward learnings from that into this independent, more collaborative model.
Having just come back from our global summit in Athens, where I got to spend time with the Council and start collaborating on a number of initiatives, I’m excited by the opportunity to bring fresh ideas and diverse perspectives not just to the leaders of our agencies, but employees of our agencies at all levels.
WPI >> What does independence mean to you?
Laura >> Before joining Zambezi I had only ever worked at big network agencies—BBDO, TBWA Chiat\Day and CP&B—so I've had the opportunity to truly see the difference.
We're totally in control of our own destiny. We make our own decisions, set our own priorities, and are able to behave in far more nimble, nuanced ways. It's not for everyone, and I've seen people come into the independent environment and struggle. It requires a more entrepreneurial spirit, a growth mindset, being comfortable operating in more fluid situations, and being ok with not always knowing the answers. All of these things are enormously motivating to me as a professional. I'm always asking 'what's next?', 'how can I make this better?', and being independent allows me to actually implement ideas and be effective.
WPI >> What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?
Laura >> I think I would want to retrain as a lawyer. I'm very analytical, logical, and I like using hard facts to tell compelling narratives. I think I might be good at that.
This article is an installment in a series where Worldwide Partners speaks with members of our Next Gen Council. Check back for more interviews with our council members.