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A Day in the Life of... Su Duff, Director of consulting business The Answer

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 20 February 2019

Su Duff

What do you do as Director of The Answer?

Back in 2012 I started a micro-business called The Answer which offers an interim panel of highly experienced, project-based marketing and communications professionals. We help over-stretched businesses by extending their team capabilities in marketing strategy, planning, implementation, business development and event management. Our interim experts can effectively “join a team” during long term absence, or for the duration of a project to ensure it is delivered on time and in an efficient manner. We provide solutions in-house or work externally as an entire team. As Director I drive proposal wins across the team, liase with new and existing panelists, develop partnerships for the future, guide the company administrator and often also base myself in-house for client organisations.

 

What were your key career moves to get to your current role?

Seven years as a Retail Buyer creating new products, learning negotiation and the art of complex project management was an incredible foundation in commercial skills.  It taught financial planning and projection, through to reading the market and observing trends, the benefits of building strategic alliances and strong supplier relationships to respond to market demands. I moved into advertising and media through JCDecaux, became Director of the OMA and brought JNOR (Joint National Outdoor Research) audience measurement to market over 5 years. After 4 years as Head of Client Service & Communication for IDMA, and in a part time role creating members services and new business for Association of Advertisers in Ireland (AAI), I was eventually able to take on short term contracts and build The Answer.

 

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Time! Running a small business means workload is not confined to one obvious task in hand. For example, outside of team management, generating business and providing services, there are dates throughout Revenue’s calendar when the company accountant requires important data checks. It takes strong boundaries to prevent work often spilling into weekends. Given this backdrop, my biggest challenge pertains to something I lack direct control over - time waste. Meetings about partnerships that never see the light of day and requests for proposals that remain unawarded to any organisation, despite hours of planning input.  This time issue is familiar territory for anyone in the “pitch” game and something we constantly strive to figure out.

 

What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

In general, it’s helpful to be flexible, comfortable with change or uncertainty, to be positive, interested in people, resilient and a strategic thinker.  Specific additional skills are called upon according to contract, for example I’m currently in-house with CMRF Crumlin and was initially brought in to build and integrate their Above The Line fundraising campaign.  My relationships and knowledge across media and advertising allowed us to build momentum around the amazing community doing #WhateverItTakes for Ireland’s sickest children. It brought together short-term response mechanisms and longer-term brand profile.

 

Describe a typical working day.

In any given week I tend to run projects for diverse organisations and its content will depend upon the number of days I’m based in-house for a client. Occasionally there’s an early morning start submitting work for organisation A, before heading off to be in-house at company B, driving home that evening may include telephone discussions with potential partners or panel members. The following day might begin by gathering to prepare a new business proposal, then meeting someone interested in participating in The Answer’s panel, followed by guiding our administrator how to amend the website, what to outline in a document or how to respond to the accountant for financial queries.

 

What do you love most about your role?

Variety may seem like an obvious answer for this question! But even more than this, I very much appreciate the opportunity to meet such a wide range of professionals across the organisations I am lucky to work within. The first-hand experience of differing corporate cultures, leadership styles and management communications is second to none. It provides so much food for thought and many personal development opportunities. I’ve had the privilege sit on SMTs, co-create a 5-year plan, dream potential and built new commercial partnerships, win pitches, close business, develop advertising campaigns, establish content for #AAIToolkit, create countless websites of varying ilk manage clients and study return on investment.

 

Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?

Across the past 6 years each one has varied significantly depending on those involved with The Answer’s panel, their skills focus, range of organisations we work with or make proposal to.  During the coming years I plan to further refine the organisation structure and processes so that it that relies less upon my active involvement in driving the sales pipeline, facilitating growth. I hope to find a small number of mentors to work with over this time to help challenge my personal growth and development of The Answer to its full potential.

 

To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

Rather than naming superstar marvels, I’m choosing to answer this from a more personal slant as there are so many industry colleagues that have inspired me. Some for their lateral thinking, breadth of knowledge, courage to start their own business or simply by remaining positive and ‘human’ as a leader in business. Right now, I’m working with two amazing female leaders who repeatedly impress me with their strategic thinking and commercial acumen.

Back as a Commerce student I spent university holidays gaining work experience. I particularly enjoyed learning from my Dad when he was Country Director for a multinational organisation abroad. I marvelled at his ability to stay measured and personable for his staff, competitors and clients despite countless challenges over the time. Together with commercial negotiation, these characteristics helped him to attract a lot of long-term business partnerships. Later the Director from the first role in my career stood out in a similar vein. More recently I enjoyed working with Alex Gibson year after year on ARVRInnovate. He’s one of those people who stops at nothing – if there is someone on the other side of the world he wishes to talk with then he ploughs ahead and finds a way to do so. Most impressive! 

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