“Be authentic, be open to change and embrace it”
1. Tell us about your role in Havas Group and your agency’s recent rebranding.
Having grown up in the industry, I’ve seen firsthand how the PR landscape has evolved and disrupted, and the constant need to stay at the forefront of this change. When I was appointed chairman of the Havas PR Global Collective, I came into the role with ambitions to grow our network and offerings.
To achieve this, we launched Red Havas this past spring, bringing together the Havas PR North America and U.K. offices with Red Agency Asia Pacific (our wholly owned network there). This new “micro-network” offer is at the forefront of earned, social, experiential, content and data. It is the world’s first Merged Media agency, recognizing how all media types are merging into one another and that, to the consumer, it is all one experience. So we need to mirror that in the way we operate.
In under a year, we’ve greatly expanded our skills and capabilities and broadened our network by announcing a raft of senior appointments to our global leadership team, with specific leaders for social, integration and content. We will shortly be adding greater content and paid capability.
I’m confident that as we continue to grow our network and collapse our borders, our client roster will continue to expand as more clients look for agile and smart agency solutions in the Merged Media world.
2. Can you tell us about your journey from the U.K. and then Australia into this market?
I began my PR career at an agency in Leeds, U.K., before transitioning to their London office after a year or so. The firm of about 35 to 40 people had an extremely entrepreneurial culture, which definitely rubbed off on many who were there at that time. A lot have gone on to start their own agencies or move through the ranks of the bigger agency groups.
A few years later that agency was sold to a holding group and eventually became Grayling. I worked my way up rapidly to managing director. At the age of 31 I felt I needed a new challenge, so I was persuaded by Havas to take a role in Australia to run a small PR agency they had there, Red Agency with the ambition to build a regional PR network across APAC. Over the course of seven years, I grew it from 10 people to over 100 in Australia alone, expanding the operation across multiple Asian markets, adding many offices, more staff and skills, and creating a reputation for creativity and success. I learned a lot traveling around the region and building teams there, including one consistent piece – that culture is the glue that sticks everything together with your teams and with the clients you work with.
Last year, I relocated to New York City to embark on my new role. As we aim to scale our North American capabilities and grow our business globally, we are building out our teams within the U.S., EU and APAC regions in order to better serve our clients.
Thus far, I’ve found the U.S. market to be a little more traditional than APAC, largely because the speed of media transformation hasn’t needed to happen as fast. Earned media still has a lot of runway left, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to be ahead of the curve in social, content and data solutions.
3. How do you think technology is upgrading the marketing sector? Is that what you mean by Merged Media? Tell us about that concept.
Today we’re constantly connected. We literally have the world at our fingertips. With the news cycle rapidly evolving and the channels through which we get our news exploding and intertwining, we as PR professionals have to be ahead of the game. With our Merged Media model, we aim to lead the industry by being experts in earned, paid, owned and social media—and the intersections where they come together. Indeed a recent survey of communication professionals found that most (62%) predict future consumers won’t be able to distinguish between earned, owned or paid. Another 55% believe people won’t even care where this information is coming from. For the consumer it is becoming one and the same.
4. How has the integration of digital marketing optimized the public relations industry?
It has really facilitated the reinvention of PR as we know it. Fueled by constant access to mobile devices, daily media consumption has increased steadily since 2011. American adults spend more than 11 hours each day listening to, reading, watching or interacting with media. Their appetite for digital content exists alongside a continued fondness for traditional media outlets. And because PR has over the past decade added influencer marketing, social media, content creation and more to our roster of services, we are also now doing work that might have traditionally gone to a different type of agency.
5. Can you explain how data and analytics are benefitting PR professionals?
Through analyzing data, we’re able to pinpoint the types of stories our clients should be owning in the marketplace. Data helps us to be informed and have the intelligence , and if we are using it correctly, to better identify the stories that will move the needle, in addition to where the audiences are we want to reach. Analysis is crucial, having great data specialists who can understand and help optimize the information to make us smarter.
6. What are your predictions about the future of marketing communication?
We will continue to see a shift for marcomms to focus on purpose rather than profit/sales for clients, and while that has been a trend for a while, it has come into sharper focus following the Business Roundtable earlier this year, where U.S. CEOs said shareholder performance is no longer their primary goal. It is now about managing stakeholders, shifting their practices to line up with their new definition of the “purpose of a corporation.” The move emphasizes investing in employees, supporting communities, dealing ethically with suppliers and providing customers with value. This means we will see a much greater focus for comms on these audiences, as well as CSR and cause-related campaigns.
