“Voice can define you and set you apart”: Q&A with Banfield’s Derrick Outram

Voice is topical again with the rise of new technologies, but in many ways mastering it has always been a key focus of marketers. And no role has more to do with it than the copywriter.

As part of the article series on our leadership team, we’re turning our attention this month to Derrick Outram, Senior Writer and Partner. Derrick has been with the company for over 13 years — many of them spent working remotely from Edmonton, Alberta — and has a unique perspective on our work and our industry.

Here he discusses his journey at Banfield, what it’s like to collaborate from a distance and the importance of voice in brand storytelling.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Banfield journey?

Derrick Outram: I had graduated (ahem, top of my class) from the Advertising program at Algonquin College and chose a work placement at Banfield. They needed a full-time writer and it seemed like a good fit. I was hired on 6 weeks later — and I just never left! This was back in 2005, so I’ve been here exactly one forever now. I stayed on through a move to Toronto and then to Edmonton. Through a rebranding and Banfield’s 40th anniversary. I became part of the new partnership team in 2014.

Where does your passion for work come from after all these years?

DO: I feel really lucky in that sense. In our industry, the nature of the work continuously evolves and presents new challenges, which keeps me engaged and on my toes. Voice is just the latest example. Plus, I just love telling stories, putting a clever spin on something or breaking down a complex idea so it can be easily understood. And we have a great team that works well off each other, so that always helps.

Working remotely, how does voice (in the literal sense) impact your day-to-day?

DO: Often, it’s all I am — a voice on a phone or speaker. Technology is great in that I can FaceTime with Banfielders and clients for more of a personal connection, and tools like Slack are great for quick back-and-forths, but voice calls still make up a large percentage of my touchpoints with people. It’s fast and efficient and you get more context than through text alone.

And in the more symbolic sense, how important is “voice” to you as a writer?

DO: Very. It can help define you or set you apart as an individual or brand. It can add layers of personality, interest and meaning. It can shape how you are perceived and how others react to you. Working for clients, it’s very important to capture the right tone of voice ­– it’s really easy for it to just feel ‘off’.

How do you expect that to evolve with voice-driven tools like search and activation?

DO: I think finding your brand voice will be more critical – and more literal – than ever. Your brand may soon have an actual voice in people’s homes, so if you say you’re friendly and approachable, your chosen voice had better reflect that. Same thing if you say you’re a trusted expert or a passionate change-maker. It’s tricky, though, because what you and I think your brand should sound like or the type of personality we want to interact with on a more personal level may well be quite different. There are going to be some growing pains.

What’s unique about Banfield’s approach to storytelling?

DO: It’s really two things, I think. One, we like to use Simon Sinek’s principle of starting with “why”. We try to articulate why our clients do what they do because that is often more meaningful and impactful to audiences than what they do or how they do it. And two, it’s collaborative. As a company, we believe that good ideas come from anywhere, so everyone has a voice in our creative process. It may ultimately be one or two people executing, but a lot of people add their input and feedback so we are constantly refining and redefining the work. It almost always ends up in a better place because of it.

Tell us a little bit about yourself — including something unexpected for those who already know you.

DO: Let’s see. I like camping and watching reality TV with my family, a good book, coaching hockey and soccer, board games, and trying to stay optimistic about the Oilers. I play a lot of Lego with my boys. I own a preposterous number of Star Wars t-shirts. I don’t understand how flammable and inflammable can possibly mean the same thing. I believe the time is right for a ‘Manimal’ reboot, and that ketchup is the condiment of last resort.

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