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.

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.

Returning to work

I love work. I always have. So maternity leave was something I was nervous about. I was worried that my brain would turn to mush and I’d be bored. Oh, how wrong I was. 

I’ve enjoyed every minute of my maternity leave so far. My mind has developed and been tested in new ways as I’ve found my way as a mother. My son is anything but boring. He is fun, engaging, and sometimes challenging, but never ever boring.


I had intended to have 4 months off, use my keeping in touch days to stay close to the business, and return full time in November. But after a challenging birth, and loving spending time with boy, I decided to propose an alternative plan to my employer. 

The older you get, and the more senior you are, the more confident you sometimes are at being master of your own destiny. At asking for what you need. At knowing that there are multiple ways of working that benefits both you and your employer. Flexibility in the workplace, both day-to-day and in life changing moments, is essential to an engaged and high performing organisation. So it is in an organisations interest to make unusual requests happen. 

So I return to work in November one day a week until the end of the year. And then full time from January when my husband will take 2 months of shared parental leave. I think our son is getting the best of all worlds. 

Of course, my employer will get more than one day a week out of me. I can’t help myself. And with my handheld device I’m connected to the agency, staff and my clients whether I’m physically in the office or not. But with this arrangement I feel I’m going to get the quality time I want with my baby, whilst also being able to have a positive impact at work. 

I’m grateful to Ketchum for accommodating my request and embracing the flexibility. I’m excited to show that this sort of arrangement can work. I’d encourage other mums returning to work to think about an integration plan. And for anyone who wants to take a career break, or re-look at how their working week unfolds, anything is possible. Just make sure that you consider the value to your organisation as well as yourself. 

I’m a Red Soul Mama

People told me that becoming a mother would change me. I said it wouldn’t. At the time I believed it, because I didn’t want to change, I liked who I was and couldn’t see how becoming a mum could possibly change that. But I was wrong. It has, and in such a positive way. I’ve only been a mum for 12 weeks, but I will be it for the rest of my life and I’m sure every day with the new experiences will make me a better person. 
Now don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t changed my values. Work hard and play hard, be respectful and kind, try to make a difference in the world but have fun along the way. These are all still true. But I’m more focused. More determined. More empathetic. I’m more aware of what is going on around me, and where it is that I can make a small but significant difference. But I also see more clearly what is wrong with the world. The hatred. The intolerance. The inequality. The greed. The fact that too many are uneducated, in my own country as well as abroad. The top 1% have so much money they think they are untouchable, and they probably are. I see it clearly and I hate it. I hate what it does to our children and to their futures, no matter where they are born. 
So I’ve decided to start this blog. To put down on paper my thoughts and my views. To help me to make the right decisions for me, for my family, for my community. To offer a perspective, as a working mum, on equality, on work/life balance, on ‘having it all’. To rant about politics, here and internationally. To encourage people to forge their own path, to feel empowered to be what they can be and to leap over or runaround barriers. To talk about shoes, and bags and make-up, because I’m passionate about these things too. To showcase hobbies and sports for kids, but especially Baton Twirling, my sport that I have adored since I was 11. So all in all it will be a regular piece of thinking, sometimes a rant, sometimes a laugh, from RedRobertino the Red Soul Mama. I hope you enjoy it. And if not, don’t read it – life’s too short.