From graduate to CEO at corporate and financial communications consultancy, Tavistock, Jos Simson tells us about his rise to the top and why he surrounds himself with brilliant people. Fresh from a winter dip in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Jos shares challenges faced by the business, explains the motivation behind the recent brand refresh and looks to the future to consider how the agency is evolving alongside the communications industry.
1. Can you give a brief overview of your background and experience?
I started as a graduate in a boutique financial PR firm, called Conduit PR. You were client facing from the word go. They also really invested in staff development and encouraged us to go out and build contacts.
I rose through the ranks to eventually become number 2 at the firm. The business was subsequently bought by Tavistock. Coincidentally, I had just accepted a role to join one of the biggest names in the industry via Sarah at The Works Search. I was in my late twenties and after much deliberation decided to stay and join Tavistock. The opportunity to join a board and gain exposure to the strategic decision making was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
2. Over your 13 years at Tavistock, tell us how things have changed?
At the core of our offering is going the extra mile for clients. That hasn’t changed. We work to gain their trust and become their partners. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true.
I think the acquisition of Conduit PR brought positive changes. In many ways we were more cohesive and structured in our client service and were better at marketing ourselves. We were a relatively new and unknown brand that rarely saw RFPs come through the door, unlike Tavistock. The acquisition brought more than just clients and new sectors.
3. As the CEO of a successful strategic communications consultancy, what’s your biggest challenge right now?
Our challenge will be to continue our growth without losing the close-knit culture we have built. We are just under 30 people today. I’m constantly told that the culture is special at this size but that you lose it as you get bigger no matter how hard you try. We want to continue to grow but not at the expense of losing what has got us to where we are today.
4. With you leading the show we can see that you have refreshed the Tavistock brand. What motivated you to do that?
There was quite a bit of backward looking given the early glory days of the business. That heritage is important but it’s less relevant to the clients of today and tomorrow, so we had a long hard look at our brand and our market proposition. We act for some of the largest businesses out there but also some of the most exciting newcomers.
We wanted to communicate our intent to continue to grow and offer something different in the market. We are owned by ourselves and want to continue to evolve and expand our offering. That means we continue to look at our own brand and seek input from everyone in the business.
5. The communications industry is changing at pace. Looking into the future how do you see the business developing?
In lots of ways, it is and in lots of ways it isn’t. Strategic and trusted advice is still as valuable today as it was 30 years ago.
Digital comms and ESG advisory are really exciting new services. Aside from the broadened reach, digital comms allows you to see real time analytics and almost instant feedback. This contributes greatly into seeing whether traditional PR programmes are heading in the right direction or if we need to change course midstream.
ESG reporting is also evolving fast. We have some highly talented colleagues that are experts in this area. This has to be part of all decision-making for clients rather than retrofitting it into their communications.
6. What would you say are your three key attributes that have contributed to your career success?
1. I have an elephant memory
2. I can get to the heart of an issue very quickly and I am not afraid to ask the difficult questions
3. In my twenties I looked like a 40 year old…clients were gobsmacked when they found out recently I’d only just reached this milestone.
7. What is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?
Surround yourself with brilliant and intelligent people. Clients don’t hire us for one person, they hire us for the collective team.
8. What keeps you awake at night?
My three young children. No matter how late you let them stay up they do not wake up any later the next day.
9. Please share the best piece of advice you’ve been given along the way and by whom?
Treat people as you expect to be treated.
10. Do you have any hidden talents?
I enjoy cold water swimming. You’ll often find me inviting colleagues and clients to join me in the Serpentine all year round.
Thank you, Jos!
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