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Julie Descamps 2024-05-22

Freelance journalist Carin Fredlund, the voice behind the blog Nota Bene, shares her extensive experience in advertising and branding journalism. She discusses the evolving media landscape, the challenges she’s faced, and the crucial roles of integrity and curiosity.

Throughout your 40-year career in journalism, what motivated you to focus on advertising and branding, and how did you initially get involved in this niche?

Many years ago, I worked for some time as an assistant/secretary in the marketing and advertising field. I found it very interesting, so when I later went to journalism college and was supposed to have a six-month period of internship, I choose to do that at the trade journal Resumé, which in those days was owned by the Swedish Advertising Association. There I met and interviewed some of the most legendary and skilled industry personalities, which made me even more sure about my choice of direction. And I’ve kept this focus as I find it both vitally important and exciting.

You seem to have kept quite busy after your Quo Vadis days. What have you been up to lately?

I’m working as a freelance, writing columns, analysis and articles. These days, for example, I monitor research, studies, and development in this field on behalf of the Swedish Association of Advertisers, and I write articles and analysis in their digital/web space, Marknadsinsikter (Market Insights). And I also work on my blog, of course.

What essential qualities and skills do journalists need to thrive in today’s media landscape?

The same as always, I’d say: curiosity, willingness to learn new things and impart knowledge and insights. Plus, of course, a good dose of skepticism in order not to believe everything that people want to get publicity about.

As a member of the Epica Awards jury, how do you approach evaluating and selecting the best creative work from around the world?

I tried to look at everything twice. First a quick look, to see if it grabbed my attention easily. Then I watched more closely and read the information supplied with the work.

The relationship between journalism and the creative community (...) should be characterized by mutual respect and understanding as well as a willingness to share knowledge.

As an industry expert, how do you stay informed about the latest trends and developments in advertising and marketing? What sources or methods do you rely on?

I read trade and business magazines, as well as studies and research. I discuss with professionals and interview experts.

How important is the relationship between journalism and the creative community, and how can it be further strengthened?

On one hand journalism is very much depending on the creative community, because advertising is the funding for free and good journalism. But I’m sure that’s not the base for your question.

On the other hand I think the relationship between journalism and the creative community, as well as all parts of business, should be characterized by mutual respect and understanding, as well as a willingness to share knowledge. But one they should not be too involved or close “friends”. Journalism is best if it is not biased.

Therefore trade press journalists also must learn as much as possible about the whole coverage in order to understand and analise it.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the creative industry today – and how might it be addressed?

There are many challenges today. One is, of course, the weak economy which has put a lot of pressure on the advertising industry as their clients keep pushing prices.

Also the investments have shifted a lot from the creative phase to production and media as many marketing departments want to be everywhere and especially on every digital platform. This has led to fragmentation which leads to less effective marketing.

A problem which has been present for quite some time now is the growing market for private brands. There are several negative effects of that, for example the fact that fewer brands survive, leaving the industry with less possible clients. And the brands which still survive have to use a substantial part of their budgets to take part in the advertising or content of big chains, or put ads in their magazines.

Could you share your perspective on how the advertising industry in Sweden differs from the global scene?

Well, I’m not sure there is such a big difference these days. Much of business – in all businesses – is more international today and is affected by international business. Many Swedish agencies are parts of international chains, and many clients are also part of multinational brands.

You were once named Journalist of The Year by Women in Marketing (WiM). What role do you see journalism playing in empowering women, and more generally advocating for diversity and inclusion within the creative industry?

(I won Commended Journalist of the Year, not the first price winner). Journalism has an important role in being more open minded, finding a greater variety of people to interview as representatives of the industry. But also focusing on the topic itself in articles. Find issues to put in the spotlight and describe good solution to prejudice.

Who are your role models or mentors in journalism and the creative world? And what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

One very important mentor for me was Mats Ekdahl, he came to the trade journal Resumé as a new editor in chief when I was doing my internship. I use to say that he was the one who blew the air under my wings. After my internship I kept working with him during my last semester at college and after my graduation I became a steady freelance journalist at Resumé with interesting tasks and progressively greater responsibility.

When both he and I had left Resumé, he encouraged me to start my own trade journal. First as a newsletter, which was so successful that I turned it into a regular printed magazine. I still enjoy my contacts with him.

Another important role model was Sam Katz. Originally a copywriter at DDB New York in the 60's. He later moved to Sweden to marry his Danish sweetheart and work for the Swedish advertising industry. I was fortunate to have him as a columnist in Quo Vadis for a few years, until he tragically and much too soon died from a stroke. I had the great pleasure of translating his columns from English to Swedish. He did understand Swedish, but he wrote in English. He inspired me in many ways with his razor sharp analysis, ability to see through bullshit and his fearlessness.

The investments have shifted a lot from the creative phase to production and media, as many marketing departments want to be everywhere - and especially on every digital platform.

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