How I Made It featuring Annalise Coady, Group President EMEA, W2O
Hanson Search steps inside the world of W2O Group to interview Annalise Coady, Group President EMEA, for its 'Inspiring Stories' career series. Annalise shares her career journey, advice to her twenty-year-old self, and tells us what she loves about the industry.
How did you get into the communications industry?
It was a bit of a journey. I did material science and engineering at university and realised that I didn’t want to be a sole contributor at a bench by myself. I found it too lonely and knew I wanted to work in a team.
I started to look at how I could use my background in science and engineering in a career and happened upon a course at Imperial College, London around science communication. The challenge of taking a technical, scientific story and changing it into lay language for a broader audience to understand and potentially having an impact on society was really interesting to me. I got a place on the course but then secured a job as a journalist, which used my knowledge of advanced materials, (which includes the study of chemistry, physics, nanotechnology, ceramics, metallurgy, and composites and biomaterials.)
I quickly realised that a career in journalism wasn’t for me, so moved on to a job at the UK Government’s Office of Science and Technology as the marketing manager for their Technology Foresight scientific programme. It was a fantastic two years and a great grounding in all things marketing, PR and comms. I then decided to go into agency as an account manager in IT and tech at Shandwick – and it was the worst six months of my life! I could not get to grips with the multi-tasking involved and then suddenly, it all clicked, and it became this amazing role where I was learning and working on some really exciting things.
Do you have a mentor or someone who inspired you to succeed?
The two people who have motivated and pushed me more than I’ve ever been before are Jim Weiss, (Founder & CEO, W2O Group) who constantly inspires me to learn more and think differently, and Jenn Gottlieb (Global President, W2O Group) who is the queen of client relationships and “getting it done”. Together they’re a formidable team and I’ve had the most professional and personal growth in the last seven years at W2O. Being pushed outside my comfort zone brings the most rewarding results.
That said, there were three people who really helped me in my career before W2O; While at FleishmanHillard, Dave Senay and Kevin Bell gave me the opportunity to build significant international business, together with a formidable team based out of London. I led significant global technology relationships including; Huawei, Tata Consultancy Services, as well as AT&T and Avaya. Kevin also made sure you had fun along the way, and I really appreciated their support.
While most of my professional career has been with agencies, I have had a couple of in-house roles. And the third person who helped motivate me to take on new challenges was Chris Heslop, at Content Technologies.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?
In June 2008 I moved from running the tech business of FleishmanHillard London to running the company’s San Francisco office. The business needed a turnaround even before we hit the economic crash of 2008. The beginning of 2009 was a period of great uncertainty and we had to make some difficult decisions. Through balancing tactical approaches around day-2-day visibility and longer-term strategy to increase longer term viability, by mid-February, things started to change. It was an incredibly challenging six weeks, both personally and professionally, with friends and family eight hours away.
There are some parallels to the impact COVID has had on the economy and society but being focused in healthcare we have been less impacted than other industries. The ability to come to work with purpose and give back to local, national and global communities in our work around COVID for organizations including the WHO and The Royal Free Hospital has been incredibly rewarding.
With the knowledge you have now gained, what career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Don’t sweat it when everybody’s heading off to be accountants! (Which is what all new graduates seemed to do when they moved to London from university.) There’s so much more out there – just try it and learn from both the good and the bad experiences. But don’t sleep-walk into decision making, be purposeful in finding the path that makes you happy and fulfilled both professionally and personally.
What changes have you seen in the industry since you started your career?
All of the biggest changes have been underpinned by technology. When I first started there were no mobile phones or internet or search engines – all of which launched in the course of my career, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in many of the launches. Try explaining the benefits of texting, when people didn’t think there was a need. The progress of technology has meant that the role of the PR person has gone from predominantly earned media to storytelling in many broad and different ways – and that encompasses a whole different skillset.
When I first started, as a PR person, you were very much behind the scenes but now as a communications professional you have a brand, whether that’s internal or external.
What are the top three things businesses should do to improve diversity in the workplace?
I’m a big proponent of the intern/graduate/starter level person not just coming from the same red brick universities. Broadening out the intake from different universities, apprenticeships and people who don’t necessarily fit the role that we have right now will help to improve diversity. It’s more about hiring for attitude rather than academic qualifications and being cognizant of the different types of support that people need. At W2O we champion diversity through our Diversity & Inclusion Council and our employee driven resource groups including Women of W2O, W2Out (LGBTQ+ & Allies), andW2O Fusion (Multicultural Group). Each group meets regularly, separately and together, to discuss and plan ,through an awareness of intersectionality, how we can be more inclusive as an agency and how to celebrate our communities.
Most of our work is global and regional so we have actively recruited people from different countries, nationalities and cultures which not only provides global intelligence to our approach but enables us to be more empathetic in our approaches. This is augmented with a transfer program for employees between the US and EMEA offices, so they can experience working in other offices and cultures. We are also looking at how you can best support people transferring from in-house to agency and learning from them to improve our client approach. We also need to see how we can support people at different points in their lives or with different lifestyles. Never has this been clearer than with the COVID-19 situation, where people have had to home school and/or look after elderly loved ones. We set up W2O kids as a resource to support our parents, it’s a full programme of virtual classes, story time video calls all delivered by volunteers from across the agency. We’ve also created a pen pal exchange for the children to get to know each other and learn about other families and cultures.
What do you think are the key qualities it takes to be a leader in today’s communications industry?
Active listening to clients. At W2O senior people are still very much involved with clients, which is quite unusual. This means we know what’s going on and the types of skillsets and experience, as well as technologies, that we need to evolve and hire. Being inquisitive and curious and open to new ideas is also key. Finally, being considerate and kind with a calm, non-bias presence.
What do you see as key to the growth of a successful team and a positive working environment?
Communication and a belief in positive intent are key to a successful team. People continue to want a strong vision and mission, which has become really important with the pursuit of purpose and values. Here at W2O, we’ve rallied around the vision of being a marketing and communications firm which helps people lead healthier lives and our mission is to connect the dots. We’re also constantly asking how we can work really creatively together and do great campaigns.
What do you love about the industry?
I love the constant change and adoption of new technologies – now we have so many new ways to tell a story.
What is the biggest challenge that the industry will face over the next few years?
Getting the best talent remains the biggest challenge our industry faces. Our success comes from diversifying our approach to talent recruitment and retention. To achieve this we do three key things; selecting talent not just to the immediate need but also for the long-term needs of the business; considering talent from other industries or sectors which offer us a broader skill set and add value to our clients and finally be willing to invest in time and training to get the talent who are high potential to where we need them from a skill set point of view.
W2O’s ambition is to make the world a healthier place through marketing communications and we can only achieve that with a diverse workforce that reflects the society we aim to help.