Chris Hinze of Hogan Lovells chats with us about the importance of humour, resilience, and a sense of perspective
Following the success of our Global Power Book #PRProSeries, we continue the series exploring the careers of the most powerful communications pros around the world today. Grant Somerville, Consultant at Hanson Search, sits down with Chris Hinze, Global Head of Communications of Hogan Lovells, to find out how he made it in the industry.
How did you get into communications?
When I was at university I was president of the Oxford University Industrial Society, which is the second largest student organisation. It had a six-figure turnover, which back in the 1980s was a lot of money. Over an eight week period, we ran somewhere in the region of 40-plus events and the communications and marketing side of things was fundamental to that plus the problem solving when things didn't go to plan…. One day I noticed an advert in the university milk round newsletter for an upcoming presentation by Burston-Marsteller. Alison Canning did a presentation on crisis management. I sat there and thought: “That looks like fun, I want to do that for a living”. It struck me as interesting, intellectually demanding, with the chance to make a real impact in your work on the world and on the bottom line.
What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?
A very strong sense of humour and resilience. I don't think you can do this job without them. What goes with that is a sense of perspective. The combination of those things together enable you stand back from the day to day minutiae of what is going on and look at the bigger picture. It allows you to identify whether people are getting worked up over nothing while missing something elsewhere that is actually important.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I’m going to cheat and say two, possibly three, and they’re all related. The first one is when I worked for Arthur Andersen when they had a network of law firms called Andersen Legal back in the early 2000s as their global head of marketing and communications. The business fell apart on the back of the Enron scandal and the indictment of Arthur Andersen, so I was in the position of being head of communications of an organisation that was tearing apart as the different firms and partners had to find homes for themselves. Being involved in communications during a winding down and sale process took everything I knew about protecting the reputation of an organization and turned it totally on its head to instead focus on protecting and promoting its people. So from a learning point of view, it was a very good experience and forced me to think more broadly about perspective and what a 'crisis' actually means.
The second major challenge was the combination of Lovells and Hogan & Hartson in 2010, which was the largest transatlantic law firm merger. It felt like I was working both sides of the deal, driving the communications program for both parties in the run-up and implementation stages and covering everything from brand to media relations, internal communications and beyond. It was an immense project with absolutely fixed deadlines and a great team involved to make it happen.
The third challenge was relatively recent. We lost an associate in the Bataclan attack last year in Paris and that put us into the spotlight in a way that was very different to what we have experienced before. We’ve sadly had to manage the communications around fatalities in the past, but this was an appalling incident playing out on the global stage. The work had to be done quickly, with immense sensitivity and tact, a close eye on internal communications and a sense of deep loss, and clarity around your external communications. It was one of those situations where you have zero notice and you’ve got to get it right immediately using the combination of experience and judgment.
Can you pinpoint any crucial moments in your career that changed its course?
I think the collapse of Andersen. I was happy there, so I suspect I would have stayed a lot longer. Afterwards, I returned to consulting work which in turn set me up for the time I've now spent at Hogan Lovells.
Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve ever worked with?
Nan Williams at Four Communications was very inspiring. She was good at helping shape how you think and how you go about client service and dealing with challenging clients – she knows which ones! It gave me a very solid grounding. The other inspiring person is the chief marketing office at Hogan Lovells, Serena Simmons. Serena is excellent at applying strong intellectual vigour and rigour to what you’re doing. She thinks strategically and is focussed on making sure the work that is done is in the best interests of the business. I think that provides an additional layer of check and balance to the work we do. She’s fantastic at giving you room to do the job.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Jennifer Potter, head of Charles Barker’s consumer division, once told me that the role of the public relations person is akin to that of the court jester. They’re one of the few people who are able to whisper truth into the ear of the monarch without fear of retribution. Because they are the court jester, they’re in a position where they don’t threaten anyone else. They’re outside the politics and intrigue of the court. In a corporate environment, I think the role is to provide objective, independent, and clear counsel to the management team, bringing in the external perspective. They need to play that role as well as often being the strongest advocates to the outside world for the organisation.
What do you think will be the biggest changes in the global communications industry in the next 10 years?
I think it will be the continuation of the changes of the past 10 years: the annihilation of distance and time by the speed of communication. That will just keep on going. But the fundamentals of communication haven’t changed. You need to be clear about what you say, how you say it, the channels and tools you use, and how you engage with stakeholders. The core principles don’t change, but the speed by which you have to do it and the increasing range of tools at your disposal does.
What three words best describe you?
Resilient. Practical. Creative. I think if you combine those three things then you can do quite a lot.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
My work is always changing and I’d be surprised if anyone said anything else. I look at it from the perspective of how challenging is it? Is it getting boring? Are there new things to do, whether that’s organisationally, messaging, brand management, comms strategy or building programmes? There’s a plethora of things that I think are great at bringing variety into the day and if you can keep in the back of your mind why you are doing this then I think you have longevity.
Tell me more about Hogan Lovells?
Everyone will tell you their firm is unique. I think we’re in a market category of one, based on the fact that we are the only large international law firm that sits on both sides of the Atlantic with a deep presence in Washington, New York, London, Brussels, the major European capitals, and Asia. Our ability to advise clients on complex regulatory issues while getting the deal done or working through a huge and complex piece of litigation is second to none. Few can rival that.
What would be your dream role if you didn’t work in communications?
I’d be a litigator or anti-trust lawyer. They seem to have a lot of fun and there are huge similarities between the discipline that they bring to the table and that of a robust communications team.
How can Hanson Search help?
If you are looking for the best talent in PR and communications, industry insights, or careers advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.