The first month

On the 1st of January I took up my position as CEO of Ketchum in the UK. It’s been a whirlwind, and I’ve loved every second.

It was important to hit the ground running, setting clear expectations for myself and for the agency, and ensuring that there was a vision that we all believe in. Energy, positivity, momentum are all critical to giving us a boost at the start of the year. You can feel the buzz across the 3rd floor at Bankside 3. People are totally up for it and I’ve got the fear! What’s the fear? I’ve set out a vision of what I think Ketchum London can do, can be, and our staff are totally with me. Ready to march in to battle. Now I need to make it a reality, with the whole team locking arms and marching forward, but jeez does that make me feel the fear. Can we do it? Can we deliver the vision in to reality? What happens when we stumble? That’s the fear! But I believe we can. And we will. The fear actually helps.

So what have I done in the first four weeks?

– flew to New York on the 1st for an important global pitch. We did ourselves proud, but we didn’t win on this occasion

– appointed a new Executive Committee https://www.holmesreport.com/latest/article/new-ketchum-london-ceo-names-seven-strong-executive-committee

– refreshed and set new direction for our Senior Leadership Team

– had a 2018 kick off meeting

– hosted a Resolutions with Robertson meeting where I committed to listen more and talk less (amongst other things)

– flew to Geneva for a critical strategic client meeting

– worked with Deirdre Murphy to create and launch our new creds to the agency

– lead a strategic review for a client which lead to a brand equity recommendation. A proud moment with a talented, diverse, and fully integrated team

– flew to Vienna to lead a senior issues and crisis workshop for a client (Abu Dhabi and Beijing to follow)

– agreed all Exec members objectives for 2018, including my own (gulp, we are ambitious)

– judged the PRMoment awards

– was appointed to the PRCA Board http://www.gorkana.com/2018/01/ketchum-ceo-jo-ann-robertson-joins-prca-board-of-management/

– was elected to the Women in PR Committee https://www.prweek.com/article/1455512/golin-london-md-bibi-hilton-named-women-pr-president

– I refreshed the drinks trolley with Gin, Whiskey, and Archers

I also had my birthday….

And what have I learned? A lot! But three key things:

1. Nothing beats face-to-face personal interaction with colleagues, clients, and industry peers. Making time to talk and connect with people enriches me and ensures I’m building relationships of trust that will last. This needs to be continue to be a priority as I move forward.

2. Time is not infinite. I’m a personality that wants to be involved in and do everything. It’s just not possible. So I am going to have to choose carefully whilst still be true to who I am. I’m going to have to delegate and trust even more than I do now. I think this will be a theme for the next year as I try different things and learn from the successes and mistakes.

3. Keep giving permission. I’ve asked the agency to focus on three key things:

– be a force for good

– be a driver of growth

– bring an entrepreneurial spirit

Already I am seeing an increase in ideas for improving the business, improving client service, and making the agency an even more fun place to work. I want even more of this, and to get it I need to keep reminding people that they have permission to trial and learn. They have permission to fail. They have permission to make the change they want to see and drive our agency forward.

So January has been busy and awesome. February is going to be even better.

Time to lock arms and lead

 

I’m excited. Really really excited, if not also profoundly aware of the responsibilities that come with the task ahead. After six years at Ketchum, four as Managing Director of Corporate and Public Affairs, and two as Deputy CEO, on the 1st of January I’ll be stepping in to the position of Chief Executive Officer, Ketchum London.

It is such an honour to take on this prestigious and important role. I feel a huge responsibility to our people and our clients to maintain what makes us great, but also to demand and deliver change to ensure we are faster, smarter, better than we have ever been before. I’m so ambitious for our agency and for the London office. We are great, but I want us to be, and to be recognised as, the best agency in London. And I’m not referring to best PR agency, I mean best agency of any communications agency out there.

George Ketchum founded the agency in 1923 as an ad agency, before we later evolved in to being a public relations agency – clearly he was well ahead of his time. He recognised early that the way to really connect with people was through earned storytelling. At a time when PR is seen as the Holy Grail (see this article from Faris Yakob earlier this year https://mumbrella.com.au/everything-is-pr-429154), it is a great time to be in the industry.

