Emma King

Navigating the industry as a woman

The Friday Street Club

This article originally appeared on Marklives.

We’ve had some strong women making the news recently. From our feisty public protector showing the country who is boss to Maya Angelou’s legacy, we have had no lack of inspiring role models paving the way for future strong women.

But in amongst that there are a few whisperings that leave me uncomfortable: a shortage of women MPs and representatives at a high level in our newly formed government; atrocities committed to women in the name of religion; and debates about whether stars such as Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé can be good businesswomen while also embracing their sexuality.

Perhaps we have some way to go before we can consider the place of women in society as completely equal to men.

My mother is an eminent scientist who, in the ’80s, headed up some developments and processes that became industry-leading globally. It resulted in her being a consultant at a high level for institutions including the UN and the World Bank, and being on the Mekong River Commission — a collaboration of four countries brought together to manage the Mekong River in South East Asia. She’s recently just been to the Hague to sit as an expert witness in the International Court of Arbitration, where Pakistan was suing India about shared water use.

So she’s definitely badass.

And yet, even she has stories about how she has been treated as an inferior because she is a woman, such as engineers refusing to answer her letters when she signed her full name but then engaging with her when she dropped her first name, and used just the prefix “Dr”.

Personally, I have never felt as if I’ve have been held back in my career because of being a woman. But, bar PR agencies (which have a higher than average women/men ratio, for reasons we won’t go into here), we would be hard-pressed to name more than a handful of MDs, CEOs or ECDs of major local creative companies who are women.

Why is that? Is it because we are intimidated by the old boys clubs? Are we ‘distracted’ by marriage and having children? Are we just not cut out for it?

We are bombarded by advice on how to progress as women in a man-dominated world. We’re told to act more like a man, to get tougher and be one of the boys. We are urged to “lean in”.

But I don’t know that there is one right answer that works for everyone in how to tiptoe and navigate through tricky territory. Personally, I’ve found embracing both a masculine and feminine approach to getting ahead works well for me.

That means, on the one hand, learning from the men in how to play the game. Being tough; being confident to have a strong opinion and to compete with colleagues; and being able to separate emotional and rational approaches to problem-solving.

But hand in hand with that is the understanding that being a woman can be an advantage, not a disadvantage. There’s a lot to be achieved from having empathy with a colleague, nurturing a junior member of staff and using intuition to solve a problem or come up with a solution.

Women make good managers — not just because of the stereotypical ability to multitask — but because they are empathetic and not so inclined to be driven by ego. And mothers are even better managers — they know when to fight for something, and when to let it go, and they are used to dealing with egotistical, spoilt brats (and those are just their colleagues!).

I think the old days of the ’80s, when women had to parade around in big shoulder pads in order to compete with the gang of guys, is over. We don’t need to pretend to be guys but we don’t need to be simpering idiots in pink either. We’re lucky that we can, in the most part, choose to have a tequila with the boys on one day yet demand to work decent hours to be home with family the next.

So, guys, take note: there are some damn smart, awesome women in our industry. And we can work on the beer and cars brands, too, not just on the cosmetics campaigns!

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com

Dear brands: Please stop (the dumb) things you do

The Friday Street Club

This article first appeared in Marklives.

Last month, I wrote about some things that I think we, as agencies, should stop doing. It was inspired by a book I’d been reading, which talked about the difference between good and great companies — the latter being ones that focus not just on what to do but also what not to do, and what to stop doing.

In a similar vein, it’s interesting to look at what our partners — the brands we work with — should not do, or should stop doing. Here are some of the things that bug me the most.

1. Stop giving away things free of charge!

Everyone loves a freebie — that little hamper of goodies won by commenting on a Facebook post or the stash of products that arrive by magic for referring friends.

Being a brand that is generous as part of its strategy to encourage trial and recommendation is no bad thing. But, when the giving away of stuff becomes all that a brand does, it devalues itself.

With that, the customers who flock to your social-media pages for freebies will NEVER be the ones who flock to your stores to part with cold, hard cash.

2. Stop asking for things free of charge!

There are those brands (you know who you are!) that think it’s OK to ask for services for nothing or in exchange for product. But, nice as it is to get some free shizz, the stash of stuff you want to give me is not going to pay my mortgage — and most suppliers (those who are any good) do not need to work ‘for free’ in order to “boost their portfolio”.

You wouldn’t go into Pick n Pay and ask for a leg of lamb for free, or in exchange for a hamper of your homemade, strawberry-flavoured mampoer. So don’t do it. It’s rude.

(Linked to this are the brands that want PR companies to work for them because they don’t have any budget and want ‘free’ advertising. Grrrrrrrr.)

3. Don’t get sucked in by the BS

We know. The world of marketing and social media and research and all that malarkey can be confusing. Especially if you don’t come from a background in it.

