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HERstory: Kate Marsden

Head of Global Brand Partnerships @ Canva

Welcome back to another edition of HERstory, where we give a platform to the inspiring women shaping the world of marketing. Today, we’re thrilled to bring you an interview with Kate Marsden, the woman at the helm of Global Brand Partnerships at the graphic design giant, Canva.

With a career that’s as varied as it is impressive, Kate has navigated the landscape of marketing with grace and tenacity. From her decade-long stint in the tourism industry to taking a leap into the tech world with Canva amidst a global pandemic, Kate’s journey is a study in resilience, adaptability, and seizing the right opportunities.

In our chat, Kate delves into the nitty-gritty of her career pivot and how she turned her previous experiences into her strength in the tech industry. She shares her expertise on forming successful partnerships across diverse sectors, from entertainment to philanthropy, and doles out invaluable advice for emerging marketers in this sphere.

Kate also highlights the importance of incorporating personal values and philanthropy into marketing campaigns, speaking candidly about her proud association with impactful partnerships that resonate with Canva’s mission. Plus, she shares her resources for staying on top of trends in this ever-evolving industry and drops some real gems about career progression.

Without giving too much away, this interview is full of profound insights, meaningful conversations, and a peek into the world of partnership marketing. So, buckle up as we dive into Kate Marsden’s enriching journey and learn from her unique perspective on marketing and beyond.

One thing we don’t talk enough about is career pivots. You made a career pivot from a decade in tourism marketing to working at Canva. How did you go about making the transition? What skills or experiences from your previous role were transferable to your current role, and what new skills have you had to develop?

Great question! It was a messy mixture of intention and necessity if I’m honest. I’d started to get itchy feet as far as the tourism industry goes at around the 7 year mark, and I recognised that I needed to broaden my experience beyond tourism to help transition out. This took a few years! As part of an 8 month sabbatical with my husband, I decided to contract with an agency in Shanghai, whose specialty was helping Western brands, across a diverse range of industries, enter into the Chinese market. This was a really good move as I built a range of experience and skills across new industries including health and wellbeing, CPG, and retail.

Post sabbatical, I intentionally chose to take a job back in Qantas which was a bit of a dream tourism brand to work for, whilst I figured out my next move. Fast forward to a global pandemic where planes were parked in deserts and this was the push I needed. Whilst tourism was stalled, tech wasn’t – I saw a post from an old contact on LinkedIn saying that Canva was hiring – and I took the plunge and DM’d him. I started contracting 5 days later and went full-time 3 months later. 

As far as skills go – certainly the mix of my partnership experience, working with offshore markets, as well as for a big brand being Qantas, were skills I could immediately apply in tech. I could talk for days about all the new skills I’ve had to develop! We often say at Canva that we’re building the plane whilst flying it and so learning to be comfortable, confident, and focused on the big picture in this type of environment are certainly new skills I’ve developed (and still honing of course!).   

Your role as Head of Global Brand Partnerships has you building partnerships across a variety of verticals, including entertainment, sports, philanthropy, and more. 

In your opinion, what sets successful partnership marketing campaigns apart from those that fall short, and what advice do you have for new marketers looking to improve their partnership marketing efforts?

I think irrespective of what sectors you’re looking to form partnerships in – there are some key approaches that I’ve found to be absolutely essential to forming a successful partnership. One fundamental question I ask myself is whether there’s a true alignment across values, brand, and goals; if any of these are lacking, it’s time to take pause and consider whether this is the right partner. 

Successful partnerships also see an equal exchange of value, where both parties believe they’ve received as much value from the partnership as they’ve given to it. Otherwise, it’s purely transactional and I would argue, not a true partnership. I believe the best partnerships are the ones that are built collaboratively, from the ground up. It’s all bespoke, nothing is off the shelf. This takes time and patience, but produces far greater results (and is way more rewarding!). 

So my advice to new marketers in this space would be to roll up their sleeves, be deeply curious about your potential partner, their audience, their values, and goals and get creative in exploring unique ways you can build a partnership together, that ultimately makes the experience of your customers far richer than when you started.  

According to the latest Women in the Workplace Report, female leaders are twice as likely as their male counterparts to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. 

In marketing teams, we see this go a step further by incorporating philanthropy and social impact into marketing campaigns, whether through partnerships with nonprofits, cause-related marketing, or other initiatives. 

How do you approach incorporating personal values or philanthropic efforts into partnership marketing campaigns, and what benefits have you seen?

This is deeply important to Canva and also for me personally. Canva’s mission is to ‘Empower the world to design’. We believe that everyone should be able to communicate their ideas visually, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, and so forth. 

It’s with this lens that we form our partnerships. I’m very proud of the partnerships we’ve formed with organizations such as our 3 year partnership with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, or Issa Rae’s ColorCreative production studio where we’re supporting 30 BIPOC filmmakers to produce 5 short films. These are just 2 examples but values are 100% the common thread through all of them. 

Consumers are incredibly astute and take notice of how organizations show up in the world and who we show up with. At Canva we want to ensure that people don’t just use us, but they form a deep affinity for the brand based on how we help them achieve their goals and also what we stand for. I see the choice of partners and how values are embedded into the fabric of the partnerships we form together, as being a key part of this. 

Everyone loves some insider knowledge. How do you stay in the know with the latest trends, and what resources or tools do you rely on in your day-to-day work?

I surround myself with curious and smart people and try to hang out and chat with them as much as possible! Aligning with really great industry and agency partners helps a lot too. Day to day, Canva has a deep love for Slack and so trawling through channels where people are regularly sharing the best creative from around the world, latest trend reports, media articles or just downright funny things they see online, makes for a pretty rich place for inspo. 

If you could turn back time, what advice or guidance do you wish you had received earlier in your career?

Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You should also view it as a landscape, not a ladder.

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