How I made it featuring Daniel Clay, Managing Director at Newgate Research

Hanson Search steps inside the world of Newgate Research to interview Daniel Clay, Managing Director for our 'Inspiring Stories' career series. Daniel shares his career journey, thoughts on building a successful team and the biggest challenges facing the industry today.

How did you get into the communications and marketing industry?

I started out in pure social research at Barnardo’s – the children’s charity - and from there moved on to various agencies and think tanks doing public sector research. These were all quite heavy, long-term projects and often the findings were out of date by the time you actually produced them which was hugely frustrating!

I took a conscious decision to move away from that and into something that was much more applied and so moved to an educational communications agency called EdComs. They support businesses to engage within the education sector, developing content and communications that builds brand profile while also promoting positive outcomes for children and young people. I worked there for five years for everything from big tech companies to banks and utilities – a broad range of multinational businesses. I then moved on to Kantar to head up qualitative research which also had a large communications component.

I joined Newgate earlier this year to set up Newgate Research and swung back fully into marketing and communications, which is the core of the broader Newgate Communications offering. My objective here is to ensure that we’re producing impactful, strategic communications support for clients and we do that in part through a really strong insight and evidence-base and then building an evaluation framework around that, so we can demonstrate the value of what we’re delivering.

What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

Researchers are often relatively introverted people – they take comfort in the data and the detail - so that transition from being a strong technical researcher into a good business leader and manager of people can be quite tough. Here at Newgate the challenge I’ve faced is having come from an organisation that had thousands of technical experts to call on to an organisation where there is a much smaller number. You rely less on technical expertise and more on building a deep understanding of your clients and their issue, leveraging partnerships and collaborations where needed. Establishing a new business and raising its profile is often about taking risks and being bold.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Be willing to take risks – which I think I have – and take new and novel opportunities where you can. The importance of networks cannot be underestimated, and it really pays to have a wide network of mentors and peers. Also, to be mindful that things change rapidly in ways you can’t always imagine and to embrace that rather than be fearful of it. Be open to challenges and to learning.

What do you think it takes to be successful personally and as an agency in 2019?

Personally, it’s about proving that you come from a credible stand-point and understand what constitutes quality research - prove yourself from a technical perspective before you have the credibility to influence strategy. Also, character and having an informed opinion on what you think is the key insight that your client should take from the work you’ve done. There is so much information available, it’s important to be able to offer credible advice.

As an agency in the communications and marketing space there are two main things that our clients want from us: for us to be strategic and creative in our work for them. You need to be really creative in how you get cut-through to support clients and get their messages out there.

Research has a role both on the strategic and creative front - by understanding what drives people’s emotions and behaviour, and in helping to use the insights that come through that thinking to direct strategy around key propositions and messages.

What do you see as key to the growth of a successful team and a positive working environment?

Diversity is critical. Your greatest skill as a researcher is empathy and being able to truly put yourself into other people’s shoes and this is where, going forward, the value-add will be: in interpretation and emotional understanding. In order to empathise one needs to be able to connect with people, and if you’re doing research with members of the general public in the UK there’s huge diversity there so you need to have a diverse group of people to be able to build that rapport. Diversity in the workforce should reflect who you’re trying to communicate with and understand, and also allow you to leverage different perspectives and be open to challenge.

A strong leader who has a very clear vision for a business is also really crucial, so that everyone knows the direction they’re headed in. Beyond that, having an environment where people are empowered to deliver work in different ways that plays to their individual strengths is good.

What is the biggest challenge that the industry will face over the next few years?

It’s the one that is faced now, and I can only anticipate will continue to grow, which is being able to engage people. There is so much noise and volume of ‘stuff’ competing for people’s attention that we as humans can’t cope and shut off. The personal firewall goes up. For the marcomms sector the challenge is in how to get the attention of people and how to gain their trust.

Name one technology – other than your phone – that you couldn’t live without

My bike – a very old technology. It’s simple, it’s effective, and – most importantly – it gives me one of the few times in the day when I can switch off (while still paying attention to the road, of course!) Life is busy, so having time to reflect every day while I get some exercise is really important to me.

Posted on 18.07.2019

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