Taylor Bennett’s Kate Hamilton-Baily on what executives are looking for when it comes to top communicators

Reputation management and internal communications are two skill-sets in demand, according to Kate Hamilton-Baily

Reputation management and internal communications are two skill-sets in demand, according to Kate Hamilton-Baily

There’s been much talk about communications and how the role of the communicator is changing. As part of this debate, I wanted to get a different insight. I spoke to Kate Hamilton-Baily, Director at the leading global communications executive search firm, Taylor Bennett, to get her perspective on what business executives are looking for from their communication directors and what we need to do to make sure that we’re prepared for today’s job market. Kate spoke at IABC’s Eurocomm 2016 event in Rotterdam. I caught up with Kate to ask her a couple of questions on issues such as skills, employability and the convergence of marketing and communications.

Alex: So tell me about yourself Kate.

Kate: I’m one of the directors of Taylor Bennett, an specialist executive search firm which focuses purely on senior communications roles. With our sister companies Heyman Associates in the United States and Taylor Bennett Heyman, in Asia and Australasia. We have fifty search professionals globally focused on senior communications briefs and we meet over two thousand senior communications professionals every year, so we have a pretty good understanding of what is shaping today’s top communicators.

Alex: So, what are the big communications issues that executives care about?

Kate: Reputational management has moved up the agenda following the financial crash in 2008. It is now recognized as having a tangible impact on the success of a business or organization or institution. In line with this has been the breakdown of trust between the public, government and many parts of the business world, alongside the growth of digitization and an incredible range of new social media channels. Internal communications and engagement has really come of age and is seen as a strategic and important discipline. Then there is the convergence between marketing and communications.

Digital has had a major impact on the communications role, as has the breakdown in trust between the public, government and business. Executives want someone who can cut through all of the data and tell the organization’s story in a creative, transparent way that will engage multiple audiences externally and internally. They’re looking for a talent that can marry the gap between what the organization says and means and what the public hears and understands.

Alex: What other issues are you seeing? What is driving communications?

Kate: We’re witnessing the need for both deep expertise in areas such as internal communications and engagement but also broad corporate leadership attributes and skills at the top end able to understand how to campaign effectively and get their message across in a very noisy world. Business understanding remains critical.

If I look into career progression, mid-career experiences are vital in terms of your future progression. So, for example, if you have only worked in an external communications role, or in government relations, spending a year in internal communications will give you a completely different perspective and really help as you go for more senior director level roles.

Alex: Tell me about convergence. What does this concept mean to communicators and their careers?

Kate: Convergence has been around for a while, especially in the B2B space. Marketing used to lead communications especially in the B2C sectors, but with concepts such as reputation management it’s become more complex. You’re now seeing communication directors who have responsibility for the corporate brand. And on the flip side, CMOs who are responsible for a far more fluid and complex communications landscape. However, there is an opportunity for communicators to learn from their colleagues in marketing especially around adopting a strategic and analytical approach and merge those skills with the storytelling approach that communicators are expert in. Measurement isn’t a natural focus for some communicators but this is changing. And then there’s the ownership of channels, such as social media. That can be a difficult internal debate. Communicators also need to be very well networked, to know the business and understand the challenges that other functions and colleagues, in operations, HR and IT face so, that they can step in and support them.

Alex: What skills, experiences and personal attributes do clients ask for?

Kate: This varies based on the business leader and the industry they’re in. There’s a real variance in what the ideal communications leader looks like based on the business, the organization and what the CEO is looking to do.

There are general trends, however. Internal communications and engagement has moved up the CEO’s agenda. And many business leaders are looking for a strong, integrated in-house approach featuring the full complement of skills communications, public affairs, sustainability and internal communications that can work across multiple markets.

What I’d add is that business leaders want a communications person who has good judgment, who can offer strong counsel in a crisis, who understands the business, is a good leader and who can make a meaningful contribution to the business whilst building a strong communications team. There is a long list!

Alex: How should a communicator assess their abilities and look to get ahead?

Kate: Firstly, we want to understand what you have done in your career and how you did it. The context of the challenge, the a-b journey. People in communications can change sectors and the ability to adapt to different cultures and industries is highly valued. We are also interested in your leadership and management capability. How have you developed your team, what lessons have you learned and what challenges have you faced. Who you are as a person and what motivates you is really important to understand. Some firms will use psychometrics within a process to help understand how people will fit in and behave in contrast to others. And there’s the interview process which can be multifaceted, in order to get different viewpoints.

Alex: What’s your one piece of advice to communicators in terms of what they should do to help their career prospects?

Kate: Challenge yourself, don’t be afraid of changing sectors. Ask to do different things, ask for more responsibility, to be seconded to a different country, or have the opportunity to work on a new project. Know your strengths and areas for development and work on them. Network. Most importantly enjoy what you do. And of course, get to know headhunters!

Does the Bloomberg deal with ADGM impact its impartiality or not?

Does this deal with ADGM (pictured) mean something for Bloomberg's journalistic impartiality in the region?

Does this deal with ADGM (pictured) mean something for Bloomberg’s journalistic impartiality in the region?

The issue of impartiality is one which is seldom discussed in the Middle East – this probably isn’t a surprise when considering that much of the region’s press is owned by some form of government authority. However, when it comes to international media the issue of impartiality is a different story. Journalists from abroad, news wires in particular, often have to navigate the challenging waters of what to report on and how to report. They know that the consequences of their work can be dire, and I have known several brave journalists who have been asked to leave the country they were based in. For me, they’re often the most trusted source of information.

