The Marketing Institute: What does a Director of a Brand team do in a communications agency?
Fiona Hodgins: I head up the Brand team at Edelman, a communications marketing agency in Dublin. I’m a senior advisor whose job it is to help clients solve business challenges and identify opportunities that grow brand relationships, reputation and ultimately bottom-line. I work with a diverse range of blue chip clients who operate in sectors such as FMCG, hospitality, alcohol and retail.
As a discipline, those who have built careers in PR have always been accomplished storytellers. Traditionally, this was driven by the fact we have always had to earn rather than pay for attention. However, as an agency Edelman is at an interesting stage of evolution. We are super-charging our storytelling capability by bringing in specialisms such as planning to better interrogate challenges and opportunities, data and insight to shape and verify our approach and creative to deliver big ideas that are by design, platform agnostic. We’ve added paid capability to help our stories travel further with more audience intent and frequency to make them sticky. Paid is complemented by our influencer marketing and brand partnership capabilities. We also work closely with Edelman Intelligence, our network insight and analytics division to devise measurement frameworks, which demonstrate tangible ROI, an area that traditional PR agencies have always struggled with.
My job is to work with the team to help our clients better navigate the complexity they are facing in the marketplace and deliver real results that stand up in the boardroom.
MII: What were your key career moves to get to your current role?
F.H: Prior to working with Edelman in Dublin I spent a number of years in agency in London. Even fifteen years ago PR agencies sat at the head table opposite key decision makers both from a client and a wider agency perspective. It taught me always to stay close to my client’s business objectives and how interesting the world of communications is when you are there for the start of the conversation, not simply trying to amplify an idea that is born outside of the principles of earning attention.
MII: What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
F.H: People are our business and team is our biggest asset, however recruiting the right talent can be very challenging. We’re an agency in growth and we’re actively pushing the boundaries of the traditional definition of what a PR agency does. Strategically, we are investing in attracting and retaining the right talent. The challenge is securing talent that can move at our pace, mindset and ambition, whilst holding the core communication consultancy skills that stand up in any business environment.
That said, when we find the right candidates we tend to hold onto them and our attrition rate is low, which is a comforting counter balance. We are passionate about helping our talent map their careers with Edelman and have invested significantly in training to enable team to grow and develop in sync with our agency ambition.
From a personal perspective, the biggest challenge I face daily is time, there is never, ever as much of it as I would like!
MII: What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?
F.H: When it comes to giving the right recommendations to clients and safeguarding the quality of agency outputs having an inquisitive mind, which assumes little and questions a lot, is a great skill to possess at my level.
Being open to ongoing learning is also a crucial skill. Experience gives me a gut instinct to lean on but it’s not enough on its own. The pace of change is fast and many clients are questioning where they invest as some areas of their marketing spend are delivering a diminished state of return with the reality of increased investment to maintain the status quo. If content and storytelling is our bread and butter then we need to ensure it can perform effectively and efficiently across earned, paid, social and owned. Harnessing insights from business analytics, understanding how to better optimise content and distribute it more effectively is now part of my day-to-day and ensuring I keep abreast of developments is crucial to maintain the quality of the recommendations I give clients.
On a final note, I think the ability to play nice with others is an under-rated but absolutely essential skill to possess, regardless of level.
MII: Describe a typical working day.
F.H: My brain is most productive in the morning so my day starts early. The lack of email, people and phone traffic during this period lends itself perfectly to writing or sub-editing client or new business content and ensuring I am up to speed with emails and my diary before the day starts.
A day in agency is by its nature diverse, which is what most of us enjoy about it. Many of my clients are currently in planning for 2018 so my day now is full of briefs, brand growth manifestos and identifying the opportunities we can apply strength to, whilst assembling team to drive the creative ideation process.
Being part of the largest independent communications marketing agency has its benefits. Access to thought leadership from a pool of global specialists, intellectual property to verify thinking and access to online tools really helps us show up differently as an agency. Spending time to ensure I am plugged into this and in a position to share it back with my clients is an important part of my day.
Day to-day workflow is busy and my day includes the operational and quality management of live projects. This normally takes the form of team meetings to recap progress, identify challenges or new opportunities and plan next steps. The scope of work is wide and can include translating brand narratives we’ve created into effective press collateral, video or social content or building brand experiences and sampling campaigns. Inevitably, there are campaign outputs for review and approval, which usually happens back at the desk.
Edelman is an open plan office so it’s a great place to debate and bounce around ideas. Thanks to the depth and diversity of team it’s also a useful and fun environment in which to stay on top of pop culture and what’s new – brand campaigns, trends, spaces, restaurants, food and beauty.
MII: What do you love most about your role?
F.H: I love the new balance of science creeping into my discipline alongside our traditional capability in creative storytelling. The two combined together are potent and makes thinking about the future very exciting.
MII: Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?
F.H: I am very lucky to work with an agency that is entrepreneurial in nature, which means you have the opportunity to grow or diversify if you bring a considered perspective to the conversation. We are evolving our offer beyond traditional PR practices such as media relations solely into the generation of big ideas that travel and become contagious with the help of influence, social, experience and paid. This is work in progress and will no doubt shape where my career plan leads to next.
MII: To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?
F.H: I’m lucky to be surrounded by smart people who challenge the status quo and stretch my thinking. Depending on the day that can be agency or network colleagues, other agency partners or freelance specialists.
Digital has opened access to thinking and inspiration around the world and it is never been easier to tap into the experiences of really smart thinkers. I’m an unapologetic subscriber to streams of curated content as diverse as ‘Strands of Genius’ by Rosie and @Faris to podcasts like ‘Revisionist History’.
You can read all the A Day in the Life features here.