Q&A with Suzie Norton, Founder of Zanna Creative
With an adventurous career that has seen her travel on Blair Force One with GMTV, rub shoulders with Prime Ministers at 10 Downing Street, enjoy a stint at the BBC and, more recently, set up her own creative enterprise, Zanna Creative, Suzie Norton definitely has a diverse range of talents under her belt.
We sat down with Suzie to talk all things broadcast journalism, lobbying, and her top tips on starting out in the communications industry.
You’ve had an incredibly diverse career including stints at the BBC, GMTV, and more. Can you talk to us about your experience as a journalist and how it may have helped shape your career?
I was really into politics as a teenager and decided I wanted to be a political journalist. I was lucky enough to get on to one of the UK’s leading politics degrees at Hull University, where I spent my third year working in Westminster. It was whilst I was there, I spent a year working at The House magazine, Parliament’s very own in-house weekly publication and at the Lib Dems press office.
After I left Uni I managed to land work experience at the Financial Times which was fantastic, before getting my first job in journalism as a researcher at Peter Bazalgette’s company working on the weekly politics show The Sunday Programme with Alastair Stewart. My first day was a baptism of fire, I was thrown into the deep end, left alone to book MPs for the show whilst whole the team went out for a birthday lunch. Working on The Sunday Programme was fantastic training - preparing and developing questions, writing briefs and researching in-depth topics - skills I still use today. Unbelievably I was also allowed in front of camera, presenting short films for the show.
At 24, I applied to work at GMTV on the news team as a Producer. This involved filming, editing, writing scripts and going out on the road. Soon into the job, the post of political producer came up, which involved working in House of Commons. I landed this role, and became, at the time, the youngest person to work as a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
It was a fascinating experience, not least of which I made life-long friends and contacts. It gave me an incredible insight into the workings of Whitehall and by being thrown in the deep end, I learnt to find my feet quickly. It was highly competitive, so I quickly learnt to develop a fairly thick skin.
I remember walking to Downing Street on my first day and knocking on the front door (nobody mentioned that the back door was the actual press entrance), everyone thought it was hilarious. Alastair Campbell was Press Secretary at the time, which was an interesting experience. I don’t think I said anything in the daily press briefing for about six months out of sheer terror.
The job took me on a flight to Moscow on the Prime Minister’s private jet nicknamed Blair Force One, I flew around the world and reported everywhere. At the time, GMTV was Europe’s biggest breakfast show with well over 6 million viewers.
You went onto working with Film Birmingham then Screen West Midlands. Tell us about the impact this has on creative industries in the region.
I was brought in to set up Film Birmingham after a two and a half year stint at the BBC as a Senior Broadcast Journalist. This was the city’s first ever film office, the key part of the role was to attract filming to this brilliant city. I used all the practical skills I picked up from journalism to help develop the plans for this new film office At the time the value of film production for the city was not really well known, but now we see thriving film production across the region.
You launched Zanna Creative in 2017, could you tell us a little about the business and what you’re up to?
We are a UK-based creative enterprise set up to help to grow the creative and cultural sectors. We have been lucky enough to secure some fantastic clients across the UK – working in London, Wales Manchester, Birmingham and beyond.
The idea of Zanna Creative was to utilise all the experience I have developed over my 22 years working in the creative industries and to bring in some of the talent people I have worked with under one roof. I’m blown away with how quickly we’re growing! It is a huge joy to be able to run my own business.
Zanna Creative was part of the team pitching to bring Channel 4 HQ to the West Midlands - what was this experience like?
We were initially brought in to develop the campaign for Channel 4 to set up an out of London HQ. My company Zanna Creative was commissioned to develop a social media strategy to get the whole of the WM creative sector behind the campaign. We developed #WMGeneration as the hashtag.
The idea was to showcase and celebrate the rich cultural talent in the area. We connected individuals from cultural backgrounds in the city, tapping into galleries, speaking to artists, performers and many others. We got them behind the concept and as a result, we trended many times on Twitter regionally – every celebrity from Birmingham got involved – Ozzy Osbourne sent a video message too! We reached an incredible 7 million people by organising a Thunder Clap, too. The campaign encouraged individuals to create user generated content which came in a variety of forms (graffiti, poetry, dance, graphic design).
It was an opportunity to showcase the culture credentials of the city under our banner. Zanna Creative then continued to work as part of the main pitch team to try to win the National HQ. We delivered several stakeholder events and attended the formal pitch in London to Channel 4.
Even though the bid was not successful in the end, it was a really positive process. Out of this has come a new screen industry body to help to drive forward the next stage of the journey for the regional screen sector. We have been leading on this work for the West Midlands Combined Authority, with the Mayor soon to launch the plans.
How would your colleagues describe you?
Fun and fair! I have high expectations, as do the people I work with.
Your new role as Board Director at Birmingham Hippodrome just been announced. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
I have long been an admirer of the way in which Birmingham Hippodrome have made the
most of commercial opportunities in order to invest in their programme and their audience. It is fantastic to see the Hippodrome bring their own productions to the stage for their 120th year and to see the growth of their project work resulting in so many more ways for everyone to experience arts and culture either at the venue itself or in their own places and spaces.
I hope to bring my experience working across the creative and cultural sector to the Board and look forward to playing a part what promises to be an exciting future for Birmingham Hippodrome.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young creative people trying to break into the industry?
I would say to not restrict yourself too early when you’re starting out. Keep an open mind and grab as many opportunities as you can.
It’s also important to know your value – the skills young people have in the digital space are invaluable but young people are often asked to provide them for free. I would say hold your ground and know your value.
What excites you about the future of Birmingham?
With Commonwealth Games and the status of City of Culture up for grabs, all eyes will be on Birmingham. It’s a brilliant time for young people who want to communicate in a different ways – there’s a whole host of opportunities coming up for the city.