Pick yourself up and dust yourself down

As a tough working class Glaswegian I was brought up with the expectation that nothing would keep me down for long. Weakness was not an option. It is something that I have carried with me in to adult life, and even today I tell myself to ‘pick yourself up and dust yourself down’, essentially just get on with life.

This week I attended a full-day course run by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England with 14 colleagues from Ketchum London. I am now a qualified mental health first aid champion. I’m more equipped to identify the signs that someone might be struggling, to know what support is available to those who need it, and to further develop a culture where it is ok to speak up about mental and physical health.

What struck me during the course is how important it is to promote physical and mental well-being, and that is why I am so proud of our Wellness Wednesday programme. This was a programme that was thought up, developed, and implemented by a member of staff – Chanté Plom, with the support of the Senior Leadership team.

From health checks, to yoga, to mindfulness, smart living workshops, and fitness coaching the programme is designed to encourage wellness at work. It is also designed to make mental health a subject that is openly discussed, and there are information points throughout the office if our people need to seek professional support.

The top tips for promoting well-being from MHFA are really good anchor points for living a fulfilled life:

  • Connect: spend quality time with family, friends, colleagues. The connections you make and nurture will support and enrich you on a daily basis.


  • Be active: exercising makes us feel good. Find something you enjoy and build it in to your daily life.


  • Take notice: a flower, new street art, the changing weather, the taste of your lunch – savour these moments every day. Keep your head up and appreciate your surroundings and the small every day things that matter.


  • Keep learning: Set yourself challenges, at home and at work, that you are going to enjoy achieving. Learning new things is both enjoyable and confidence boosting.


  • Give: an act of kindness brings joy to you and the people around you. Volunteering in your local community, fundraising, or even just offering someone a smile or to make a cup of tea can be incredibly rewarding.

Work is such a dominant part of our everyday lives and if we are to maintain the high performing culture we have at Ketchum in London, it is critical that we integrate well-being in to our working lives.

As someone who has a lot of resilience and over-indexes on the optimistic side of life, this course reinforced that everyone is different, and many people can’t ‘just pick themselves up’. People need support from those around them, and sometimes need professional help. There shouldn’t be any stigma attached to talking about health (mental or physical), and there certainly shouldn’t be any stigma attached to asking for help.

If you want to find out more about MHFA England: https://mhfaengland.org/



Building Camelot… the First 100 Days


Much importance is placed on the first 100 days in a new job. It sets the tone of your leadership. However the next 100 days are even more significant.


It’s 100 days since I became CEO of Ketchum in the UK. 100 days has long been seen as a critical milestone for politicians and business leaders to shout about their early achievements and success in their new role.

There’s a place for that but it’s more important to reflect on what I’ve learned in the first 100 days and how that is going to guide me to longer term success.

I can hand on heart say I have never worked so hard in my life. The intensity and pace of the work whilst sometimes exhausting, is exhilarating and incredibly rewarding.

100 days in, here’s my highs and lows, my successes and failures, and focus for the next 100 days.

#1 People are culture and culture is everything

I was determined to put our people first and at the heart of everything we do. Making sure there is something for everyone and that a diverse workforce can thrive takes work. But it is totally worth it and has resulted in an office that buzzes with energy, ideas, and a daily playlist from Jade Cooper that has me singing at the top of my voice and throwing out a few moves.

I feel lucky and happy to go to work each day and I try to spread that joy across the office and ensure that we are holding the line on standards and decency. 

#2 Listening to difficult conversations

When you are so invested in what you do it is difficult not to take every resignation, pitch loss, and client criticism personally. And if I am honest, the resignations are the worst. Our turnover is incredibly low thankfully, but I could name everyone who has left or is leaving the business.

I want everyone to be as excited as I am about what we are creating. Although I understand the life pressures and decisions that take people off on new adventures and learn from every conversation.

#3 Being decisive and trusting your gut

The pace of our industry doesn’t give you much time to ponder the big decisions, and I’ve found that when I wait too long I start to second guess in a way that is not helpful. When I do my due diligence and seek input from those that matter I need to trust my gut.

I also shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, although I still am, because what’s the worst that could happen? I need to celebrate what I learn from mistakes as much as take comfort in what I get right first time.

#4 Embracing the supportive #Sisterhood

The amazing network of women I am lucky enough to have in my life from my mum and close friends, to my Ketchum colleagues, Omniwomen, Women in PR, and the amazing founders and members of the AllBright Club, is formidable. Women who are willing me on to success, sharing their words of wisdom and encouragement, offering support and asking for help. Deirdre Murphy, Kirsty Sachrajda, Barri Rafferty, Clare Cryer, Sam Phillips, Cilla Snowball, Bibi Hilton, Sarah Hall, Anna Jones, Debbie Wosskow, and too many more to name here. When your sisterhood surrounds you and you are generous in return, the power is exceptional.

#5 Finding time to decompress fundamental to success

I recently had a conversation with my business coach, Caroline Montagu, where I admitted that I was finding it incredibly difficult to switch off, to put my phone down for more than five minutes, and to enjoy time with my baby boy and fabulous husband.

It resulted in me being more stressed than I’ve ever been before, and not being able to appreciate the incredible success that we’ve seen at Ketchum in London in the first quarter. Her first question to me was “what points in the day do you decompress?”

I had no idea what she was talking about….. so that was telling. If I am going to look after myself, and avoid burning out, I need to carve out moments every day to let my brain decompress. I need to ensure that when I’m with my son, I’m with my son and not distracted. I need to ensure that I use my upcoming family holiday to rest and re-energise.