So what does the best look like in 2018?

Unrelenting client service excellence. Data driven insight. Bold and brave strategic and creative thinking. Full channel delivery. And an entrepreneurial approach that empowers our people to constantly push our clients to also be faster, smarter, better than they have ever been before.

A communications agency is defined by its people. And at Ketchum in London we have some of the best in the agency world. But like most organisations we can sometimes be too tentative. Too cautious. 2018 will be about giving our people the tools, the confidence, and the permission to be more disruptive. Not disruptive for the sake of it, but disruptive to ensure our clients are reaching their audiences in a more authentic and engaging way than ever before, no matter where they are.

A few people have asked what will be different about Ketchum London in 2018 and I think the most visible thing will be our swagger. For too long we have been modest and a little shy. But we have got a lot to shout about. In 2017 alone we were the most awarded PR agency at Cannes, we won some of the biggest and most exciting pitches in the UK for Samsung and Discovery/Eurosport, and we attracted incredible talent like Neil McLelland, Mark Walsh, and Jamie Robertson. I’m certainly not known as shy and retiring, and I want at least a little bit of that to rub off on the whole of the agency in London.

We will continue to focus on our OneLondon strategy of one P&L and total integration. This not only means that our clients get the best team no matter where they sit in the agency, but it also means that we can give opportunities to our talent in all corners of the business.

There are many things to thank Denise Kaufmann for (more of that in another blog), but in particular I am grateful to have an exceptional senior team. The relationships I have built over the last six years with Deirdre Murphy (COO), Kirsty Sachrajda (HRD), and Gavin Cooper (FD) will be critical to our ongoing and accelerated growth. They are the most committed, ambitious, positive and loyal group of people and I am so happy that we are going to go in to this new chapter together.

It would be remiss of me to not touch on the challenges we see all around us, and which no doubt will have some impact in 2018, the most pressing being the lack of political leadership and the recklessness with which some global leaders are behaving. Brexit, Catalonia, Trump, Putin, May, North Korea…… there is unrest and challenges all around us.

This summer I had a phenomenal experience at Omnicom University, where I was immersed in leadership structures, behaviours, styles, and techniques. The professor who had the biggest impact on me was Nancy Koehn (http://nancykoehn.com/blog/about/) a historian who focuses her research on  how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact. In our final lecture she said this:

‘The world has never been in a more perilous state with weak leadership and unrest. As there is a dive for the bottom it is up to ALL OF US to lock arms and hold the line on standards and decency. The world has never needed us more.’

I have eight weeks until I am officially in post. So in addition to using that time to meet all our clients and spend time with our people, ensuring that we are ready to hit the ground sprinting on Jan 2nd – I will also be thinking about the bigger impact that myself, my team, and the whole London team can have on the world around us. I’ll be ensuring that our values and behaviours are so embedded in our everyday work, that it is second nature for each of us to hold the line.

Ketchum is a great agency and London is one of the jewels in the crown. I plan to make that jewel blindingly sparkle.

Creativity belongs to everyone

In creative industries we like to put people in boxes. Planner. Strategist. Client handler. Researcher. Creative…… but the life blood of any agency is the ability to curate and empower creativity. And creativity really can come from anywhere. So if you pigeonhole people then you are way less likely to get the best ideas 💡.

The award winning break through work really comes when everyone is helping to create the ideas. When there is a permission to contribute, to offer an opinion, to push the boundaries, people from all parts of the business feel empowered to create. And this really makes a difference.

In any walk of life, but especially in agency life, there is no sole owner of creativity. In fact, creatives who are the most successful are those who can connect with others and allow others to grow through the creative process.

Having spent my professional life as a lobbyist and then a corporate reputation specialist, it would be easy for some people to consider me as more sober than creative! But that totally fails to understand what creativity actually is, and as said previously how it can come from any walk of life.

