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.

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. 

What the world needs now…..

Life is short and full of surprises. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, and not always in a good way. 

There has been a rise in me first attitudes all over the world. Everyone is looking for someone to blame for what’s wrong in their own back yard, and it is easier to blame people who are different to them. The difference doesn’t matter. It can be the colour of skin, religion, gender, sexuality, or even just different attitudes to how life should be lived. 

The right have done an incredible job of exploiting these fears, while those of us on the centre or the left have been too quiet and too slow to challenge and offer alternatives. 

You don’t need to be influencing policy on the national stage to make a difference. In fact, it could be even more powerful if we start with the people closest to us day-to-day. How? See the best in people. Assume that they are doing things for the right reason. Challenge rude or bad behaviour. Reach out and offer help to someone just because you can. 

I’m an optimist. I believe that if enough of us can show kindness, to our friends, our family, our colleagues, our community…. if enough of us can be the good we want to see – then that is enough to turn the tide. We’ve been quiet for too long. We’ve been afraid to challenge for too long. What the world needs now is love, and we all have enough of it to drown out the hate currently dominating the news agenda. 

Giving thanks, and staying hopeful 

I’m surrounded by colleagues, friends and family who will all be celebrating Thansgiving today. Whilst the food preparation photos have my mouth watering, the sentiment is more powerful this year than it has ever been before. 

Since Keir came in to the world, I am much more aware of how fortunate I am. I have a loving and generous partner, a strong supportive family, fabulous friends, a great job with warm and smart colleagues, a lovely home, and of course my beautiful baby boy. The past 12 months have been wonderful for me and my family and I am so incredibly thankful to be experiencing such joy. 

But 2016 has also been confusing. Brexit, Trump, Russia, the ongoing crisis in Syria, the increase in climate change deniers….. 2016 hasn’t been a good year for those of us who believe in inclusivity, openness, equality, interventionism. Just as I feel total and utter joy at bringing a new life in to the world, I feel fear and despair at the world around him and what the future holds for the world he will grow up in. 

I’m still hopeful. I still have a positive outlook. Why? Because I know too many people who fundamentally believe in the same values as I do. I know too many people who will stand up and be counted in opposing hard right forces both at home and abroad. I’m thankful that they will stand up and be heard. 

I don’t believe we are the minority. We may not currently have the loudest voices, and we may not be being heard by voters. But that just means that now, more than ever, we need to work harder,  we all need to stand up and speak out loudly and clearly whenever we see hate being spread. 
So thank you. To my family, friends, and colleagues wherever you are, for being part of my life. For enriching my days. But most importantly, thank you in advance for all that you will do in the coming days, months and years, to keep the world safe and to fight for the things that matter most. Love, equality, fairness, understanding, tolerance, respect….. family in all its beautiful forms. Thank you. 

When there is no ceiling, the sky’s the limit

The time has come for America to decide. The choice is clear. Take another leap forward in showing the world that equality is closer than it has ever been, and that no matter who you are or where you come from you can be whatever you want to be. Or, they can choose Trump and the whole world will be fearful for the future. 

This video takes you on Hillary’s journey. I cried. She has worked hard, never given up, and never presumed anything. She is a role model and an inspiration. Let’s hope America makes the right choice tomorrow. 

The future of work

During my maternity leave I’ve had the chance to reflect on the changing working environment. There’s a lot of talk about flexibility, but it is very difficult to find businesses or organisations who truly embrace and encourage flexibility. 

Outdated working environments stifle creativity and flexibility.  Allocated desks. Landlines. 9-5 in office hours. Hierarchy. These all contribute to old school attitudes. 

Now don’t get me wrong, many people cling to these things as solid foundations. They make the workplace feel comfortable and safe. Some of them, like my own desk, are things that I value. But do they really set the right environment for doing the best and most exciting work? Does it empower people to be masters of their own destiny? Does it make people accountable for themselves, their teams and the quality of the output?

The workplace of the future, in my view, will be less static and more fluid. There will be less rules and more accountability. Costs will be lower so rewards can be higher. There won’t be talk about work/life balance, because work and life will blend seamlessly to create a happy and healthy workforce. 

The reason so few businesses and organisations have achieved this is because there is a fear of the unknown. A lack of trust and a nervousness that some employees might abuse the system. And a desire for senior management to be able to see, organise and control what goes on in their organisation. 

So my 3 commitments as I return to work as a senior leader are:

To listen more: What will make work more enagaging, more fun, more seamless for everyone. 

To be braver: Break down hierarchy and barriers, interfere less, encourage talented colleagues to be masters of their own destiny, say YES even more than I did previously. 

To lead by example: work flexibly, be accountable, reward the right behaviours, attempt to blend work and life seamlessly and hopefully get great results along the way.

My return to work is exciting, but it is also daunting. How will I achieve everything I want to at home and work? Flexibility is the answer and the future is really only ever a day away.

Another referendum…. please no!

I don’t know about you, but I am electioned & referendumed out! 

I’m sick of of being on the losing side whether that is in Labour leadership elections, general elections, or referendums. I seem to be in the minority in all of these recent contests. 

The last time I was on the winning side was the Scottish referendum. And although we won the vote, we didn’t necessarily win the argument. 

The referendum was ugly. It showed a side to Scotland that I don’t want to ever see again. Families and friends were torn apart over it. So Sturgeon’s announcement today made me groan in despair. At a time when we are going through huge constitutional change with Brexit, she is just throwing more fuel on the fire. This will only further destabilise our economy and make businesses have even more doubts about their future in the UK. 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-37634338

I fear that the time for reasoned arguments and logical discussion has long passed. Truth no longer exists in British (or Scottish) political discourse. I’m afraid that we will look back on this time in British politics as the moment we lost our economic, cultural, and political standing in the world. The fact that we’ve done it to ourselves is just horrifying. 

I hope this announcement is just political gesturing from the SNP and this will be kicked in to the long grass. But I doubt it. 

My son is growing up in a time where the majority seem to feel that division and isolation is the way to make Britain, or Scotland, a better country. I’ll do everything I can to teach him that this is not the way. Being open, generous, and embracing globalisation is the way in which to achieve a better society. I hope he listens, and I hope by the time he is old enough to make a difference that it isn’t too late!