Public Relations Specialist / The Cotton On Group
Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to meet a person that makes life better, and instantly, you realise that the connection you feel will see you through the rest of your life. That is the definition of “All That” – and that is how I felt, the moment I met the joyous Marlee Paton.
Marlee defines what it means to live. After being scouted in high school, she travelled to the US to complete her University studies. Can you imagine how exciting that would be? Upon returning she sidestepped into a media buying role, before landing a job with Cotton On.
It’s here between the walls of the ‘Cotton On Commune’ that Marlee has honed her PR craft. If you are wanting a career in the PR industry, then this the interview for you. I wish I could jam more objectives into this intro, but the truth and proof is in her words. This #careerstory is one of my personal favourites. Marlee is a girl you want in your arsenal, and human you want living on this planet.
Please read down to the very end and tell us what you think.
Hey Marlee, so pumped for this interview. Can you start by telling us where you grew up and how that shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne with my parents and sister, Lyndsey who is four and a half years older than me. Growing up we had the typical sister fights about clothes or me wanting to hang out with her friends but now she is my absolute best friend. I have such fond memories of my childhood which was mostly spent by the beach, camping with my cousins and playing and hanging out at our local lacrosse club in Williamstown.
Both my parents were really active growing up, especially my mum. She ran her first half marathon when she was in her late fifties and is still my constant motivator for knowing age is just a number, and that you can do anything you put your mind too. I actually thought I wanted to be an interior designer was I was younger. I would go over to my friends’ houses and ask them if I could clean and re-organise their room, which they thought was so strange – but I just loved doing it.
Turns out my love for this faded, but I do certainly consider myself a bit of an organisational freak today which has proved helpful for me in jobs later on!
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
Throughout my high school years, I attended Williamstown High School. Located by the beach, we often spent our time after school at the beach or having our PE classes replicate a mini nippers training session. Sport played a huge role during my time at high school. I put my hand up for every team; lacrosse, softball, volleyball, swimming you name it I was in. Looking back, this really helped me meet new friends and gave me an identity outside of the classroom which was really crucial during those difficult teen years!
I absolutely loved completing my VCE, it was like everything just fell into place and I really enjoyed the classes I took (okay maybe not Maths…) and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by an amazing group of around 10 girlfriends who I am still close with.
In year 12, I put quite a bit of pressure on myself to perform both in and out of the classroom. That year I was selected in the 2009 Senior Australian Lacrosse Team which meant a trip to London and Prague for three weeks in the middle of midyear exams to compete in the World Cup. I was determined to make it work so I made sure to meet with all my teachers before I left so I didn’t miss out on any crucial info. Seeing as I was in the UK when our mid year Psychology exam took place, I had to wake up at 2am local time and sit the test and the same time my peers were just from across the other side of the world.
I was exhausted and I was in the middle of a training camp where my body was being pushed to the brink but I did it and as soon as the tournament was over and all my teammates continued and travelled around Europe I was straight back on the plane to smash the next half of the year!
OMG, are you super human or something Marlee? Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Bringing it back to sport, I always thought I would go down the route of studying Sports Management, Personal Training or maybe P.E Teaching. However as I started exploring different classes in my later years (years 10-12) like Psychology and Business Management and I realised that I had a keen interest in marketing, communications and business. I also loved learning about consumer behaviour and organisational structures.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I had a part time job at 14 at the local surf shop in Williamstown. From year 10 on wards I would go to school, pack a bag, get changed and then walk to work straight from school. My shifts were short only from 3:30-6 doing things such as stocktake, unpacking boxes and helping out customers on the floor. I loved it and I think the job taught me at a young age about time management, discipline and gaining vital people skills. I loved working and having the freedom to earn my own money most of which went back into the store after buying clothes!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Yes! My college path was a lot different to most young Australian girls. Since I was 5 years old I played Lacrosse. Throughout all my schooling years I was constantly juggling lacrosse commitments and study. In year 10, I was lucky enough to be chosen to play for the U19 Australian Lacrosse Team and travel to Canada to play in the World Championship.
As the baby of the team at just 15 years old I was so excited just to be there but little would I know that college coaches from America were in the stands recruiting for their next bunch of athletes. A few months later and I was approached by multiple coaches from across the United States and as I was heading into Year 12 I signed my official letter of intent to accept a 4 year athletic scholarship at Loyola University Maryland. Located on the east coast in Baltimore, It was there where I studied a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Specializing in PR and Advertising with a minor in Marketing.
Was it scary leaving my family at 18 and flying half way across the world to dive into this new scary world? Hell Yes. But it was the most amazing experience and I will forever cherish the people, memories and lessons I gained from those 4 and a half years.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
After returning from the states, I made sure to have a month or two grace period to enjoy summer and defrost from those East Coast winters. However, in the new year of 2015 I started my first full time job at Seven Affiliate Sales (the regional arm of Channel 7, now called PRIME Media Group). Here I worked in the Brand Partnerships Team as an assistant. My days were spent booking ad spots for major sponsors in AFL Games and programs such as My Kitchen Rules. I also pulled together sponsorship proposals, and soaked a much knowledge about the Australian Media landscape as possible.
