Natalie McFarland is the Founder & Creator at McFarland Productions, a full-service digital marketing agency specializing in the western way of life – based in Southwest Oregon. They help family-owned companies, small businesses, and nationally known brands increase their bottom line and online presence through strategic marketing and content creation. Natalie created McFarland Productions in 2014 and it has continued to grow rapidly over the last few years. Natalie gave Of The West the ins and outs of her career path, starting her business, and how to be successful as a digital marketer!
Describe your career.
I am a storyteller on a mission. Along with our team at McFarland Productions, we provide digital marketing services and full film production services to tell stories and reach an audience in support of agriculture and the western lifestyle.
As one of our team members, Scout Baker, recently put it, we are the grandpas of agriculture careers; telling the stories of the lifestyle that will have you wanting to sit cross-legged on the floor hanging on every word. Just like grandpa used to.
Simply put, we are digital marketers and filmmakers.
What made you decide to pursue this career and the specificity of it?
I grew up in the agriculture industry and always had a passion for representing organizations in the best light possible. Those two things combined with my love for digital art (design, video, photo) and storytelling led me to pursue marketing for agriculture businesses, organizations, and individuals.
I saw that there was a lack of authentic storytelling for companies in this industry. I knew that only someone coming from the lifestyle could truly do the western lifestyle justice in any form of digital marketing, particularly in video advertising and films. We needed an in-industry solution for marketing with a team that truly gets it and can have the ability to be part of our client’s greater teams.
Did you always know this is what you wanted to do for a living? If not, what led you to this field?
Ha! No. In fact, if you told 16-year-old me this is what I would be doing for a living, I probably would have told you that’s not real life.
That being said, I started doing photography and videography as a side hustle before I graduated High School. I built my first client website when I was 19 (I had built several for myself before that). I always loved graphic design and did my first logo design for a client at 19 and they still use that brand kit today.
So, while I started this with no, I didn’t. I think I just didn’t realize it was even a possibility. Growing up in public school, you kind of are presented with the standards; doctor, lawyer, cop, teacher, nurse… Those are all great careers, but schools often cause kids to have tunnel vision when it comes to career possibilities. That is why 16-year-old me wouldn’t have believed you even though just two years later I started doing it as a side hustle and as a way of putting myself through college.
What did your path look like that helped you become the professional/expert you are today?
As I mentioned above, I started this career as a side hustle. What would become McFarland Productions ended up putting me through college.
When I graduated high school, I had planned to be an oncologist and started out on that path at the University of Oregon in the health and human sciences department. I went for a year and a half and after trying to love it, I just didn’t. I really didn’t love my surroundings or my department.
So I transferred, I switched to Oregon State University where I transferred to Animal Sciences with the intention of becoming a large animal veterinarian. I worked for the teaching hospital at OSU and for the animal reproductive physiology professor in his lab. I loved my time at Oregon State University and earned my Bachelor of Science in Pre-Veterinary medicine.
After college, I also worked for several veterinary clinics, but ultimately, decided vet med wasn’t for me.
All along, I was doing marketing on the side for various companies and lots of photography and videography. I was totally in love with my side hustle, but it wasn’t until Kevin and I got engaged and I met our wedding photographer (who was doing it full time) that I realized that I could do it full time. It was a possibility. Our wedding photographer became a mentor to me and a great friend encouraging me to chase the dream full-time.
Starting McFarland Productions
I also worked for a company called Romtec Utilities as their lead Project Manager. This was 100% the best education in business I have ever received. My boss, Mark Sheldon at Romtec Utilities became one of the most influential people in my professional career. I loved working for him and with the team at Romtec Utilities. I cannot say enough good things about my time there. The coolest thing that happened to me in working for Mark Sheldon, was that he became a mentor for me and McFarland Productions.
Even though I worked full-time for Romtec Utilities, Mark helped me to build the business model for McFarland Productions knowing that someday I would want to make it a full-time career and leave Romtec. It took me several years to leave Romtec because I loved my job, but my business had significantly outgrown a side hustle and it became impossible to do both. It was bittersweet to leave Romtec and I still miss it a lot about it to this day, but I attribute a lot of my business sense and McFarland Productions business model and success to my time working at Romtec and my friendship and the mentorship of my boss, Mark Sheldon.
My path to my current career was not a straight line, but the possibility has always lingered in the background each experience prepared me for my career in unexpected ways and I use all my different experiences almost daily. It just took me a while to see it as a real sustainable opportunity. It took a lot of self-education, mentorships, continuing education, and experience to gain the knowledge necessary to be successful in this career.
Have you ever come to a crossroads with your career and questioned if this is really what you should be doing? If so, how did you overcome that?
I think everyone comes to a crossroads at some point in their career, especially if you own the business. But for me, there are three things that someone has to have to be successful in business or a career and you must use them as your driving force. It was best said by my old boss Mark Sheldon:
Attitude. Fear. Blind ambition.
Attitude: An “I’ll show you” attitude when someone says you can’t or challenges your abilities or doubts you.
Fear: Total fear of failure and using that as a driving force that accepts nothing less than success
Blind Ambition: An unbreakable, unobstructed drive for being better, doing better, creating bigger, and driving forward.
These are qualities that I hold myself to as well as qualities I look for in anyone we hire to be part of our team.
What was the biggest struggle or challenge you faced that ultimately helped you achieve some of your career goals?
I think that what we struggle with most is finding the right people to be part of our team.
We have a fabulous team and we are selective about who we hire because we know it takes passion, experience, the right personality, the understanding of the industry, and what it takes to be a digital marketer to be successful. We are out there representing other people, other businesses, events, and the lifestyle as a whole. Having a sober realization that it is for something bigger than ourselves is important as we hire. You have to love this lifestyle first, skill and education come second.
When we hire, the person we are considering must also really fit with the rest of our team. We are close. Anyone on our team would be welcome at my house for Christmas and vice versa. Fitting as part of this team and having the want to pull together for a shared goal is very important.
What’s your favorite part of your career?
Storytelling – Telling the stories of our clients is the number one best part of my career. Getting to know each client so well, we also get to call them friends. Understanding people and celebrating their hard work and their passion all while supporting the greater western lifestyle. Using those stories to help them connect with their ideal clients.
What is the best way for someone who is interested in a career like yours, to get started?
Work for someone. I would say that working for a marketing agency is the best way to develop skills in the field. Formal education is great, but there’s nothing like hands-on or experience education. But the number one most important thing we look for in hiring new team members is having a passion for people and this industry because it isn’t something that can be taught. We believe that to be successful in ag marketing or filmmaking, you must truly “get it”.
If you could leave people who want to work in your same field one piece of advice, what would that be?
It isn’t about you. Marketing, photography, videography, design… careers that are meant to create the representation of others are not the stars of the show, your clients are. It isn’t your job to be famous; it is your job to make your clients famous.
What do agriculture and the western industry mean to you?
Agriculture and the western lifestyle is the most honorable and selfless industry to serve. There is no better pursuit than there is to feed your family, your neighbor, and the world. I believe that agriculture and the ability to feed ourselves while being sustainable on the ground we work with is the most important skill humans can possess. There is something truly beautiful about the work of people in this industry, no matter what role they play in it. I will be forever captivated by telling those stories. My career is merely a support of a much more important task.
To learn more about Natalie and the team at McFarland Productions, visit their website, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube channel.
McFarland Productions Team Members
Left to Right: Katie Connor, Scout Baker, Kevin McFarland, Stephanie Furlong
To see other Ag + Western Career Spotlights, click here!