But from our perspective, borderless storytelling is where the future lies: Ideas that don’t live in anyone channel but live in many. An idea that people feel they want to talk about, share and engage with—that you would see on TV, in your social feed or hear people talking about around the water cooler. An idea that triggers an emotion and an action. This is where Merged Media lives. We must always start with the story today. Of course that means we need experts in new technology (like AI and predictive) and content and data to help us strategize, create and target audiences, so this is where we are investing.
7. What tips would you like to give to organizations struggling to develop an effective brand design?
While knowing your client is key, knowing their consumers and understanding what makes them tick is how you can help brands ultimately succeed. In order to develop an effective brand design, you can’t overemphasize the importance of research. I’d say to first know the market, know your consumer, and know what’s to come so you can set yourself up for success.
8. What advice would you like to give to the technology startups?
Back yourself relentlessly and take people with you for the ride – your staff, investors and of course your customers.
Be authentic, be open to change and embrace it.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because things are changing all the time. If something isn’t working, move on quickly.
9. How are your agencies preparing for an AI-centric world?
I think we are some way from living in an AI-centric world, even though you are engaging and using it probably without even knowing it through Siri, autonomous cars, fit bits and even the occasional chatbots. It is important we stay at the forefront of this, and in our wider group we have agencies that are specifically being based around this technology. It will revolutionize the way we work and market, particularly for businesses that have a conversion goal. We tap these in addition to adding people with this experience into our core teams. Within Red Havas we have already launched a number of campaigns using AI technology, and that will only increase. But it’s still early days – we need to use it in the right strategy to drive the right outcome.
10. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent time?
We’re feeding our agency’s agility with major investments into data, content and bespoke insight, including the listening and predictive AI analytics platform, PRdict, that we’re now developing to layer in a foretelling media capability not seen before within the industry. The PRdict tool provides Red Havas with the capability to predict the vector and velocity of conversations from a truly global to a hyperlocal perspective, offering our clients first-mover advantage in shaping those conversations and elevating their brands. Through a strategic partnership with HVH Precision Analytics, a leader in the field of data science and artificial intelligence, we are going beyond traditional social listening to inform how we seed our clients’ content and conversations.
11. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
I don’t like to micromanage—not saying it doesn’t happen, but it is rare. I believe in hiring good people, giving them a clear brief and getting out of their way. My leadership team know what my expectations are of them and that I will always support them 110 percent, but that I expect that in return as well. I am very lucky to have a great team that believes in our vision and where we are going, and an incredible group of future leaders who are pushing us all to do even better work in an even better workplace environment. It’s why we created a Future Leaders Forum for junior staff who meet me with me once a month to table ideas to make out agency stronger.
12. What movie inspires you the most?
A few years ago at SXSW, I got to listen to the makers and some of the cast of the film “Boyhood,” the coming-of-age drama by Richard Linklater that was shot over 12 years. I loved the movie and wanted to hear about how they made it because it was so akin to the many highs and gritty lows of real life. The film is an emotional roller coaster, and I found it hugely inspirational. But to know that everyone involved signed up for more than a decade to an idea about a film about a boy growing up that didn’t even have a completed script and would be changed each year to reflect how each actor had changed, was simply amazing and groundbreaking. That belief in an idea that others rally to and then to deliver something so magical and beautiful can only leave an indelible mark on the world of filmmaking and its audiences.
13. We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture, so can you share with us some of the fun pictures of your workplace?
It’s no surprise that statistics show we’re spending more time at work than we do with our families. That’s not something I ever want my teams to be doing. We recently instituted “flex hours,” which allows our employees to come into the office a little later in the morning and leave a little earlier at night, providing that their work is completed. Thus far, the response has been great. Teams are finding they can go to the gym in the morning and leave the office in time to make dinner with their families. The overall mental health of our employees has benefitted.
We’ve also started “Wellness Wednesdays,” when we invite a different health practitioner—like a health or meditation coach—to come in and teach a class for an hour. We also pay an educational stipend to staff, so they can keep learning and developing outside the office.
In addition to enhancing our culture in the workplace, we’ve invested more time in company outings and mentor programs to encourage everyone to connect and communicate.
14. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
The obvious go-to apps on my phone would have to be my CNN and BBC apps, because I can’t live without the news. I get a lot of my news from LinkedIn and Twitter as well. Outside of the news and business apps, I most definitely couldn’t live without my ESPN, FOX and NBC sports apps to get my daily sports fix, and the usual social networks to stay in contact with my family and friends dotted around the world.