Interview with Gemma Renton
Welcome our next amazing Women In PPC expert, straight from Brisbane, Australia. Let me introduce Gemma Renton! Gemma is the founder of Vine Street Digital. 🌻
Share the story of how you first got into PPC?
I originally thought I was going to be a lawyer and so that’s what I started studying at university. I quickly realized that law bore me to tears and changed to Business Management. I’ve always enjoyed business because I have run a small dance school from ages 15 to 19, and I was president of a local non-profit while at university. But things didn’t really come to fruition until I started in marketing.
Like a lot of PPC specialists, I started as a junior in a large agency straight out of university. A baptism of fire is the only way I can put it — I learned a lot and burned (out) a lot. I worked at a few agencies before eventually starting my own.
What was the proudest moment of your PPC career?
Every time a client tells me I’ve changed their business for the better is a proud moment. I live for moments like this.
As time went on in my business, I found equally proud moments when my staff accomplished good things. I love teaching PPC and nothing is as satisfying as seeing things “click” for someone for the first time.
But honestly, the proudest moment of my PPC career was identifying when it was burning me out. When you’re passionate about something it’s easy to lose yourself in it, so deciding to start my own agency and get a better work/life balance was an important move for me. Taking that plunge is what I’m most proud of.
Do you struggle with maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
Getting a good work/life balance is EXACTLY the reason I started my agency. Vine Street Digital has always been 100% remote — we don’t have a physical office. Taking away large overheads meant that we could make a decent profit while capping the number of clients per specialist and maintaining competitive prices. We also work flexibly and are outcome-driven; as long as the work is done and clients are happy, you can do with your time as you please.
This kind of culture has been amazing for me personally. When I left large agencies, it was confronting how many relationships I’d neglected and how few hobbies I had because I worked so much. Working the way we do has allowed me to spend more time with loved ones, take up hobbies, look after myself and ultimately be more than my career.
Even as I write this today at 4 pm, I’ve nearly completed all my tasks and yet still managed to visit a friend, call my sister, do some knitting and read for 30mins. A lot of days look a bit like this one and it’s lovely.
Have you ever experienced any problems or challenges as a PPC because you’re a woman?
Since Vine Street Digital is my agency, I don’t experience as many problems or challenges related to my gender. I was able to set up Vine Street Digital so we could choose only to work with clients who are respectful and share our values.
At larger agencies, I haven’t always had that luxury. In fact, it was rare we said no to anyone which I think is a big problem and probably a topic for another article. While working at other agencies I’ve felt left out of boys clubs, had clients specifically request to “talk to a man” and generally felt cautious of showing any kind of emotion AKA being myself. It’s often a lot of little things that build up over time, but one thing sticks out in my memories. I was having an in-person meeting with a client and I attended with some other male team members — I was the only female. I was also the lead specialist so I was meant to be running the meeting but the client only ever talked to the men and most of what I said was going in one ear and out the other. I have pretty thick skin, but in that case, I couldn’t do the job I was trying to do and it was really frustrating.
Have you ever had any advantages or benefits as a PPC because you’re a woman?
Absolutely! I feel there are often perspectives I can add to campaigns and situations that sometimes my male counterparts don’t see. It boggles my mind that so much advertising is targeted at women and is not always run past women. I think having diverse opinions at an agency is important for this reason; it’s how we get more inclusive advertising and more positive advertising.
I do have one story. This didn’t happen to me, it happened to a colleague and I always found it funny. She said that two men came into her agency asking them to develop an app to show you where attractive people hang out. It took several meetings before a female opinion was heard to finally say: “this is the most dangerous app I’ve ever come across” and the project was shut down.
Are there any differences in how you’re treated as a female by clients?
At Vine Street Digital, we’re proud to be women-led and to have a good gender balance amongst our staff. We shout it from the rooftops. That means we attract clients with similar values around gender equality. So it doesn’t feel like I’m treated all that differently by our clients.
If there is any major difference, it’s that clients are more open with me about how they’re feeling. Running a business is really draining and you get really emotionally invested in it. I like that my clients feel comfortable venting to me. That being said, I think it comes down to culture and how much each individual embraces their emotional side. The men that work at Vine Street Digital show a lot of empathy, understanding, and real respect for mental health. I think having a good gender balance helps to foster positive qualities amongst everyone and those benefits flow onto the client relationships.
Has a client ever underestimated you because you’re a woman? Share an anecdote!
Big time! I once had a situation where a client requested to speak with a man and switch off my service. But we were a little sneaky about it and I continued to manage the campaigns while a male colleague did the contact part of it. Surprise, surprise — as soon as he took the calls the campaigns were amazing! Little did he know it was me the whole time. I never revealed myself or had a “told you so” moment, but I won’t lie it was still delicious to get that win.
If you could wave a magic wand and change something in the PPC world, what would it be?
The toxic cultures and burnout. The PPC world is competitive, has very low barriers to entry and any good salesperson can win business by knowing just a little more than the client. So the market is completely flooded now and it’s sometimes a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. Margins are getting thinner and agencies seem to be solving that problem by simply giving more clients to each specialist. It’s hard for any specialist to let go and do a mediocre or poor job, and so many agencies have pretty crazy KPIs. So of course they work long hours and expend a lot of emotional labor just trying to do the right thing.
Bean bag chairs and ping pong tables are NOT a culture. At their best, they are small compensation for the misery and at their worst, they’re a band-aid solution for a gaping wound. I’d like to see agencies rethink their core values. Start trusting staff and prioritizing mental health by giving them more freedom and setting realistic boundaries with clients.
What about being a PPC do you enjoy the most?
I’m pretty competitive and PPC feeds that quality in me in a healthy way. I rarely compare myself to other specialists, but I love the feeling of bettering myself and my own results each week, month, and year on campaigns. I also get bored pretty easily and PPC has been the only thing so far to consistently maintain my interest. The variety of agency life helps that a lot — there are always new clients, new situations, new platforms, and new things to learn.
- Name: Gemma Renton
- Company: Vine Street Digital
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gemmarenton/