Tell us a little about your role at Dentsu Aegis Network
I joined the business in March 2013 in a newly created role as Group Head of Internal Communications just as the acquisition of Aegis Media by Japanese advertising giant, Dentsu Inc. was being finalised. My role expanded this year and as Global Head of Internal Communications, I am now responsible for all internal communications across our group in 110 countries (outside Japan) with a specific focus on supporting post-integration activity.
What attracted you to the role?
Joining a business that was in the process of completing one of the biggest deals in the history of advertising was very compelling. The complexity and size of the opportunity in a brand new role provided a fantastic challenge. From the outset, it was clear that the scale of change would need an explicit communications strategy that addressed a number of issues.
From a personal development perspective, I wanted to work in a Corporate Communication team. Having previously worked in reporting lines to Marketing and HR, this was new. Reporting to the Director of Corporate Communications, I knew from our first meeting that we would work together really well. She appreciates internal comms is a different specialty and we use our combined knowledge to mutual advantage. We work in close alignment and by bouncing ideas off each other and offering different perspectives, I believe we have forged a great working relationship with an effective combination of skills.
Could you tell us about the corporate structure at Dentsu Aegis?
Dentsu Aegis is one of the largest media and advertising groups in the world, holding a unique position in the market as the first truly global communications network for the digital age.
Comprising eight global network brands and a large number of multi-market brands, the business is headquartered in London. CEO, Jerry Buhlmann leads our Global Executive Board for all group activity outside of Japan. Jerry is also an Executive Officer on the board of Dentsu Inc. in Tokyo.
At the global operational level, the complex matrix nature of our business is managed by our Network Brand Board with executive leadership from our largest brands and our senior CEO market leads. This board is responsible for global client management and new business across our network.
Our business operates across multiple brands and agencies creating integrated global solutions for our clients, some of the world’s largest and best known companies. This requires management horizontally across 110 countries and vertically through our brands/agencies based in each of those markets. It’s a true matrix environment in a global business that brings with it a very interesting set of dynamics We manage our communications by thinking global 24/7 and I tend to categorise this into four key areas: audience, content, cause, impact.
What do you find is the greatest challenge in your role?
Managing communications in a true global matrix requires staying disciplined and well organised. When I took on the position, there was no way to communicate to all our people other than by email – far from ideal. A key priority was to roll out our global collaboration platform called “NEON” (meaning new one in Greek) and brought about a change in behaviour in the way we communicate. As a result, NEON has been carefully launched, market by market, with meticulous and careful planning backed up by a comprehensive engagement campaign to promote the platform and communicate the benefits of using it.
What kind of cultural differences have you encountered? How have you managed to bridge them?
Operating across 110 countries means that cultural differences are ever-present. Clearly, we have to be sensitive to the differences across all these countries. It’s important to remain agile, creative and open-minded in the way we think and embrace the differences rather than see them as obstacles. My role requires me to communicate with multiple countries daily. I might come off a call to Korea then have to talk to colleagues in France, followed by a conversation with our people in Brazil. Each market will have a very different approach to a particular project. We aim to utilise the best qualities of each culture to our advantage. We know which markets will provide structured and rigorous feedback and which ones will come to us brimming with joie de vivre and great ideas.
When I first took on the role at Dentsu Aegis, the scope of the role was enormous. In my first three months, I concentrated on meeting people, either in person or via video conference around our global network. I made it a priority to reach out to and connect with as many regional senior managers as possible in order to establish initial contact, face to face wherever possible. I was conscious the next time I knocked on their door, it would probably be to ask for their help.
It definitely helps to be a good listener. Our matrix environment is one that requires a lot of thought so I’m a firm believer in not only remaining open-minded to cultural sensitivities, but also taking the time to stop and reflect in order to make sure all angles have been covered.
What would you say are the main differences in the Media industry in Internal Comms compared to other businesses you’ve worked in?
I have worked in a number of very different industries including Law, Aviation, Travel, Engineering, IT, Telecoms and now Media and Advertising. The biggest difference in Media and Advertising is that the focus is always first and foremost on the customer; by that read - external. This means working closely with our teams to capture and maintain attention on the importance of our internal communications approach to strike the right balance with our external obligations - both client and PR.
How do you feel Internal Comms has evolved over the years you’ve worked in the sector?
I would say that it is maturing as a more accepted discipline. It’s also highly complementary to HR. More and more businesses now recognise the value that internal communications teams can bring commercially. I strongly believe that creating successful communication strategies delivers business benefits. We’re like the oil in the corporate machine; enabling the business to work more creatively and collaboratively.
In order to do this well, the support and understanding of board level members is critical. I’m fortunate to have that level of support and have always been involved at board level as a trusted advisor. It is a privilege to work with a group of very smart people in a role that, by working hard over a period of time, delivers benefits that are truly tangible.
Do you use Social Media? What are your thoughts about it?
Yes and have done for many years. Digital media is one of the key strengths in our business. NEON, our new collaboration platform, has been designed by our people, for our people after months of careful research. NEON includes many social media features that enable messages and content to be segmented according to audience and delivered in the most appropriate way to that audience. 60% of our employees are millennials (18-32 years) who want to engage in a fast-paced, open and collaborative forum, which is why NEON is so important to our business.
Could you share 3 tips for effective management?
Always make time for people: Being a good listener whether in team meeting or one-to-one. It sounds obvious but it’s all too easy to push things aside when you’re busy.
Be crystal clear about objectives: Managing complex programmes in a very fast-paced setting, means it’s especially important to be disciplined and focused on all the component parts as well as maintaining a line of sight on the end game.
Maintain integrity: Stay true to your personal values. Take time to set yourself apart from the “noise” and break problems down into manageable chunks. Be brave about challenge; always give and seek honest feedback and you’ll find that people will respect your integrity. If you have to say no to something, with the right phrasing you can often make a person feel like you’ve said yes and make people feel as though you are helping them constructively.
Whether we mean to or not, as managers we cast a shadow, so I try to keep in mind that people are known and remembered for the type of shadow we cast: how we treat those around us, how we respond to crises and how we behave in general to the people we work with.