Carrie Hindmarsh is CEO of M&C Saatchi Group’s advertising agency. Ms. Hindmarsh is a judge at the Veuve Clicquot Business Women of the Year Awards, which take place Wednesday night in London.
Here, she gives five lessons about women in business from her experiences in the advertising industry over the 21 years she has been in the sector and from her journey to the boardroom.
Lesson One: Difference Matters
At the beginning of my career, there were only a few women in senior positions in advertising where I have built my career. The industry had a deserved reputation as a boys-only club, and I’d often find myself to be the lone female in meetings.
As a woman in business then, you did need to be a little more persistent, a little more vocal. Change had been slow until five or so years ago, when suddenly, it seemed, women were everywhere.
There are many women in senior positions at M&C Saatchi these days, and increasingly in other large, traditionally male-dominated agencies. The most successful senior women I’ve worked with over the years, however, aren’t wannabe men, rather they are just really talented women.
I’ve learned that trying to be like someone else, because of a perceived advantage, doesn’t work in any part of life, least of all in business. There is no room for imposters in any part of a successful enterprise.
Women should be celebrating their different skills, their unique view and using their different life experiences to enhance their contribution in business.
Women aren’t a homogenous, one-size-fits-all group with a single voice. We are all different and valued whatever our gender. This ethos stretches across everything — we demand diversity in approach and thinking and a forum where all views are heard.
It’s not tokenistic or politically correct; in fact, it’s much more prosaic – different people, with opposing views, working to a common goal, to produce the best, most tested, challenged and robust work.
Lesson Two: Identify What Should change and What Should Stay the Same
Well-known advertising brands need to apply the same principles to their own business as they do to their clients’ brands — same thinking, same flexibility, same creativity. Knowing what to keep and what to change is really important to any business, and had a particular impact on advertising agencies as digital marketing began to boom, for instance.
I think what most of us miss, is that this is true of people as well as brands. I have spent most of my life in the same organisation, and change can feel overwhelming. But an honest appraisal of what’s working and what’s not is the key to success.
You need to be an expert in what you do, but understand and embrace where you need help, need to re-evaluate and change course. Success for brands, agencies and people means constantly checking that you are holding fast to your basic principles, whilst embracing a constantly evolving communications world.
Lesson Three: Creativity Is Always the Answer
Every day the average consumer is bombarded with over 1,000 marketing messages of which only 70-odd get noticed, only 20-odd register in some way and only two are remembered the next day. There is a massive volume of work going on to register with a small percentage of consumers.
We need all the help we can get in the creative industries to get these messages to cut through. Given that we know that women have the most power when it comes to purchasing decision, it seems odd that the majority of senior creative positions are dominated by men.
Although things are changing, women in senior creative positions have been as rare as hen’s teeth. A few years ago I worked with an exception, Tiger Savage our head of art. Ms. Savage is an energetic and a visionary creative.
Thankfully, we are further and further away from the chauvinistic depiction of advertising as found in the TV series Mad Men, where men were men and women served the coffee.
It is perhaps this old industry model that has led to the disproportionately small pool of female creatives. However, as more and more women start to nail the top creative jobs, both with brands and in agencies, perhaps we will remember more than just a couple of marketing messages.
Lesson Four: Feedback Breeds Success
It is easy for an organisation to turn an appraisal process into a tick-box exercise that managers view as a chore rather than something that can provide real value and an insight into how people work; their ambitions and how well they tie-in with the organisation’s mission.
Throughout my career, I’ve found that heads of human resources and training tend to be female. I was no exception, at one time overseeing that function as part of my brief. Investing in people and training has traditionally been seen as a “female” concern. Feedback, appraisals and training were seen to be “wanted” by women and “not necessary” by men.
This is one area of business that has transformed itself. Businesses now appreciate that appraisals and feedback are the means by which your employees can get better and the company becomes more successful. I have seen time and again how talented people don’t settle for an annual appraisal any more, they want formal appraisals twice a year and feedback once a month. I’ve watched these people grow and shine as they respond to the feedback they are given.
Asking for training and appraisals is now seen as a real strength for men and women. It is also a great equaliser — men and women doing the same job can enjoy the same advancement that training can bring and organisations that take people development seriously will reap the rewards by attracting the very best people of both sexes
Lesson Five: Emotional Intelligence
After being asked to be a judge at this year’s Veuve Clicquot Awards, I started to do my homework on previous winners and current nominees.
The talent and achievements of all these women is breathtaking and undeniable, but there is something unique about women at the top of their game. Most of them have a large dose of the much-maligned phrase — emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence was once seen as nothing more than a gimmick, and at worst, fraudulent.
During my research, I came across the 2010 winner — Laura Tennison — the founder of retailing company JoJo Maman Bebe. An incredible woman — driven, entrepreneurial and courageous — with all the assets you’d want in any business person. More interestingly, she was humble, funny and intuitive with a strong commitment to ethical business practises. In short, she is emotionally intelligent.
In my opinion, emotional intelligence is now valued as highly as IQ — businesses have woken to the value of highly developed emotional intelligence — the bottom line is, it affects the bottom line. Employees with intuition, empathy and people skills, are a tremendous asset to enterprise — they are persuasive and influential.
I think it is no coincidence that these important attributes, again, feel very female and therefore, traditionally, not as valuable. I think it’s a sign of progress that what were seen as less interesting qualities are now highly prized in business. This is good news for women, and great news for the economy.
It’s these ‘extra’ qualities — empathy, compassion and responsibility that set so many female leaders apart. The hidden, hard-to-quantify attributes are most often found, or at least displayed, in women. I’m not suggesting for a second that men don’t share these traits — the problem for the male of the species, is some of them have yet to realise these are great qualities to celebrate.