In the hot seat: Fiona Wilkinson, former CCO, Visa Europe

Fiona Wilkinson, former CCO of Visa Europe, talks to us about tenacity, public speaking, and telling the truth

Fiona Wilkinson is a senior communications and marketing expert with substantial experience in European payments. As CCO, Fiona was responsible for protecting and enhancing the reputation of Visa Europe and transforming the way they work. Following the success of our Global Power Book #PRProSeries, we continue exploring the careers of the most powerful communications pros around the world today. We sat down with Fiona Wilkinson, former Chief Communications Officer of Visa Europe, to find out how she made it in the industry.

How did you get into communications?

I got into communications after having worked in a variety of roles in a particular organisation, with wide business experience. I’d done sales and marketing, meaning I had a very good overview of the business already. That kind of overview right across the business is essential for communications. It ensures that you have the ability to give better-tailored advice and create a narrative and a storyline that embraces and really understands the whole business.

What personal attribute has most helped you in your career?

There are two things. One is tenacity. Keep at it, keep asking, try and find out what people are really thinking, and what the agenda really is. The second is allied to that – it’s about listening. In business, sometimes we spend a lot of time talking and thinking we need to be centre stage. Actually, in communication roles, there is a lot of value in listening to what people are really saying. It’s both what they’re saying and what they’re not saying that helps you tailor a message and work out how to place it.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

I hate speaking in public, which you just have to get over if you’re going to be good in business. I’ve overcome that with lots of practice, preparation, and just getting out there and doing it. I think it’s also about finding a way that is comfortable. For example, I’m happier and therefore better at being part of a discussion panel or leading and facilitating in a sort of master of ceremonies role. I’d rather do these things than be the centre of attention, although you do have to do that sometimes, especially if you’re trying to sell a budget. This is why I have chosen to be a trustee of Speakers Trust, which is all about getting teenagers to stand up and speak.

Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?

I’m lucky enough to have been involved in the Olympic movement for 25 years now and it’s always the Paralympic athletes who inspire me. Just the sheer physical and mental strength, and the things that they’ve overcome in order to stand up and represent their countries. At the 2012 games, I was lucky enough to go to the main Saturday of Paralympics. I was watching an event and someone was just about to be lapped by the rest of the competitors and the crowd went wild cheering him on. If this person can stand up and run with two prosthetic legs, how can I possibly say that something can’t be done?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the course of your career?

Just tell the simple truth. That’s just a really good steer in so many situations. That and ‘bad news doesn’t age well’. Just get on and deal with whatever the problem is because things generally won’t get better if you ignore them.

Where do you think the communications industry will be in 10 years’ time?

I think the impact of mobile will be huge. Even walking here, every age and demographic used a smartphone device, communicating, picking up news. The whole speed of change and access to information that we all have - goodness knows where that’s going to end. I can only see that becoming more ubiquitous. On the one hand, that means disciplines coming together, that whole merging of marketing and communications, but I think that there will still be a need for specialised skills.

What do you think will be the impact of Brexit on financial services?

The business I work in is a global business and operates within the EU and outside of it, so on a practical level, transactions using your card and so on won’t change. Of course, we live in the real world, so we’re also impacted by what happens to banks and other financial providers - we’ll wait and see where that goes.

How can we help?

If you are looking for the best talent in financial PR or communications, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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