That is how I will be the best Jo-ann, CEO, boss, colleague, friend, wife, citizen, and most important of all mother, that I can be.

#6 Shouting and sharing our success

I couldn’t let 100 days pass without having a bit of a shout out to some achievements and highlights.

I’ve been on four continents, advised 14 clients, won 8 new clients, hired 25 new people, promoted 23 people, joined the PRCA Board, been elected to the Women in PR committee, hosted an event on influencer marketing, attended the Omniwomen summit, listened to every colleague who has wanted to be heard, and challenged myself to be better than I was yesterday.

I’ve also had my birthday, attended the BRIT Awards and Olivier Awards, made it in to the PRWeek Power Book (including being the 7th most powerful person in Public Affairs), and was included in the Holmes Report ‘Ones to Watch‘ in 2018.

In all honesty it has been the best 100 days of my career. I am honoured to have this position and feel very fortunate to be part of such an incredible agency under the leadership of Barri Rafferty, and my boss and mentor Mark Hume. Having a boss who has your back, is championing you, and who isn’t afraid to give you real-time feedback is priceless and I’m grateful to Mark for his trust and belief in me.

We closed the first quarter in London with significant year-on-year growth, and whilst that is to be celebrated, it is a small step forward on what we want to achieve in 2018.

Creating value as a force for good

At the beginning of 2018 I challenged everyone at Ketchum in the UK to be focused on three things:

  • Be a force for good
  • Be a driver of growth
  • Bring an entrepreneurial spirit

The response has been overwhelming and I get my energy and passion from seeing the people all around me succeed, and from challenging myself to deliver on these priorities every single day.

These 100 days are only the beginning, I’m ready and running at the next 100 and I can feel the energy, talent and power of the people at Ketchum all around me.



It’s we…. not he or she

My head and my heart are full after a spectacular day at the OmniwomenUK summit on Thursday. 

The speakers were outstanding. The stimulation exceptional. And the expectation for change huge. 

But the thing that struck me most is that too many still see this as a ‘them and us’ issue. Woman fighting the men. Women solving the problems and challenging the system themsleves. Woman, alone. 

I loved when Shelley Zalis said this is about ‘we, not he or she’. We are all in this together. And although some may not know it, men will benefit just as much from equality as woman will. 

That’s why my friend Phil Bartlett’s speech ‘Boys don’t cry’ was so perfectly pitched. Boys and men are brought up to think, behave, and not feel a certain way. Society needs to change that. As the Mum of a boy, I’m determined that he knows that he can be anything, and that it doesn’t need to be at the expense of anyone else. And he can certainly cry, no matter what age he is I’ll always be there to give him the biggest of cuddles. 

Phil Bartlett

I am a strong woman. I am really very good at my job. I’m an excellent mother. I make mistakes all the time, and I learn from them. I love hard and I feel emotions. Sometimes I’m angry, most of the time I’m overflowing with optimism and happiness. I want the world to be a better place and I’m willing to work hard to have an impact. As Sam Phillips said ‘not everyone can change the world, but everyone can try and change the world for one person’. Amen sister. 

Sam Phillips

The theme of OmniwomenUK 2018 was ‘Take it on’. At Ketchum in London we are going to collectively pledge to take on one initiative, so more to come on that. But I’m also going to take something on personally. And it’s this. Every single day I’m going to try and do something that matters for another woman in my life. At work, at home, for my friends. Something that makes their day a little easier, a little better, and gives them the support they specifically need. What are you going to take on?

It takes 2…. hundred and forty baby!

They say that as you get older time passes much more quickly, well I can certainly vouch for that. The first nine weeks of the year have flown past, so it’s important to pause and appreciate the great things we have achieved and the lessons learned.

February has been another global whirlwind. I spent a week in Abu Dhabi and I am currently writing this blog from Beijing. Working for a global border-less agency like Ketchum, means we are lucky that our clients take us all over the world.


We also get to celebrate client milestones, and so I was absolutely delighted to join Mastercard at the O2 to celebrate 20 years of sponsoring the BRIT Awards. It was a spectacular evening with stand-out performances from Liam Gallagher and Stormzy. I may have looked like a walking version of the new Ketchum London credentials…… but hey, every opportunity is a marketing opportunity – right?!?

I am also so proud of the work we have been doing with Discovery and Eurosport. They absolutely smashed their first Olympics and we were the lucky agency to be partnering with them every step of the way.

Sam at the Winter Olympics

So whilst February has been crazy, it has also been really rewarding.

One of the reasons I love my job and the big agency life, is that success is all down to relationships. It is about the trust you build in the agency between colleagues, the trust you build with clients, and the trust you build with your boss that you will deliver against the vision of the organisation. Relationships matter.

And relationships take work. That is one of the reasons I am excited to be pretty much grounded in March. I am looking forward to spending more time in the office connecting and working with my colleagues and making use of my new club….. as I am a founder member of the AllBright club on Rathbone Place www.theallbright.com

Debbie and Anna at the AllBright Club

The AllBright is the first women’s only members club in the UK for ‘working women’ (although we can take men as guests). It was founded by two fabulous women Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones, as a place where women can do business, support each other, and ultimately build relationships that last. So I am looking forward to taking clients and colleagues to my new found happy place in the centre of London where I can support (and be supported by) talented women from across London and the UK.

I really have loved every minute of my new role as London CEO. I can already see the entrepreneurial spirit of our people from all over the business having an impact day-to-day, and I know if Ketchum London is to truly break new ground and trailblaze the industry, it is going to take all 240 of us…….

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.

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.


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.