The deal between Bloomberg and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the aspiring, brand new international financial centre located in the heart of the UAE’s capital city, was announced last week. The deal, which had been in the works for some time, will include the following details as reported by The National:

The partnership will involve major media initiatives from a new office on ADGM’s Al Maryah Island base, including a dedicated digital platform, new programming and an annual conference of global business leaders in the capital.

Tracy Alloway, Bloomberg’s executive editor of markets, based in New York, and a former Financial Times US correspondent, will lead the ADGM editorial operation.

The TV centrepiece of the new initiative will be a daily global markets programme, from new studios in the Dubai International Financial Centre, which will include editorial content from Ms Alloway broadcast live from ADGM.

A new “anchor” broadcaster will soon be named to present the show, which will seek to bridge the gap between Asian and European markets in Bloomberg’s global network.

There will also be a dedicated Middle East edition of the Bloomberg website, with original input from its 80-strong editorial team, headquartered in Dubai.

I heard about the deal some time back, and what was said to me was that ADGM would be financially supporting Bloomberg’s news organization in Abu Dhabi. It’s a great deal for ADGM, which was recently set up and which has aspirations to become a global hub for financial trading. Alongside the likes of Reuters and Dow Jones, Bloomberg is a global name when it comes to business reporting.

However, is impartiality impacted when money is involved? How will Bloomberg report bad news from ADGM? And how would ADGM respond? All of us who have worked in the media industry in the region know stories of how publishers will behave differently for advertisers, often not reporting negative pieces and instead pushing out good news.

Bloomberg is a different proposition to a local publication; its reporters do write everything, warts and all. Similarly, there’s been a major push to make ADGM a global player on the financial stage, with experienced executives brought in from Singapore and London.

For the sake of argument, let’s address the elephant in the room. As a matter of principle, should Bloomberg have said yes to the deal? Even if no reporting lines are broken, does the deal imply that there could be a measure of bias? Time will tell and each and every organization has its ups and downs. I’m looking forward to seeing Bloomberg’s new setup in ADGM and what it means for journalism and impartiality in the Middle East.

What Customer Service? Etisalat and its inability to put customers first…

Etisalat never ceases to transform me into a mass of seething rage and frustration thanks to its inability to do anything right for its consumers

Etisalat never ceases to transform me into a mass of seething rage and frustration thanks to its inability to do anything right for its consumers

I’m a patient man. Really, I am (I can imagine my wife shaking her head right now, but it’s true). I can put up with anything. It’s just that I don’t want to give up the good fight when it comes to telling companies that we customers in the Gulf (and especially in the UAE) deserve more. Here’s one story of a company that could do a whole lot more to be customer-friendly, my favorite Etisalat.

At the beginning of the year, I was jumping up and down with excitement. For the first time I could change my home internet provider at my home in Abu Dhabi. For years, I’d been stuck with Etisalat and its atrociously poor customer service. Now, I could move to Du. I took up the opportunity, and moved. Unfortunately, no matter how much I wanted it to work, it was a doomed romance. I couldn’t get television services as part of my internet and telephone services (I still can’t explain this one), and, most importantly, Du’s internet connection was poor and often dropped. With a tear in my eye, I had to go back to Etisalat.

I head on down to one of Etisalat’s outlets and make the request for internet at home. The request was simple enough, until we got to the nitty gritty of the agreement which included a router and phone. There was no need for either, I explained, as I’d already spent on both. No worries, I was told by the sales person, I could use my routers but I’d still have to take the router and phone as part of the package (in other words, the package was fixed).

First step done, I waited for the engineer to come around. He did and he had a look at my internet setup. He then asked if could set up the network, including the Etisalat router, a D-Link AC1750 router. I said I’d like my router set up, a Linksys WRT1900ac which I’d already spent a significant chunk of money on and which I’d already set up for my home.

After an hour of ‘discussion’, including lines such as ‘the Etisalat connection will only work with the D-Link router from Etisalat’, and that ‘the Linksys wouldn’t work as it couldn’t be configured’ (both of which were utter nonsense), I spoke to a supervisor who told me that it was a sales decision and that I’d need to go back to the store to sort it out. I even offered to take the router but not to use it. My request was turned down. In essence, no Etisalat router installed = no internet.

Two days later, I received an SMS saying that my original request for internet had been declined and that I’d have to make a new request. Which of course I did, and during which I asked the same things, to be told the same excuses. Essentially, someone in head office had decided that he knew best, better than his customers, and that without a router from Etisalat, which we pay for, we can’t get internet from Etisalat.

What pains me throughout this is that I’m not alone in my point of view (and my suffering). The first engineer explained that every day new seven or eight customers would tell him the same thing, and yet he couldn’t do anything. All that we customers can do is dump our expensive kit so that someone in Etisalat can make more money. Forget listening to the customer, forget keeping them happy and increasing their average spend through giving them what they want. Let’s ram products down their throat as there’s nowhere they can go and no one they can complain to. It’s naturally disappointing, especially when you consider the leaps and bounds that are being made by other operators across the globe, even here in the Gulf.

The experience was topped off by my wife paying the second engineer to reconfigure all of our wireless extenders at home to work with the new router.

Customer service and Etisalat? It seems I, like many others, have no choice but to suffer as we wait for a customer-centric epiphany among Etisalat’s executive management.