From there I got promoted to a Sales Executive and worked across accounts such as Coles, Target, Kmart & Bunnings. While it was such great experience working in the fast paced media/sales environment I quickly realised sales weren’t for me and I started looking for a role where my creativity and people skills could shine.
In 2016 I started as a Marketing Coordinator at Typo. It was such a fun role, I mean, we often sat around brainstorming campaigns featuring Mermaids and Unicorns! However, after working in the role I found myself really curious about the PR side of things and when the opportunity came up I jumped at the chance. Cotton On is one place where internal hires are always welcomed and supported.
One of the key values at Cotton On Group is Start Here. Go Anywhere and it really is true – and something the group fosters!
How did you get the PR Specialist role?
After seeing the job posted on the Cotton On Careers page, I immediately emailed the PR manager who was working for Typo at the time and said I would love to grab a coffee to discuss the role further. After a few meetings and submitting a brief I made the trek across the office to move out of Typo and into the Group Comms team.
At Cotton On, the PR team works as a mini in house agency with working across all 9 of the Cotton On Brands. I started out working as a PR Coordinator for Cotton On Kids, Rubi and Cotton On Foundation, three brands that were extremely different but very fun to work on. It also was such a great way to meet new people in the business and network with different departments! Today, it’s been roughly two years since I have joined the team and I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for the people I get to come in and work alongside of everyday.
What is the hardest part of your current job as a PR Specialist?
When I studied PR in College, it was taught in a much more ‘traditional’ sense then the PR we know today.
There was no such thing as social influencers, and you spent more time crafting the perfect pitch and writing endless media releases than you did scrolling through Instagram on the hunt for the next up and coming content creator. The challenge today is finding people that can talk to your brand in a genuine and authentic way. With the influx of #spon and #ad posts you need to find people that are a good fit your brand and also have a greater message or story to share to allow for that deeper connection and believe-ability.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job at Cotton On?
As the current PR Specialist at Cotton On, every day is always different whether it be working and planning monthly campaigns alongside our social media and events teams, building out our robust influencer strategy or brainstorming new angles for media, no day is the same day which to me is really important in your job!
I currently work across Cottton On, Cotton On Body and Rubi and absolutely love the mix of talent, projects and products we get to work with. Last year I was given the opportunity to travel to Bali for our swim launch with Cotton On Body, hosting influencers for the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in South Africa, and most notably travel to Uganda to see the life changing work of The Cotton On Foundation. Last year was huge in terms of accomplishing many things on my career bucket list.
I also count myself lucky to walk through the doors every morning, coffee in hand into a buzzing and inspired workplace. There will always be dogs in the office, which is an instant mood lifter and with health and fitness being incredibly important to me we are also encouraged to take our lunch breaks at the gym with our own personal trainers, free gym classes and access to the delicious healthy café!
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
This is very easy to answer! One half of Showandtellonline ladies, Stacey has been my long time mentor, next door neighbour and inspiration for as long as I can remember. I am constantly bouncing ideas off her for my new side business, Scrunchee and chatting to her about my future, career and general life advice. She has three beautiful boys and manages to juggle so many balls with such a cool, calm and collected manner. Even though there is over 10 years between us, I count my lucky stars to have her in my life as another sister and friend.
Love that Marlee. It’s so important to have a mentor, or someone that you can bounce ideas off. What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
If you are getting into PR because you think it’s all parties, glamour and networking, than you may want to schedule some catch ups with people that actually work in the industry to give you a little bit of a reality check!
“While PR is definitely a fun, creative and rewarding job it’s also monotonous, gritty and brutal at times.”
I spent a solid year and a half where most of my time was spent in the sample room, packing and unpacking boxes and learning way too much about Australia Post than I care to share. However, I believe that in this industry everyone needs to experience the administrative, repetitive and not so glamourous tasks to fully understand what the role of a PR lead involves.
Another bit of advice would to ALWAYS be a team player. No matter what the task is (and believe me you get some pretty obscure tasks thrown at you in this industry) make sure you lend a helping hand and roll up your sleeves even when the task doesn’t fall into your job description. I will always remember and be thankful to those colleagues who helped me out with some mundane tasks when they didn’t have too.
Marlee’s go-to resource list for any girl wanting a career in PR!
- Favourite Websites: Elite Daily and News.com.au
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: @Scrunchee_
- Favourite Podcast: Shameless, Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations and Pretty Big Deal.
- Favourite Netflix Series: Not a massive Netflix junkie but my guilty TV pleasure is The Real Housewives (Beverly Hills, Orange Country and NYC franchises)
- Favourite all time book/s: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and I just finished reading Winging It by Emma Isaacs and LOVED it!
- Others: Peanut Butter, Reformer Pilates and COFFEE!