Since joining the IoD, how have you benefitted from your membership?
My reason for joining the IoD is to network and so understand the mindset of directors outside of the marketing discipline in order to help position our industry on a more commercial footing. The joint initiative between IAPI and the IoD in 2019 when we co-hosted a seminar entitled ‘Putting Brand at the Heart of your Financial Strategy’, aimed at CEOs, CFOs as well as CMOs, was of huge benefit to me personally and to my organisation.
I am also a firm supporter of the content and seminars (now webinars!) that the IoD hosts on behalf of members as they help to establish business priorities as a director and keep us informed of topical fiduciary responsibilities.
Is there someone who has had a major impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of role models and mentors in my life. Firstly, I would note Judith Donovan, CBE, led JDA, the UK based agency I joined in my late 20s and she was an incredibly powerful force in a male dominated industry at the time. Interestingly, I don’t think she ever thought of herself as a woman first and this definitely rubbed off on my own view of myself as my career developed. The concept of me being a ‘female leader’ as oppose to a leader bizarrely only took shape in my 40s as I started to mentor other high potential women and belatedly realised that I had also struggled.
A key individual who had a big impact on me while I was in a leadership role, was Conor Kilduff, who was and is still a non-executive director for Field Management Ireland (FMI) as well as being Sales & Marketing Director for Keelings. His emotional intelligence and careful mentoring certainly helped me through a very turbulent moment in my career and ultimately enabled me to move on with a positive mindset.
Now, of course, my role in IAPI means that I have access to the best and brightest industry leaders, all of whom influence my thinking and decisions daily.
However, I have to admit that it’s my friends and family who have the most influence over me as a person and leader, gently holding up a mirror to my imperfections and supporting me when it’s needed. And always at the back of my mind when I’m feeling horribly smug about something I’ve achieved, is my mother saying, “Yes darling, that’s lovely – now I hope you won’t become even more bossy!”
What are the greatest challenges you and your business have faced/are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis?
The main challenge we have as the representation body for commercial creativity and communications is ensuring our industry gains a representative share of voice and continues to be seen by business leaders and politicians as a vital part of Ireland’s economic recovery throughout, and out of, this crisis. To give you some context, the Irish advertising industry generates revenues in excess of €1.4 billion for the economy, directly employing over 3,000 professionals in advertising, creative, PR and experiential, with a similar number employed indirectly.
There are numerous studies that prove the payback advertising investment contributes to the Irish economy and helps to boost consumer confidence but it’s very difficult for organisations not to take the easy option of cutting marketing investment. In IAPI, we firmly believe that by promoting the importance and vibrancy of our own sector, we indirectly protect and sustain the Irish indigenous media, that is currently, and will continue, playing such an important role in our daily lives.
As a membership organisation, similar to the IoD, our day to day activities tend to centre around physical events and obviously these have all moved online which has had some advantages as well as disadvantages. The advantage is that the costs in training and inspiring events has reduced drastically as we no longer have to fly speakers in from abroad or indeed pay the cost for event venues. The disadvantages, as with every business right now, is that we no longer have the more human and natural interactions that happened when like-minded people gather together. The inconsequential chatter or industry experiences that are shared during conversations are the icing on the cake at a lot of these sessions.
How has your business evolved and adapted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?
The IAPI Agency Leaders Survey, published a couple of weeks ago, is the result of work we undertook with director level individuals across our entire membership to assess the sentiment of the industry during Covid-19. The results show that the industry is working their way through the crisis, doing what they do best, solving problems creatively for their clients and adapting to what is the ‘new different’. Naturally, they are as much under pressure as any industry right now, especially the smaller agencies. However, the industry is highly resilient and agile, determined to continue providing the best possible strategic and creative thinking to their clients.
Some of the key survey highlights included:
- Surprisingly, two thirds (66%) of respondents find Creative Ideation & Production as easy as under normal circumstances. This reflects the agility of the industry to adapt to new ways of creating communications for their clients and we can see the results of this problem-solving ability in recent campaigns.
- Encouragingly, 6 out of 10 agencies have won new client business in the last month and 91% are actively engaged in pitches.
For more highlights visit the IAPI website.
Has working through the impact of the current crisis on your business made you review your business model? Will it change in the future?
IAPI’s business model is built around member subscriptions and every year we have to ensure that we are relevant, current and provide maximum value to our members to justify their subscriptions. We will certainly be going through this exercise with forensic detail in Q4 to be ready and prepared for the inevitable decrease in 2021. For now, we are focusing on being there for our members providing relevant information, guidance and training for their people.
The results of our leaders’ survey also highlight how the industry is looking to the future, including that over 90% of respondents believe that there will be fundamental changes to how the industry works with remote working being more commonly utilised by agencies in future. For further details on this survey, visit the IAPI website.
Is there one key piece of learning/advice you would give to fellow business leaders on how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis?
Focus on your people, their wellbeing, their mental health and their physical health. I received some great advice a number of years ago about how true leaders spend 40% of their time in “Leading by walking around” and only 60% at their desks or in meetings. Clearly, this isn’t viable anymore so perhaps the new advice should be “leading by zooming or teaming around”! In other words, really commit time to talking with your teams. Not just your senior management teams but with everyone. Over-communication is something to aim for right now and if you have an Employee Assistance Programme, promote it above all else to your workforce.
Fortunately, the IAPI Smash programme, set up in 2019 by The Advertising Benevolent Society (TABS) and IAPI to provide mental health, wellbeing, financial and legal assistance for the 2,000+ advertising industry employees and their families is now well established. Spectrum Life manage the Employee Assistance Programme(EAP), and IAPI have been supplementing it over the past couple of months with online yoga, meditation and resilience webinars aimed at maintaining wellbeing for remote workers. For more information on the impact of the IAPI Smash programme visit our website.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Sorry, but I can’t restrict it to one as it’s such a multi-faceted role but in order of priority I would choose the following three characteristics: Empathy, Decisiveness and Authenticity.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring directors in Ireland?
- Don’t try and be someone you’re not because of your environment. If you find yourself in that situation, try expressing what you really believe in and, if that gets you nowhere, perhaps you’re in the wrong place?
- Remember that most people aren’t telepathic. If you don’t say or ask when something’s on your mind, don’t be surprised if nothing changes.
- In making decisions, don’t be afraid to take risks but it’s not wise to keep going when it’s obvious something isn’t working. Always be prepared to adapt and change quickly.
- Regularly check in with your teams, customers and industry peers to keep learning from their experiences and insights. It’s okay not to have all the answers yourself.
- It’s easy to fall into the trap of only managing upwards as you progress. Keeping your colleagues and team onside is equally important.
(Published May 2020)