Advertising News South Africa

#BehindtheSelfie: Robynne Rowlinson-Bisset, strategic planning director for VMLY&R

This week we speak to Robynne-Rowlinson-Bisset about her job as the strategic planning director at VMLY&R.
Robynne Rowlinson-Bisset. Source: Supplied.
Robynne Rowlinson-Bisset. Source: Supplied.

What is a typical workday for you?

I’d say my days are broken up into three main areas:

  1. Consuming new information, content and research.
  2. Applying that information to strategic thinking and creative/strategic reviews.
  3. Working on growing/problem-solving for our agency in Cape Town.

Describe your career so far.

I’ve been really fortunate as my career has become a product of my two passions:

  1. Creativity (I studied Opera, Fine Art and then Commercial Photography) and;
  2. Culture and Society (Studied marketing and then worked as an account director for many years before making the move to strategy). When I became a full-time strategist in 2016 I feel that I had found my calling, yet when I was studying I was hardly aware that a role like a strategy director existed, let alone that’s who I would become. My career has been incredible. Of course, I have worked very hard, there have been tears in the bathroom on the way, but the experiences, the people and the sense of pride I have had being part of a team that produces such great work has been humbling and unforgettable.

What do you enjoy most about your industry?

That our industry relies on a deep understanding of what motivates people and then providing creative solutions to trigger those behaviours. Creativity and culture. Its constantly changing and influenced by what is happening in the world around us. You don’t get bored.

What are you currently streaming/reading/listening to?

My goal for the year is to spend less time on screens and more time reading books. So in Dec/Jan, I read The Choice, a holocausts survivor’s memoir, The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck and then Mad Honey – a novel that unpacks a trans woman’s experience as an American adolescent.

What’s your favourite gif?

Apparently, Gen Z think gifs are super uncool now, so I try not to use them too much to show my age around my cooler, younger colleagues, but probably this one:

Who inspires you?

  • Single parents.
  • People who are battling with tough aspects of life that still manage to show up and excel.
  • People who are brave.
  • People that choose kindness.
  • People that invest time in making something beautiful without the motivation of commercial success.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

My dad was a successful ‘Ad Man’, he worked on the it’s not inside, it’s on top Cremora campaign and some other local gems. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was very young, but my mom would tell me stories about his career, like flying to New York, winning Clios and being on set etc. Advertising in the 80s was perhaps a bit more glam than what it is now, but I suppose part of me was always attracted to the idea of what the ad industry was. But I did have a moment where I really wanted to be a singer.

Give three pieces of advice for young people waiting to enter this industry

Advertising as an industry is not straightforward, it’s often long hours, can be very frustrating and requires a lot of team work. So I would only encourage someone to join if they are truly passionate about the work, as if you are, all the challenges will feel small in comparison to the triumph you feel when great work goes live.

I would also say that for strategists specifically, it’s tough to leave your studies and go straight into a strategy role. I would really encourage anyone to try to experience all the departments of the agency, from creative to traffic, production, and client service – any experience you can get! As strategy is never an isolated role, the best strategists I have worked work with have a very good understanding of every department, and then their client’s business and the business of the advertising agency itself.

Lastly, take feedback on board, and be open to critique. Rework, craft and craft until you get something down that you are truly proud of. And then go back and try to strip it down even further. There gets to a stage in your career where there are fewer people around to guide you and guide your work, and that adjustment from mid to senior can be hard, so take feedback and seek out people who you know can help you make your work better, not just stroke your ego as those years go by too

What are some of your best load shedding survival tips?

I try to be grateful that we have a schedule - many countries around the world turn the lights off unannounced, for God knows how long.

About Karabo Ledwaba

Karabo Ledwaba is a Marketing and Media Editor at Bizcommunity and award-winning journalist. Before joining the publication she worked at Sowetan as a content producer and reporter. She was also responsible for the leadership page at SMag, Sowetan's lifestyle magazine. Contact her at
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