I’ve spent 26 years involved in baton twirling, first as an athlete, then a coach and judge. One of the things I get most joy out of is choreographing new programmes for talented athletes. From choosing the music, to selecting the moves, to advising on the costume, I love every moment of the process. But the most joy I get is when I see the final performance on the competition floor. Why? Because that is when you see the athlete bring their own style, character, and performance to the creation. It is when you see their creativity come to life. It is when the partnership you’ve formed, the trust you’ve built, comes to fruition in the creative process.

The two clips I’ve selected to share below are of a 12 year old Eilidh Francis performing ‘Little Bird’ in 2015, and a 13 year old Abbie Davidson performing ‘Peter Pan’ earlier this year. They might be young, but their creativity is absolutely wonderful to see, and I’m so proud to play a part in their twirling careers alongside their coach Sarah and their mums Audrey and Haley.

Little Bird:

Peter Pan:

 

Creativity is a powerful tool to engage and develop people of all skills and backgrounds. Inspiration can come from anywhere. If creativity exists in a vacuum it is useless, because creativity belongs to everyone.

Who am I? 

I had a brilliant night last night at the Ivy Club where I shared a platform with three spectacular women. The topic was an age old debate about whether women can have a successful career and a family. Crazy right. How can we still be having this debate in 2017. 

But it was fascinating to hear the experiences of Viv, Claudette, Julia, and the audience members. The themes that were discussed were on the whole nothing new. 

  • Employers pre-judging pregnant women and mothers and making future career decisions based on their ‘commitment’
  • Lack of flexibility 
  • Being evaluated on presenteeism rather than outcomes and impact
  • Women not being kind to each other and offering a hand up 
  • The stigma of being defined as a ‘mummy’

But despite all this, what was clear was the progress that has been made over the past 40 years. The experience of Claudette, who’s eldest is 44, is incredibly different to mine with a 15 month old. And this should be celebrated. The progress made should be applauded, but there should be no let up in demanding that businesses and society recognise the importance of women in the workplace and the impact working mums can have. 

Julia and Viv both work for themselves.  They’ve opted out of the traditional workplace and made a huge success of their careers and home life. This is increasingly an option more and more women are taking as it allows them to define their working patterns and be masters of their own destiny. 

My own experience has been nothing but positive. Why? Because I work for an incredibly progressive business. Because my husband is a real partner and shares the childcare responsibilities equally. Because I place value on what I achieve and the impact I have. Because I try to always be present when I’m at work, at home, or at play. 

It’s not always easy. But it’s worth it. I love work, I love being a mummy, and I do my best to live every moment of my life. 

As a senior business leader, my commitment is to do whatever I can to ensure that women (and men for that matter) have the tools and the confidence to blend careers and lives. No one in 2017 should have to choose between having a successful career and a fulfilled life.

Have purpose and speak up


It’s been a crazy few months of work, being a mummy, and trying desperately to find time for friends and me time. As a result I’ve neglected my writing.  But I’ve decided that October is as good a time as any to commit to a blog a week. 

In the past week I’ve given two 20-30 minute speeches. The first was on leadership in turbulent times, and the second was on how communications can grow your business. I was so nervous before both of them. Key to them being a success was being prepared, and having a point of view. I don’t think you can ever be over prepared. 

There was one common theme across both my speeches. Purpose. What is your purpose as a leader? What is your purpose as a brand and an organisation?

It’s not always the easiest of questions to answer. Most people will answer with what they do or how they do it. But what we really need to get to is why we do what we do.

Once you are clear about your purpose, you can have that at the core of everything you do. Guiding decisions you need to make, and keeping you focused. It can also help you decide when you (or you business) is going to stand up and be counted. And that’s more important than ever before. 

As I scrolled through twitter today I felt myself getting more and more angry at what was in the news and the venom with which people were interacting with each other. There was the appalling behaviour by the Spanish Government, the lunacy of Donald Trump, the distasteful banner and ‘hangings’ in Manchester, and the usual aggressive tone of political ‘activists’. At worst this is barbaric, at best it is totally unacceptable. I’m still certain that the majority of people all over the world agree that we can’t go on like this. And so we need to be bold, be brave, be generous, be kind, and ultimately stand up and be counted. 

