'How I made it' featuring Brendon Craigie, co-founder and managing partner, Tyto

How I made it: Brendon Craigie, co-founder and managing partner, Tyto  

For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.

We caught up with Brendon Craigie, the co-founder and managing partner of Tyto. In this role Brendon leads the agency, and is heavily involved in providing clients with counsel on strategic and creative matters. As an experienced global CEO, Brendon also enjoys working closely other CEOs on broader business and communications strategies. 

Prior to launching Tyto, Brendon was the global CEO of Hotwire. Brendon was part of the founding team at Hotwire and rose through the ranks to become CEO. During his six years as CEO he doubled the size of the company and repositioned it into a top 50 global challenger brand. Brendon’s achievements were recognized through multiple awards.

How did you get into communications?

Before I went to university I took a year out and worked for Greenpeace. That fascinated me and taught me a lot about how to engage the public and get them to be interested in a particular topic or issue. I then went to Leeds University, where I nurtured this interest; writing for the newspaper and organising events. Starting debates, getting people to think about a topic and getting a roomful of my peers to come along to an event because of how I’d framed a discussion gave me a real buzz. So after university, it seemed quite natural to go into PR, which is all about developing strategies to influence opinions and change views.

What personal attributes have helped you succeed during the course of your career?

Being a good listener. When I was growing up I went to eight different schools because my parents moved around a lot, so I had to be good at making friends quickly. And one way you can do this is to ask questions and take an interest. It’s important as a consultant too; you need to listen carefully before opening your mouth and sharing your own opinions.

I think another skill is being able to think strategically. Like a chess player, I’m always thinking two or three moves ahead, though I’m better at doing that in comms than I am at doing it in chess. Pragmatism is also important; I’m good at identifying the path of least resistance to get you from A to B.

What has been the biggest challenge during the course of your career?

I’ve managed a lot of people and I’ve loved that process of forming very strong, connected teams all shooting in the same direction. However, sometimes, you’ll find situations where you just can’t click with certain individuals. As someone who tries to be very honest and – to use a buzzword that’s in vogue – authentic, it’s hard when you just can’t get along with someone no matter how hard you try. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that this is just an area you can’t always succeed in; you can’t win all the time.

Have there been any crucial moments that have changed the course of your career?

After university, I joined a regional office of what is now Weber Shandwick and after a year transferred to Miller Shandwick, its tech arm.  After being in that role for a year, the boss [Kristin Syltevik] left to form a start-up and I followed, though many people would have thought I was crazy. I stayed at Hotwire for 17 years. Another turning point was – after completing the acquisition of my last company and about to turn 40 – I decided that I wanted a new challenge, so I gave up my amazing job and started an agency.

Who has inspired you during your career?

I’ve been really fortunate to work with some great people. One of my early bosses was a woman called Michelle McLaughlin. We worked on the Microsoft account together and she was a brilliant practitioner, excellent at delivering an amazing service to clients. I learned a lot from her.

Kristin Syltevik, the co-founder of Hotwire also taught me a lot about sales, marketing, the importance of drive and the energy and commitment it takes to be successful. The other co-founder of Hotwire, Anthony Wilson was also a strategic thinker. He had a persuasive but gentle style which employees really responded to and that really opened my mind to the different ways to motivate people. He was a strategic thinker and always used to stress the importance of “playing the long game”.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with a lot of entrepreneurs and I’ve always taken a little bit away from them too.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

In the process of developing Tyto, one great bit of advice was to be laser-focussed on what clients want. It’s very easy when executing a passion project – whether that’s launching a PR agency or a bakery - to focus on what it means for you and your story. But what we did when we launched Tyto was focus on the clients. We had so many conversations, tested our proposition and went through rigorous processes to identify what we stood for, and it was all based on what clients want.

What is the inspiration behind the name Tyto?

I wanted the business to be perceived as thoughtful, wise, and knowledgeable. Obviously, owls are seen as being wise and Tyto is name for the genus which includes the barn owl. I like things to have a story behind them, so if you look at the website, a lot of our visuals are taken above as a nod to the birds’ eye view of the barn owl.

What’s the concept behind Tyto?

We’re focussed on helping our clients solve business problems through the power of comms.

A lot of things that Tyto does are borne out of the frustrations I had perceived clients as having in previous roles, many of which related to the issue of working in silos. So, for example, we are breaking down the barriers between the interwoven worlds of innovation, technology and science. We also have the concept of ‘PR without borders’. The first part of this is recognising that the lines between PR and marketing are blurred. We are comfortable working in that space and taking an integrated approach.  The second part of this is the way we work with clients across the UK and Europe. We work as one team – there’s no ‘French team’ or ‘German team’ – and take a truly international view of the world.

What are your future plans for the agency?

To start with, I just really wanted to build an agency built around superb talent – a team of comms black belts with fantastic capabilities across Europe. Traditional agencies are about the pyramid model – a few senior people at the top and lots of people at the bottom. But I feel that our agency is built around our senior talent; these are people with eight or nine years of experience who love what they do, love being a practitioner and don’t want to go down the traditional agency ‘management’ route.

Longer term, I want us to stay true to our ethos, which is about being the ‘perfect partner’ – to employees, clients, journalists everyone we deal with. We need to make sure we don’t compromise on that

What does it take to be a great leader in 2018?

I think you just need to be able to empathise and understand and ideally connect with your audience. In today’s world you can’t be in an ivory tower. Leaders need to be able to take the pulse of their customers, clients, and employees to be able to understand how they can improve.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the communication industry in the next 10 years?

I think in the next 10 years there will be things that tech can do better than people and that will change things. However, I don’t think technology will challenge the core of what we can do; two things machines can’t do is coming up with ideas and communicating complexity.

What are the three words that best describe you as a communicator?

Thoughtful. Concise. Clear

What motivates you?

I think what motivates you changes but one consistent thing is that when stuff annoys me or frustrates me, I try to recycle that energy – the best way to deal with a problem is to do something about it. So I recycle negative energy and try to channel it into positive action.

What would you be doing if you weren’t working in communications?

I’d be a chef. A lot of what we do is quite intangible, but I like working with my hands, inventing things and pleasing people. Cooking allows you to do that.


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