How I made it: Kath Kerry, MD, GCI Health
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
We sat down with Kath Kerry, MD at GCI Health. With close to 20 years’ experience in healthcare communications at the global, EMEA and UK level, Kath is a seasoned senior professional with a passion for providing high level strategic thinking and counsel to clients
At GCI Health, alongside driving the agency’s vision to be the best healthcare communications agency in the world, Kath is responsible for supporting a number of the agency’s key global clients in transforming their brands and businesses through integrated communications strategies. She told us about how a fascination with human behaviour piqued her interest in a career in communications and why she’s learned that it’s important not to sweat the small stuff…
How did you get into communications?
PR was my first job out of university. My degree was in psychology and I’d always had a passion and fascination with human behaviour. I’m one of those people who always get told off for people watching – it’s my favourite pastime. So, for me, PR was about finding something that blended my interest in human behaviour with a role that was varied and genuinely interesting.
As for healthcare communications, I sort of fell into it. I did explore other sectors within the industry, specifically tech and consumer but quickly realised they weren’t the right environments for me.
Do you, or did you, have a mentor?
GCI Health’s CEO, Wendy Lund, is genuinely a formidable woman. I don’t know how she runs a business of this size and yet maintains relationships with every client; I’m always in awe when I spend time with her. When you meet her she’ll always ask how you are before you get down to the business agenda and I think that goes such a long way in terms of making you feel inspired and looking up to someone.
The job can get busy and really test your resilience, so access to people like this is really important.
In my past life, I’ve been lucky to work with fantastic people who have always inspired me. Steve Spurr, now CEO of Edelman Sydney, was like a ‘work husband’ for 10 years and working so closely with someone who was fun and genuinely cared was important to me when I was cutting my teeth in my PR career.
What three words best describe you as a communicator or leader?
Creative, fair, determined.
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in the course of your career?
I think the hardest challenges are often self-afflicted, particularly when you combine this job with motherhood. You create your own prison, putting a lot of pressure on yourself to work harder and succeed more because of the perception you believe exists about not being able to do both.
For me the challenges are around keeping your mind focussed, believing in yourself, keeping things realistic and not taking life too seriously – you need to remember it’s PR not ER. Putting it into perspective can help you remove a lot of the obstacles and spend less time focussing on what you can’t do and more on what you can do.
Have there been any crucial moments that have changed the course of your career?
I don’t think so. However, I think spending ten years in one agency gave me the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, experience different clients and was actually really helpful. There’s a tendency in this job to feel like you have to move around to get promoted or achieve more in your career and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you’re in the right agency environment I think you can thrive if you are able to have a partnership where you both get what you need from each other. Our philosophy here at GCI Health is that our employees are the masters of their own destiny and we put the infrastructure in place to allow them to achieve their goals without feeling like they must change agencies to do so!
With the knowledge you have now, what career advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Not to sweat the small stuff. When you start out in this job, everything can be a drama. It is about trusting in your own ability but allowing yourself to get it wrong sometimes. Also important is putting those foundational skills – like attention to detail and the ability to build rapport with clients – in place. Invest in them early and you’ll still benefit 20 years on.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry since you started?
I think the pool of people who stick it out in this career is diminishing and there is a big shift towards freelancing. I think this, coupled with the different generational mind-set we’re seeing among graduates has meant we’ve had to adapt – both culturally and as an industry.
Our approach focuses on flexibility on both sides rather than being rigid. I think a decade ago everything was much clearer but now businesses need to be more adaptable and amenable in order to meet the expectations of the candidates. There’s been a real shift in how you need to manage your business in order to get the best out of your people.
What does it take to be successful MD in 2019?
Resilience. Being open-minded and recognising that surrounding yourself with good people who can help you learn and be better at what you do can be the key to success.
One phrase I love is “no one of us is greater than all of us”. I couldn’t do what I do without the team so I make sure they feel supported. Without the team, we wouldn’t be here and I think it is important to remember that, particularly the more senior you get.
And don’t ever forget where you started. Sometimes the team will need you to sell-in or do media monitoring because they’re flat out. You need to be all things to all people and today’s MD needs to be more amenable and not sit in their ivory tower, delegating. This is what clients want too. Why would you gain all these years of experience and then not work on your client’s business?
If you weren’t in comms, what would you be doing?
That’s a really hard one as healthcare communications is all I have ever known. I think if I had my time again, I would become a criminal psychologist and feed my passion for human behaviour.