So spend some time thinking about what your purpose is and what your willing to stand up for. I certainly intend too. 

The politics of hate and despair

I was once called a political animal. My blood ran Labour Red. My nickname is RedRobbo. At one point not so long ago I could never have imagined leaving the Labour Party, never mind consider voting for another political party. But if a week in politics is a long time, 10 years can be devastating. 

I joined the Party in 1997 when I started university. Like most of the country, Tony Blair inspired me. He gave me hope. He gave me opportunity. And he made me believe that I, a working class girl from the west of Scotland, could be anything I wanted to be. 

The Labour Party then stood for equality, opportunity, fairness, support for the most vulnerable, celebration of the most successful. It was a Party that wanted to change the country for the better.

When Blair left 10 years ago, I knew things were going to change. I knew Brown would be the next leader, and I knew we would lose the next election. What I hoped was that it would be a wake up call, and that we would choose a candidate that was as progressive as Blair had been in 1995. But no, we choose Ed and the progressives in Labour fell silent. Then we choose Corbyn and it was Armageddon. 

The result of the EU referendum, and the lacklustre destructive role of Corbyn made my membership of the Labour Party untenable and I resigned in June 2016. At that point I hoped to return when a new leader and new progressive agenda was developed. But I now believe that will never happen. 

The decision last night regarding Ken Livingstone’s anti-semetic views and conduct is the most disgraceful thing I have seen in recent years. The Labour Party has become a political vehicle that is no longer a safe space or living the values that I believe progressive politics are about. 

Worse it sends a message to Jewish families like mine, right from the core structures of the party that hatred of Jews and Holocaust revisionism are a mild inconvenience. I don’t need to quote anyone to know how putting a party like that in government might end.

The Labour Party has become representative of the politics of hate and despair. Corbyn and his cronies should be deeply ashamed. But they are not.

http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/uk_58e4b71fe4b0d0b7e1663303

There are still some great MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Some great councillors across the country. Some great members knocking on doors. But they are now the minority. The British people don’t want to hear from Labour any more. The ship is sinking fast and for those that believe in progressive politics it is time to abandon ship. It is time to offer the British people something new. Something exciting. It is time to offer us a glimmer of hope. 

Don’t leave your door open, leave yourself open

I’ve always prided myself as being a door open, approachable, fun colleague. As I’ve got more senior I’ve tried to maintain that, and I’m not afraid to admit that it’s hard. I also totally subscribe to the mantra, that in work, it is better to be respected than liked. So it is a really difficult balance to strike!

I read this article today and it really made me think about how I can make myself more accessible and approachable to colleagues at all levels. 

https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-problem-with-saying-my-door-is-always-open?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social

One thing I’ve done since returning from maternity leave is hot desking all over the office. It has given me the opportunity to get to know people who joined when I was out. But also for them to see that I’m just like them in many ways. I like the same tele, food, wine, travel. It also lets them see the work I do. On clients. On new business. Helping the business to grow in any way I can. I think, and hope, it is making me more accessible. 

Many things struck me about this article, but this piece of advice cut deep:

‘carefully holding your tendency for extraversion in check so that others get a moment to speak up’

I’m terrible at this! I know I’ve got a big personality, I know my brain operates at 100 miles an hour, I know that I can dominate a conversation, I know that I can get carried away quickly….. I’m very aware of it, and I need to get better at managing it. 

So here’s my goal for the next 3 months (apparently that’s how long it takes to form a habit) I’m going to try and be the last person to speak in meetings (or at least not be in the first 3!). I’m going to write down my first thoughts, then I’m going to actively listen to every single person, and then I’m going to see what impact there is on my own opinion and point of view. 

This is not going to be easy for me. And I’ll need some of my colleagues to keep me in check. But hopefully it will make me a better colleague, a stronger leader, more accessible to people at all levels. And the impact? Surely it will mean we make better decisions. 

I’ll report back in 3 months.