Blogs

Career insights & advice from Mike MacFarlane, agency partner and self-starting entrepreneur

24 May 2017

1.       Can you give me a brief overview of your background and experience?

I started my career in 2006 when I joined what is now Merchant Cantos, to help drive relationships with founder-CEO’s and small cap companies.  I was very inexperienced and on the quiet side, but working near industry pioneers such as Lucy Parker and Tessa Bamford – both hugely talented and super-intelligent – which taught me a lot.

In 2008 I left to found a new business called NewMedium.  The small team I assembled had strong instincts about future trends, and we quickly grew from a fledgling startup to an ambitious small agency with high-status clients and attracting dynamic young talent.

We created our ‘IR Squared’ brand in 2010 to collaborate with PE houses and PR agencies; creating films to support companies before, during and after major transactions such as IPO.

By 2013 we needed a platform to incubate our future growth aspirations, and so in January 2014 we were officially acquired by Instinctif Partners.  We could see that Instinctif Partners was really going places, and offered the perfect platform for our international aspirations; enabling us to increase our revenue contribution by a factor of four within two years.

Our proposition has evolved and I believe that one of the reasons that we have worked with so many great companies and brands all over the world is that we have led the market.  We’re now much more than filmmaking, we’re about creative and content strategy, content marketing, brand affinity, global connectivity, employer branding, thought leadership and internal communications.  And our content to support major transactions is award winning.

 

2.       You have flown up the ranks, built and sold a business.  What are your three key attributes that have contributed to your career success?

Firstly, keep a human perspective on what really matters.  Don’t get lost down a corporate rabbit hole or give in to adrenaline, because that’s not when your best work will come.

Secondly, don’t worry too much about ‘conforming’ to the ‘conventional wisdom’.  Focus on original ideas and doing good work that speaks for itself.  Everything else will flow from that.

Third, surround yourself with good people and give them the freedom to succeed or fail.

I also think it’s important to try to leave western middle-class values at the door.  People connect with the world through different of prisms, and an unconscious bias toward the one that is most familiar can poorly influence ideas and decisions, especially in a global village.

 

3.       Selling your business to Instinctif was a great achievement.  How has that enabled you to do things differently? 

The awards and industry recognition that Instinctif Partners has achieved in the last three years is remarkable by any standard.  It’s a great place to be with some amazing clients.

Being acquired created the opportunity to integrate our proposition across every practice area to enhance the service offering.  For me, taking a truly international approach to filmmaking and content ideation was important, and Instinctif offered a global platform.

 

4.       What keeps you awake at night? 

The boundaries between advertising, content marketing, communications and PR are ever dissolving.  There is a huge opportunity to develop creative and digital solutions for companies and brands who need new thinking and strategies, both locally and globally. 

The opportunity to work across all of a company’s marcomms objectives, from talent attraction to internal comms to thought leadership and reputation management; and to build new strategies that tie customers more strongly into what a brand is all about; and then to deliver that with global connectivity, is very exciting indeed.

 

5.       You are a great networker.  What is your top tip for influencing C-Suite?

You can’t shape the market by only responding to RFPs, so being prepared to lead change by proactively developing new and innovative creative solutions and then sharing the ‘art of the possible’ is at the heart of making new connections.  Networking events have never been my preference – I much prefer to spend quality time one-on-one.

 

6.       What is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?

Be prepared to have your mind changed, but never compromise on your integrity.

 

7.       What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way and by whom?

Never postulate an answer without first asking the hard questions.  I can’t remember who first said this to me.  There’s often a misconception that ‘creative’ is sacrosanct.  But the practical reality is that postulating a creative solution or strategy without a foundation in research or data significantly impedes ROI and can hugely compromise an outcome.

 

8.       In one sentence, what is your definition of a great PR?

Filmmaking has been a large part of my career, so I am biased, but from caveman to Instagram, people have always communicated in pictures; so for me ‘great PR’ includes engaging visual storytelling that connects and resonates with the audiences that matter.

 

9.       You are incredibly busy in your professional life and travel a lot, what do you do outside of work to de-stress?

In Q4 of 2016 alone I worked on projects in Russia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and California…before finishing the year on a muddy outdoor film shoot in a field in Sussex. 

Aside from collaborating with global colleagues and new business development, a lot of travel is about helping clients to tell their stories, which means meeting people and going to places that most people don’t.  That is very rewarding, but it also means that for the rest of the time, I’m very happy to enjoy the simple pleasures of London life!

 

10.   What should the industry do to improve employee wellbeing?

The best policy to ask employees to subscribe to is three very simple words: use good judgement.  In my experience when colleagues are liberated from rules-based regimes, initiatives and hierarchy, and empowered to govern their own working life, they are happier, more creative, more loyal…and their productivity soars.

 

Thank you for taking part Mike.

All opinions are personal and do not necessarily reflect Instinctif Partners.

At The Works Search we are dedicated to securing 'best in class' professionals, top 5% industry performers.  We focus on executive search for senior corporate and financial communications professionals and have a 100% delivery track record for search assignments. 

If you are a senior professional and interested in being interviewed for our Thought Leaders Connected newsletter, we would love to hear from you.  Call Sarah on 0207 559 6597 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk

Salary Survey 2017