Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The ECA Q&A: Kirsty Whyte, former director of product innovation, Photobox

Glynn Davis, our regular columnist and founder of Retail Insider sits down with Kirsty Whyte, former director of product innovation at Photobox

In a nutshell can you describe Photobox?

Photobox-Abelli Group is Europe’s leading online retailer and manufacturing experts in printing high-quality, personalised photo products. With over seven million customers. It was founded in 2000 and now has a huge range of customisable products like photo books, wall art, calendars, and cards. It operates a vertically integrated business model, combining Ecommerce with in-house printing and photo creation software, but it also collaborates with networked external factories.

What did your role involve at Photbox?

As director of product innovation for three years I headed up the physical product side of the business. So everything from research, to design, to manufacture. The innovation team used the wealth of data at Photobox to initiate and ignite a competitive edge within the market. We were tasked to innovate and launch new products on all Photobox platforms. Over the three years I spearheaded the launch of 25-plus new product types (an unprecedented amount) generating multi-million pounds of additional revenue.

As well as innovating new products I led a strategic segment push for existing key product categories like books and cards improving the product and sales. This included new and updated graphic designs. The Innovation team were the gatekeepers ensuring the product quality was maintained and customer-focused.

What skills have you accrued from your recent roles including Photobox?

At Photobox it was interesting collaborating closely with digital product teams and following agile working and principles. The teams used a lot of really useful online tools, which came into their own during lockdown with productivity barely skipped a beat. I continued to build on my stills for multi-stakeholder management. There were a huge number of teams to feed in from and keep updated to push a project forward and to set timelines.

I really enjoyed being part of big business setting the strategic direction and decision-making as well as measuring where the businesses energy and budgets should be spent in the forthcoming year. This would then feed into the process of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and quarterly goals to ensure all teams were singing from the same hymn sheet. I think the important thing when it comes to skills is to lean into your strengths as that is where you will grow best and enjoy spending your energy and ultimately excel in that area. 

What have been the key lessons you’ve learned from these roles?

Time and priority management. In more senior roles your 9-5 tends to be meetings so then spending the remaining time ensuring your team is supported and ‘on task” is vital.

Communication is key, especially in larger businesses as teams tend to work in silos or even duplicate similar work. Tools like Slack are really useful for the day-to-day, but I really love the engagement you get form teams and senior management with a monthly review involving a presentation/update.

You are currently working with a number of brands – what does that entail?

I’m currently a freelance creative consultant helping quite a few varied brands. From lighting, furniture & homeware, to adding some creativity for B2B contract furniture. I’ve also helped brands on creative direction for photoshoots and brand guidelines. As I have a broad spectrum of experience within my career some brands need my physical product creative skills whereas others it’s more my commercial side, or for others it can be my digital product knowledge. I’m usually invited into a business for a project and spend a condensed amount of focused time. Creating agreed actions and deliverables, then the business either works through the next phases or I work alongside it on a retainer basis.

What innovations have you found particularly exciting at Photobox and at these other brands?

Working closely with the app teams at Photobox, making quick changes and updates, which make huge improvements for the customer and also for sales. There have been some great new and successful product launches too like Photo Tiles. It’s always validating when you see your own work in the homes of friends and family.