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.

Beijing

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.

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. 

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.