Rob Davies, Director of Investment and Client Communications at Aviva Investors, shares with us his experience of moving from financial journalism into media relations. Inspired to learn something new every day, Rob has achieved award-winning success for Thought Leadership content, something which he describes as being easier to define as what it isn’t, than what it is.
1. Please can you give a brief overview of your background and experience.
Ignoring my unfulfilled dreams of making a living as a footballer or drummer, being a journalist was the only job I wanted to do. After a brief diversion (my first proper job was in political research for an oil and gas company), I ended up spending 12 years in financial journalism.
The two standout roles were working for FinanceAsia and Risk magazine; the former because it was a very happy time in my life, living in Hong Kong, travelling around Asia and meeting my partner Alice; the latter because it taught me a lot about editing (the stories you see in print often bear no resemblance to the raw copy) and managing people.
I moved into communications with Nomura in 2011, initially looking after its markets business before becoming head of media relations for EMEA. Given some of my past comments about PR folk, my journalist colleagues were surprised to see me make the move, but I quickly realised there was a lot more to communications than connecting journalists to spokespeople. I joined Aviva Investors in 2015 – it was an exciting time at the company and the role gave me the chance to combine my editorial and communications experience, which was at the time, and still is, a rare opportunity. Definitely not the easiest, but the best job I’ve ever had.
2. You made the move from journalism to PR. What would you say were your biggest learnings from this transition and how has your previous life as an editor helped you with your communications career?
The biggest lesson was to forget what I thought I knew about communications. Being an effective comms person is far harder than it looks, and I realised that as soon I started working with some brilliant and very talented colleagues at Nomura. It wasn’t the biggest bank or the first port of call for journalists – our team had to scrap hard, pitch well and brief spokespeople expertly to generate good coverage.
As for the benefits of being an editor turned comms person, I know what a good story is and how to make the best of it. I also know what a bad story is, which I think has helped me prepare for and manage those situations when the proverbial hits the fan.
3. How do you define good thought leadership and why is it so important?
It is easier to say what it isn’t – marketing, sales content – than what it is. True thought leaders, and they are a select few, shape opinions – when they say or write something, people take notice and base decisions on it. That’s why it’s so important.
4. What are the three key attributes that contributed to your career success?
Sound judgement, conviction and attention to detail.
5. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Difficult to pick out one, but my time at Nomura coincided with a particularly ‘volatile’ period for the bank. You find out a lot about yourself and the people you work with in those moments.
6. What is your most memorable work moment?
Again, there have been so many (good and not so good). A few years ago, we (Aviva Investors) picked up a much sought-after industry award for Best Thought Leadership. The awards were held in the Tower of London, and when they announced our name, I was genuinely gobsmacked (for once). It felt like validation of our approach to content, and the celebration with colleagues afterwards topped off a great night.
7. What is your most important lesson you have learned in life so far?
Count your blessings. I’ve got a beautiful family, great friends and a good career. As I say far too often to colleagues when things are difficult at work: “We’re not working down the Siberian salt mines.” Life is good.
8. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given, and by whom?
This will probably seem obscure, but the best advice came from someone I had only a fleeting interaction with. As part of a graduate assessment day, I had an interview with a guy who was well into his seventies but still working and passionate about his business. At the end of our conversation, I asked what kept him motivated – he said it was the chance to keep learning every day. His words left more of an impression on me than I did on him – I didn’t get the job.
9. What or who inspires you, and why?
My partner Alice and my boys Charlie and Sam (although as teenagers they would hate being called boys). Family is everything.
10. You are incredibly busy in your professional life, what do you do outside of work to de-stress?
Spending time with the family and our Labrador Buddy, playing golf, music, reading, Sudoku. Pretty standard fare!
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