David Carter of Ogilvy PR talks to us about respect, authenticity, and not being the loudest voice in the room
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 David Carter, Head of Practice at Ogilvy PR, to find out how he made it in the industry.
Why did you get into PR?
It was a complete accident. I was supposed to do a doctorate in Medieval Literature, but I decided to work for a year to save some money after I finished my Masters. I found myself working as the PR Officer for the Press Complaints Commission (now IPSO). It was a fascinating time; the Commission was being investigated by DCMS, meaning there was a wide range of reputational challenges to manage. The experience set me on the track towards a career in communications and crisis management. I still haven’t returned to do that Medieval Literature doctorate (yet...)
What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?
Respect. As communicators, we spend a lot of time thinking about the language, tone, and content we use to connect to our audiences in writing. This is something that needs to extend to every person we speak to throughout our working day, from the receptionist to the Chief Executive – in our clients’ business as well as our own. Every conversation creates a cumulative impression and it is naïve to think that we should keep our game face on for the people who ostensibly matter most. In this industry, more than any other, everyone talks to everyone, and so everyone should be treated with an equal level of respect and consideration.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Not being the loudest voice in the room. If you don’t compete to speak, clients and colleagues can assume that you are disinterested or – worse still – weak-minded. At a junior-level, quiet consultants are overlooked and that was a barrier to me for some time. However, at a more senior-level, clients often place a greater value by the consultants who take the time to listen, ask intelligent questions and work to fully understand their clients’ issues before sharing a view. Watch the quiet junior consultants of today – they may prove to be your agency’s hidden gems of tomorrow.
Who is the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
I try not to disclose the identity of my crisis clients; their issues should never be a platform for me to communicate my successes. Nonetheless, let me talk in general terms about one of my clients, Paul. He was the CEO of a company that I supported during a particularly severe crisis. Paul had a unique ability to retain perspective and calm at a moment when his business was under very real threat. He and I worked together night and day for nearly a month. We agreed to take a creative approach to handling the crisis. It was an ‘all-or-nothing’ moment of high potential reward that entailed an equally high-level of risk. Paul was able to put his trust in me and in his own instincts. The creative response paid huge dividends; the business turned around and never looked back. And in the fires of that creative response, Paul and I developed a mutual respect and friendship. We still talk, albeit occasionally, and we know that either of us could turn to the other for a voice of reason if the excrement ever hit the fan in the same way again.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t have any regrets. Do it right first time.
In 10 years, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global PR industry?
Authenticity and authority. As an industry, we talk a lot about the increasing prevalence of ‘earned’ content, but it is critical that we realise that the act of ‘earning’ is itself becoming a debased currency. Reporters and journalists no longer report news so much as express their own views, just like the bloggers, the reviewers, the Facebookers, the Tweeters, the Instagrammers and the countless other commentators who now have platforms to express their opinions. The viral influencers of today are often mavericks who have no real earned credibility or entitlement to an opinion, but have nonetheless managed to gain extensive reach in the social space. In this hostile landscape, businesses will realise that they cannot please everyone and will have to make some tough decisions about whether they work to engage influencers of quantity or influencers of quality, as these two become increasingly distinct categories.
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
Whatever works best.
What’s your dream job?
I love the job I have – otherwise I wouldn’t do it!
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.