The Group CEO of Hotwire talks leadership and loyalty with Heather Baker.
Hotwire is a global PR and communications agency dedicated to helping forward-looking organisations to manage reputations in a rapidly evolving influencer landscape. In addition to Hotwire, sister agencies 33 Digital and CPR help make up 13 global offices
After graduating, I joined the tech division at Weber Shandwick. I enjoyed it there, but being part of a large agency, I was in an environment where I couldn’t progress as fast as I was capable of progressing. There is so much structure, so much formality that it becomes difficult for people to fill their potential. When my boss took the leap and set up Hotwire, I jumped at the opportunity to join the company as a Senior Account Exec. I was employee number seven and really respected what the founders were doing with the business. They had real focus and the ambition to grow the company.
Hotwire took the tech PR niche and broke it down into further specialisms. I joined as someone mad about the telecom sector and became the head of the telecoms practice for the first few years. I then took on another practice and became the boss of the UK operations. Then I did a stint overseeing the offices outside of the UK before coming back to run the UK business again. By the time I became Group CEO in 2011, I had done most jobs in the company.
I could never isolate it to one day, but when we get our global team together, which we do every year to give people a strategic update, it’s one of my proudest times. I joined the company when we were in a crappy office in east London and it’s great to look at the incredible team that we have pulled together in such a short time.
There are always bumps along the road – people move on, we lose the odd pitch, or we lose clients (although our client and staff retention ratios are very high). I’m fairly philosophical about these things – as long as you are generally moving forward then it’s okay. We’ve pretty much had 13 years of consistent year on year growth, so while there were some days when things have not gone well. But I always think about the long term. Where you are going career-wise and business-wise will be aligned. I try not to get distracted and overreact to some of the day to day issues - keep my eye focussed on the long term.
It’s always very interesting when you look at people’s careers – I put a lot of stock in loyalty. Personally I think it bears fruit. When you move around you don’t get there as quickly as the person who stays in one place. I’ve seen so many people who repeatedly make bad career moves and often go sideways. But it’s also down to creating an environment where people feel they can stay. Growth creates opportunity.
But there are two things you need to do. The first is to develop the talent around you, recognise the strengths in others and potentially recognise your own weaknesses. Your future success and the opportunity for you to get into a senior position are largely dictated by your ability to grow the talent beneath you.
You also need to be very open in terms of feedback on how you or the area of business you run can improve. You need to put yourself out there
Aspiring leaders often make the mistake of thinking they have to have the answers to everything and being too defensive about opening up and asking for feedback.
Hotwire invests a lot into training of staff. One of the things I love about the company is the focus on finding the brightest, smartest, most ambitious people around and then providing an environment that allows them to flourish.
We offer extensive training. Our Hotwire Global Academy provides training to staff from generic skills through to more innovative and substantial management training. So I got to where I am through a combination of investment and on the job stuff and a very entrepreneurial culture.
I believe in investing in talent. We just closed entries for our UK grad scheme. We had 570 applications.
I’ve always been fairly comfortable with the finances. We put a huge emphasis on people being commercially and business savvy. We are very commercially minded as a firm, from the way we look at communication challenges and design campaigns. This translates into how we communicate with clients. We are commercially minded, transparent, have honest conversations and develop an understanding the business. As a result, a number of our clients have been with us for over ten years.
We set very clear targets and make sure that they are achievable and realists. And then we have systems and processes in place which mean people are accountable for those targets and are given all the info they need to understand how they are doing against those targets. We have an amazing finance team.
The most important thing is that it’s incredibly difficult to differentiate a PR business. Investing in some sort of intellectual property (i.e. products or services that others don’t have) and clear differentiators, such as innovative structure or unique talent or expertise. It’s no good marketing or selling something that’s not different in the first place. If you want to grow a business aggressively you have to be good at your own marketing and PR – we treat Hotwire as an account within the business.
The focus of our business is to build it into a global alternative to the established, recognised brands. We need to continue to expand geographically. We expanded into New York last year, and this has grown very successfully. In 2013 we’ll be opening in San Francisco and will continue to develop a strong global affiliate network. One of the things we are looking to do is take the 33 Digital (our digital brand) into other markets, which we’re already doing (in Australia) – we’re going to offer clients something quite ground breaking. You cannot stand still in this industry.
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The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, founder of TopLine Comms, and inbound marketing, B2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact the B2B PR Blog editorial team via email on [email protected].
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