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Leadership Series for Milk and Honey: Kirsty Leighton Founder and Group CEO

We spoke with Kirsty Leighton, Founder and Group CEO of Milk & Honey, shares her journey of transforming the company into a B Corp, expanding globally, and embracing an Employee Ownership Trust.

Milk & Honey has been a B Corp for almost five years (with an incredible score!) along with many other notable accolades. Can you share some insights into this journey?

About five years ago, when our business was still in its early stages, I wanted to substantiate our values in a tangible way. While certain aspects like collaboration were relatively straightforward to demonstrate, I grappled with how to validate the concept of respect. How could we convincingly show our dedication to respect rather than merely stating it?

I stumbled upon the B Corp movement back in 2019, it was still in its early stages in the UK, with fewer than 200 accredited organisations, I felt it offered a comprehensive framework covering governance, workers, customers, community, and the environment, providing not only validation for our ideals, but also offering a clear pathway for improvement.

Our journey towards B Corp accreditation was surprisingly swift, our prior experience with ISO 9000 organisations provided a solid foundation for navigating the accreditation process. Becoming PRCA CMS accredited further bolstered our credentials, ensuring that we weren't lacking in status or best practices. What sets the B Corp certification apart is its holistic approach, encompassing societal and environmental considerations. This broader perspective has not only reshaped our organisational structure but has also influenced our approach to client work.

On a personal level, this journey has transformed my outlook on business leadership, guiding me towards a more ambitious vision for Milk & Honey. It has prompted introspection into the type of people we aim to attract and the kind of work we aspire to undertake. Our B Corp journey has not only enhanced our organisational ethos but has also spurred us towards greater aspirations for positive impact and sustainable growth.

You’ve expanded into the US, Germany, and Singapore. How did you find these expansion efforts? Do you have plans for future expansion, and have you learned anything from your journeys that you’d implement next time?

Our expansion efforts were guided by our people-first approach and a commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces globally. Each expansion was a learning experience, from the challenges in Australia to the successes in the US, Germany, and Singapore. We've realised the importance of selecting the right talent and ensuring cultural alignment for successful ventures. Moving forward, we remain open to new opportunities while leveraging the lessons learned to drive future expansions. Our expansion strategy emphasises building strong local teams that understand the unique needs and dynamics of each market while staying true to our core values and vision.

Milk & Honey has been an EOT for almost three years, so clearly look beyond traditional incentives. What impact do you notice this having on the business, and what other recommendations would you have to help cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce?

As an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), we prioritise values like respect, collaboration, and transparency, fostering a culture where employees feel empowered and motivated to contribute their best. This unique ownership structure has transformed the way we operate, with every team member having a stake in the company's success. We've observed higher levels of engagement, creativity, and commitment among our workforce, leading to enhanced client satisfaction and business performance. To cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce, I recommend prioritising purpose-driven initiatives, continuous learning opportunities, and transparent communication channels. By aligning employee interests with organisational goals, companies can foster a sense of ownership and accountability, driving sustainable growth and success.

Milk & Honey has kicked off 2024 with your new Broadcast and Podcast division, looking to deliver longform narratives over time instead of brief flashes of news. What would you like clients to take away from these podcasts?

Our new Broadcast and Podcast division aims to enrich client experiences by delivering long-form narratives that inspire, educate, and engage audiences on a deeper level.

Through these podcasts, we invite clients to explore complex issues, diverse perspectives, and emerging trends shaping our world. We hope these narratives will spark meaningful conversations, foster connections, and drive positive change in the communities we serve. By leveraging the power of storytelling, we aim to create authentic and memorable experiences that resonate with our clients and their audiences, driving deeper engagement and brand loyalty.

Given the dynamic nature of the communications industry, what are the essential qualities you believe leaders must possess to effectively navigate challenges and drive success in their agencies today?

Effective leaders in the communications industry must embody qualities of empathy, adaptability, and inclusivity. In today's rapidly evolving landscape, leaders must be able to navigate complexity, uncertainty, and change while staying true to their values and vision. By listening to diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of collaboration, and leading with integrity, leaders can build resilient teams and drive innovation in their agencies.

Furthermore, leaders must prioritise continuous learning, stay informed about emerging trends and technologies, and embrace a growth mindset to thrive in a dynamic and competitive industry.

Looking ahead, what specific skill sets do you anticipate PR businesses will prioritise in the coming years, and how are these influenced by emerging AI technology?

In the evolving landscape of PR, businesses are poised to prioritise skill sets centred around curiosity, adaptability, and strategic thinking in the face of emerging AI technology. As AI continues to reshape the industry, PR professionals must embrace technological advancements while honing their human-centric skills, such as storytelling, relationship-building, and critical thinking.

By leveraging AI tools responsibly and creatively, PR professionals can enhance their ability to analyse data, personalise communications, and measure impact, driving more effective and targeted campaigns. However, the human touch remains essential, and PR professionals must continue to prioritise empathy, creativity, and authenticity in their interactions with clients and stakeholders.

What progressive ESG strategies do you believe PR agency leaders can adopt to align with the 2030 Global Goals, and how might economic fluctuations impact these sustainability efforts?

PR agency leaders can adopt progressive ESG strategies to align with the 2030 Global Goals, addressing pressing environmental and social challenges while promoting responsible business practices. By integrating sustainability into their operations, PR agencies can reduce their environmental footprint, promote diversity and inclusion, and contribute to positive social impact. However, economic fluctuations may pose challenges to sustainability efforts, requiring leaders to remain resilient, agile, and adaptable in their approach. Despite uncertainties, prioritising sustainability can drive long-term value creation, enhance brand reputation, and foster stakeholder trust, positioning PR agencies as responsible corporate citizens and catalysts for positive change.

What are your predictions for the year ahead in the communications industry?

Despite ongoing uncertainties, Milk & Honey remains focused on bottom-line profitability and GE20-aligned priorities. We anticipate continued challenges in the industry, driven by economic fluctuations, regulatory shifts, and evolving consumer expectations. However, we remain optimistic about the growth opportunities presented by organisations committed to making a positive impact on the world. As the communications landscape continues to evolve, we anticipate increased demand for innovative solutions, data-driven insights, and purpose-driven storytelling.

For us – we will stay agile, adaptive, and customer-centric, we are confident in our ability to navigate challenges and drive success in the year ahead, delivering value to our clients and stakeholders while advancing our mission of making a meaningful difference in the world. Each aspect of Milk & Honey's journey reflects our unwavering commitment to ethical leadership, innovation, and purpose-driven growth in the communications industry.

Posted on 13.06.2024

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