But don’t think that you need to do everything just because other people are doing it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you are a combine-harvester manufacturer in the Free State targeting old and middle-aged farmers, you don’t need to have a Facebook page, Twitter handle, Google + account, YouTube channel and blog from your CEO to be successful, just because everyone else is.

Likewise, if you team is getting sold something that sounds good to be true, it probably is. Being promised Heidi Klum in a helicopter for your R3 budget? Be prepared for an old bird on the back of scooter.

There are a lot of charlatans who are making a pretty penny from selling things to brands that they don’t understand or can’t afford. Don’t be sucked in.

4. Don’t try to be something you’re not

There’s no need to spend all your time emulating the big brands and trying to be them. They took ages to get there, and spent a whole lot of money. They have that corner of the market nailed now, anyway.

Don’t be shy because you have a local product with a quirky twist or interesting people who work for you. Embrace it and be authentic. We love that.

5. Don’t think that your brand is made just by your marketing team

Many brands — the ones that don’t ‘get it’ — leave all that “marketing stuff” to the marketing team, the rest of the business instead being focused on financials and sales projections and so on.

But the brands that do ‘get it’ know that every single part of the business is what makes or breaks a strong brand — not just the label that gets stuck on the box, or the ad that goes in the newspaper, or the statement that the PR person puts out.

Strong brands know that everything — from the people whom are hired and the way the leadership team behaves to the way the business operates within its community — builds a reputation and builds a brand. It doesn’t matter how much the veneer is polished; a rotten core cannot be hidden.

Sounds complicated?

Not really.

Just be authentic, think big, and treat people the way that you would like people to treat you and your family. Easy.

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com

Business mistakes that hold us back

The Friday Street Club

This article originally appeared in Marklives.

In Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great”, he conducted research into how a good company can become a great one. One of the key things he discovered is that “…great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing”.

So what are we, as PR and communications agencies, doing that perhaps we shouldn’t? Here are some of the things that immediately spring to mind:

1. Working with tyrants because we want their money

It’s an age-old problem — the people with the cash are often psychopaths (there’s obviously some universal law about wealth being inversely proportionate to personality).

In the corporate world, this often means that some of the biggest-paying clients are hard to work for, and doing so is often detrimental to your business’s ways of working and your employees’ morale.

Despite the mental abuse, we kowtow to these clients because they pay our bills (and, more importantly, our salaries). And, in doing this, we compromise our values, our culture, and our self-respect.

So what would happen if we decide to chase the right work and not the cash? Hopefully, we wouldn’t go out of business. I like to think, instead, that if we build an operation that is focused on values rather than cash, we would attract likeminded partners to work with (and, hopefully, the cash would then follow).

2. Trying to force old business models to suit new ways of working

One of the mistakes I see happening time and again is with established companies that are desperately trying to squeeze and squash their existing business model to service clients’ needs today.

Yet an ad agency whose entire way of operating is based around creating epic TV ads will always be too expensive and slow to service the quick and clever turnaround of social media. And a PR business whose only skill set is churning out self-congratulatory press releases will never be able to shine when results are not measured in AVE.

The most exciting and successful businesses are those that are brave away to throw away the outdated and clunky structures they have relied on for decades, and that are flexible enough to build new ones around the very real ways in which we need to operate.

3. Prioritising process over getting shit done

This relates to the above point.

When processes get in the way of delivering work faster and better, they are not processes. They are hurdles. Get rid of them.

4. Operating in hierarchy silos

Old ways of working place an importance on hierarchy and autocracy. Yet this discounts the value that all employees can contribute.

Yes, there needs to be management structures and leadership. But debate and collaboration with all members of staff can deliver innovative, relevant and surprising results. And, in any case, it also makes staff empowered to play a meaningful role in the company, rather than being a bunch of foot soldiers blindly clocking in and out.

5. Focusing on channels and not communities

This one’s for PR agencies. Delivering coverage just through traditional (or even non-traditional) media channels shows a lack of understanding of how things work today.

Instead, we need to look at what communities we need to reach — maybe it’s a group of fans on Facebook, maybe a community of residents who live in a certain area, perhaps a group of likeminded people who are passionate about a cause.

Then we need to look at what they want to receive and how we can be part of that — and, many times, this won’t be through a press release and traditional media coverage. It may just as likely be video, an event, or face-to-face briefings. Or, even better, an innovation and new kind of service or product.

6. Relying on research and marketing models over instinct

A wise colleague once said to me: “There are two kinds of marketers: those who can encapsulate an entire brand strategy in one picture, and those who rely on templates to develop one.”

I know whom I’d rather entrust with my brand.

An agency or a marketer who believes in death by powerpoint, and that a brand is made better through a million “brand pyramids” that “ladder up” to something, is dangerous, whereas those who are brave enough to trust instinct over research are the ones that make exciting work that resonates.

The learnings in all of this? Be brave, innovate and embrace input from colleagues and outsiders, no matter their experience. Above all, be prepared to look at things when they are not working, to throw them away, and to create new ways to make magic happen.

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissindent Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.