Leadership Lessons with... Amber Tovey, Head of Health, Porter Novelli

This month we interviewed Amber Tovey, Head of Health, Porter Novelli. Amber shared her thoughts on how hybrid working is having a positive effect on Porter Novelli’s culture and what they are doing to sustain it. She gives her thoughts on what qualities are needed from leaders in 2022 and what businesses are looking for form healthcare comm professionals.

Amber Tovey

After two years of leading organisations remotely, what have you learned about virtual leadership?

In some respects, the last two years have been a work in progress and we are all still learning. We had to quickly adapt to our new working environment and what works best for our employees and clients, and we are now all working together to fine-tune.

What we have learnt is that virtual leadership requires a very different skill set to in-person leadership. Working remotely means as leaders, we can no longer have those quick chats over the desk or discuss a new business brief whilst popping out for a sandwich. This has made it really important to dial-up team and individual connectivity and build that human connection in order to firmly create that sense of belonging & inclusion.

How is remote/hybrid working affecting your company culture and what can leaders do to sustain culture for remote teams?

Hybrid working is very positively influencing the culture at PN.

In my nearly four years at PN, I would say that the culture is the most positive it has been. This was backed up by a recent employee survey and is reflected in our very low staff turnover. Our staff retention rate is 96% which we are incredibly proud of.

Earlier this year, we launched our employee “Say Do” code of conduct– aligned to our company purpose of “closing the Say – Do gap for clients”. Our code was created to unify us as an agency following the introduction of hybrid working and encourages us all to really show up for one another, all day, every day!

Values within our code include having each other’s backs, respecting other’s expectations, and showing our appreciation.

To ensure we retain our positive culture, we host a number of virtual events including monthly all-agency meetings & virtual social events and we make our in-office days really count with a focus on creativity, collaboration, learning and most importantly, fun.

With an increasing focus on workplace mental health, how have you seen the industry supporting the wellbeing of its employees?

Even before the pandemic, we knew that PR professionals are significantly more likely to suffer from poor mental health compared with other workers in the UK.

In response to the pandemic, Healthcare PR saw significant growth but as a consequence, we were acutely aware that our teams were working harder than ever; sometimes in isolated working environments where mental health issues were able to manifest.

I think we are only really beginning to the see the impact that this period has had on mental health and as an industry, I feel there is a lot more we can do to encourage people to not be afraid and speak out if they are experiencing poor mental health. 

PR remains a fast-paced, high-energy, high-expectation industry and I know of so many friends and former colleagues in the industry who feel that “it’s still not okay to not be  okay”. This has to stop!

Post ‘the great resignation era’ – what challenges do you think leaders face in 2022?

For us the great resignation only worked in our favour as our headcount increased –  I think in part, fuelled by our reputation as having a very fair and fun working culture.

As leaders, the challenge is now around employee retention; ensuring we are very clear of employee personal growth plans and ensuring we are providing them with ample opportunity to work towards their goals.  

Agency roles are changing - finding interesting client accounts isn’t enough to attract and retain talent. We have to go a step further, to really work in partnership with each and every employee to ensure they have an opportunity to learn and be inspired and most critically, that their work aligns with their individual purpose and supports their career growth plans.

What do you think are the key qualities needed from leaders in 2022?

Honesty and transparency are absolutely key. But taking that a step further – empathy and authenticity are also really important. Personally, I pride myself on being able to connect with my team on an individual basis

The ability to make time for and listen to people is perhaps needed more than ever now too. We have had a really tough couple of years and there is definitely a greater need for people to connect more.

I believe that when you can demonstrate these qualities, it leads to greater trust in the team and ultimately, greater collaboration.

What skill sets do you think businesses within healthcare comms will be looking for now and in the coming years?

There are the obvious skills that clients will be looking for; access to data and insights, enhanced/robust measurement, creativity and innovation in the use of tech and digital channels to connect with audiences.

Precision audience mapping will only become a greater need over the next few years, where content can be packaged and quickly adapted to meet the needs of multiple audience types. This is something we are really focusing on at Porter Novelli through our Pathfinder technology.  

Fundamentally, whilst clients are always looking for the next communications trend, all clients will continue to place quality, chemistry, and client service at the top of their list of agency requirements - these continue to be the key skills and attributes that I instil within my team today.

What do you think leaders can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the workplace?

We can drive forward change in many ways but here are three examples; through workplace diversity; workplace inclusivity and sustained accountability. This approach has to be driven by leadership, with its own nominal expert leader and embedded within the core business strategy. At Porter Novelli, we are finding that meaningful partnerships, going cv-less, dropping a recruitment bounty and swapping the graduate programme for a Junior Account Executive / early careers scheme is really opening up our talent pool.  

The challenge remains around equity and how we level the playing field – we can bring people into the business but making them feel valued and included is the key. This requires the right structures, feedback mechanisms, training programmes, trained line managers, and dedicated learning and development programmes.

There is increasing expectation on companies and CEOs to lead on sustainability practice in line with 2030 Global Goals. What ESG strategies can leaders adopt for sustainable development and purpose?

We are part of Omnicom who are committed to achieving environmental goals of reducing energy use by 20% per employee using a 2015 baseline and increasing our use of electricity generated from renewable sources to 20% by 2023. Most recently in September 2021, Omnicom signed the Business Ambition for 1.5 C Pledge and recently joined the UK initiative Ad Net Zero, an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of participating marketing and advertising agencies, with the goal of reaching real net zero by the end of 2030.

We also have our own guidelines for business engagement, including our commitment to foster a culture of environmental responsibility via the clients we work with.

Posted on 19.08.2022

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