My Media Life – Alison Tyrrell

August 9, 2022


Welcome to My Media Life, where we chat with the movers and shakers in the worlds of business and marketing to find out what the media industry means to them, their advice for those starting out today, and personal insights into their sources of inspiration and motivations.

This month, we’re thrilled to be joined by Alison Tyrrell, global head of marketing at SilverCloud Health, a digital mental health business breaking down barriers to enable more access to mental health support. Below are extracts from our conversation – you can listen to the podcast here.

What does the media industry mean to you as an individual?

If I look at my career, the media industry has taught me the most about uncovering what matters to an audience – ensuring you create value, knowledge exchange, the importance of context, trust and authority on topics. And the art of storytelling.

I’m looking at it from two perspectives, one from a career perspective, and then a personal perspective. From a societal view, quality journalism creates a knowledge-filled nation that can hold those who run our democracies accountable and drive awareness to help dismantle any systemic injustices. It can quite literally influence the zeitgeist.

That said, when talking about quality journalism, it’s becoming what feels like few and far between, whether it’s [because of] a questionable alliance of a publication to a government body or to a politician or to some billionaire, or whether you’re looking at social media journalism. Therefore, I think it’s so important that we’re contributing to our trusted brands; getting those subscriptions and keeping them running.

Do you miss any of that now that you’re in a broader client role?

I miss what I was able to learn from my peers from a media perspective. A lot of the people that I had the honour to work with at some of these amazing publications – they’re extremely intelligent people. They were coming to us with an editorial lens as to what was happening.

My clients as well – working with some amazing brands – they had a perspective on what their audiences perceived of some of these media agencies. So I was able to learn a lot more about the landscape. Now I’m [coming from] from a brand perspective, which is a little bit more laser focussed. I miss that element of education: just by having a meeting with them, you’re learning and absorbing so much information that you wouldn’t usually in your day-to-day.

What one piece of advice has helped you in your career?

This is so cliché because you hear it so much, but it’s so true: It’s asking why. Why are we creating a certain campaign or why are we creating a certain piece of content or why should our audience care? I think that’s probably one of the whys we forget to ask. Why are we executing this strategy on a particular format or a particular channel? Because when we stop asking ‘why?’ we lose the power to cut through and to actually be effective. And we become very samey, which I think a lot of brands can be guilty of.

What do you love about your current role?

We work in digital mental health. It’s so rare in any job that you get the opportunity to have purpose. We used to have a funny saying in nearly every job I’ve had: “We’re not saving lives, don’t worry about it.” We’re not saving lives. I now feel like I am.

Everything that we’re doing around campaigns is quite literally working with the likes of the NHS or the HSC, or US health systems to help them see more patients or to get better outcomes for patients, or to let the general public know that they can get this for free. The purpose behind it is the thing that I love the most about the job that I’m in now.

If you were trying to get into media and marketing today, what advice would you give to your younger self?

This is interesting. I don’t think I’d do anything differently because every job I’ve had, every leader I’ve had, every mistake I’ve made has got me to where I am today, but I would probably encourage myself, or anybody entering into the industry now, to really absorb themselves in the psychology or the behavioural economics and the culture of the audience.

I’m really passionate about anthropology for the reason of understanding people, understanding why we make choices, why we make the decisions we make and how culture plays a role in that. Because if you understand your audience to a better degree, you’re going to make a more intelligent campaign that means more to them, but also, creates better results. So rather than just going and listening to the same old marketing gurus, who I feel just say a lot of jargon and say the same thing over and over again, try and understand people, because essentially marketing is understanding people. So that would be my advice.

Do you have a secret talent?

I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I’d say that I’m a creative problem-solver. When I think of being creative – painting or being amazing at guitar – none of those things I can do. But if you said to me, “You know, Alison, we need to get from A to B and we cannot see a way through it, that’s when I can shine. That’s when I come to life. So, yes, I’d say creative problem-solving is my secret talent.

What’s your daily media diet?

Currently, it would be the Irish Times, I enjoy the Atlantic, I enjoy my subscription of The Economist – they would be my current [outlets] for daily news.

I hadn’t heard of The Atlantic prior to working in media – it was working a lot with UBS, and the sheer expertise that they have for their audience. We were doing a lot of research and strategy around what their audience, which would be very intelligent people – would be consuming and The Atlantic came up time and time again.

As part of my job, I need to understand the journalism. I need to understand the narratives of each [publication]. So, I was delving in deep to understand it better for myself and I really enjoyed The Atlantic. I became a subscriber myself and the journalism of that say versus, the others that I’d read like the Irish Times or The Economist, feels to me personally, a lot more ‘lean back and enjoy it’. It’s real storytelling.

I enjoy it so much that I share it with my father who also loves it. And when we were getting paper copies, as soon as I’d finished it cover to cover, I’d give it to him, and then we’d talk about all the different articles. I actively enjoyed reading, as opposed to reading it to understand what was going on in the world.

What media brands are important to you?

I probably listen to podcasts more than I do any other type of media. I have been for many years now, but it seems to have become the standout media format for me. I like it because, you can have traditional brands on there, like The New York Times have The Daily, the FT have the News Briefing, The Economist, like a lot, have their own, which is great. And they’re a slightly different take on the publication. There’s a lot of independence as well and you get a different perspective from them in that they’re not being fuelled by any sort of advertising. But they’re also bringing in subject matter experts. You’re still getting a sense of expertise as opposed to finger to the wind opinions.

I really enjoy podcast for that reason recreationally as well. I’m borderline obsessed with The Armchair Expert at the moment. They have mini SOS within their series, so the variety is huge but there’s an expert on something all the time. The hosts are asking questions that nobody would want to ask, so it’s great. You feel like you are listening into a conversation with friends. Now I’ll listen to it on a long car journey or on a run or on a walk.

What else do you do to switch off?

I haven’t quite mastered the switching off, but during lockdown, myself and a group of friends committed to doing a daily practice of meditation. And we got through nearly a year and a half every single day doing it together and keeping each other accountable. Now, admittedly, that’s fallen off my radar a little bit, but I do try and take five minutes every now and again, whether it’s a meditation or some breath work. It’s something that I definitely need to put more attention on.

Who or what inspires you?

The story of entrepreneurs and how they hack through their success and find opportunities for themselves outside of the standard template of success.

I’m also finding a lot of inspiration in the little things. I spend a lot of time in nature or hiking, or just discussions with friends. A good hike could help me unlock the solution to an issue I’m having, whether it’s in work or in my personal life. And, again, a good podcast – they fuel a lot of my ideas.