'How I made it' featuring Lisa Story, CSO Europe and Africa, BCW

How I made it:  Lisa Story, CSO Europe and Africa, BCW

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. 

Lisa is BCW’s Chief Strategy Officer. With over twenty years’ experience, spanning PR, media, mobile and advertising agencies, she is integral to our on-going agency innovation.  She is the architect of BCW’s Operating System, VictorSM and works closely with teams to ensure incisive and impactful business and brand communications strategies for clients.

She has worked extensively across many sectors over the years, applying her particular brand of rigour and inspiration to grow brands such Dove, Heartbrand, Comfort (Unilever), Nescafé (Nestlé SA), Danone, Cravendale (Arla), Guinness, Johnnie Walker (Diageo).

How did you get into the communications and marketing industry? 

I was one of a generation of executives who happily landed in communications after graduating.   I had two interviews in the same week I started renting a flat in London. One in publishing, the other at was the PR agency, Countrywide (now Porter Novelli). Suffice to say, I got the second.  My degree was an MA in English Literature / Film & TV from Glasgow. I suppose it was inevitable I’d work on analysis, ideas and stories in some shape or form. This agency was the first PR agency then to have a strategy and planning team.

Do you/did you have a mentor or someone who inspired you to succeed? 

I worked for a number of years with Sally Ward (former President EMEA Porter Novelli, VP Europe Weber Shandwick) and she taught me the difference between urgent and important and for someone who has always been focused on the work, she taught me to lift my head and be aware of the business around me. She also taught me a lot about wine, but that’s another story.

What three words best describe you as a communicator/leader? 

Open, collegial, tenacious.

I’m an inveterate problem solver and these are critical to that.  For when I’m working with clients but also my to innovate and drive the evolution and quality of BCW. 

What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

Not the biggest challenge but the most consistent one, gender.  Though I think that’s way behind me now, and my focus is supporting the next generation of female leaders in my business.  I have to say at BCW we have a very balanced team, including our senior leadership.. Our UK CEO, Rebecca Grant, our MD of Healthcare Catherine Keddie, our Chief Client Officer Helen Searle, our Chief Integration Officer, Jo Swift.

Any crucial moments that changed the course of your career?

No, but a crucial period. When I left PR agency world in 2010 to work for a number of years across different agencies: creative, media, mobile and so on. Leading strategy and creative functions in those agencies gave me a credible breadth of understanding across the broader industry. This has been invaluable for me personally and for BCW. It’s given me breadth as well as a depth of experience of marketing and communication specialisms, in strategic problem solving and establishing ways of working and winning. This has led to my development of our now BCW global operating system, Victor.

Victor is our operating system and supports all the work we do throughout a project. It brings together established tasks (such as strategy, creative, design, implementation, evaluation), has an agile project management foundation, with best practice collaboration tools built in. It’s both simple, accessible, flexible as well as smart, rigourous, future facing. We and our clients love it because it removes all and any barriers to integration and allows us to leverage data and technology across our work.

With the knowledge you have now gained, what career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Know that you’re most likely to be under-confident and over-capable in a given situation. Don’t ask permission. Do it.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry since you started your career?

I’ve witnessed first-hand the shift in communications arising from technology and digital channels and platforms; the convergence, the integration, the democratisation of information, influencer and so on. 

What I’m most interested in right now is the shift of focus of all agencies, including traditional creative, away from paid one-way messaging to deeper engagement, conversations and co-creation to solve deeper business and brand problems. Also, the dialling up of the need for authenticity, as well as purpose becoming a hygiene factor if not at business, brand level, but certainly comms and marketing levels.  There is also the need to think strategy and creative in both real, medium and longer terms, applying data to that process. There’s a lot of exiting things to worry, no I mean, think about.

What do you think it takes to be a successful CSO in 2019?

Keeping a balance between thinking about the future, the mid-term and right now for business.  Always learning and working out to meet the needs of clients as they continue to evolve.  For example, how to make real the opportunities afforded by data and technology to develop insight, deliver ideas with agility and scale, engage and make a difference. It helps if you are an avid problem-solver with breadth and depth of knowledge and experience and a desire to always grow those that you work with, as well as the business you work for.

If you weren’t in communications what would you do?

That’s hard to imagine. But it would be problem solving of some sort.

What are the top three things businesses should do to improve diversity in the workplace?

Diversity of people, diversity of ways of working, diversity of insight and understanding. Let’s keep bringing the outside in.

Name one technology that you could not live without

There is no one technology. My phone is important as my coffee machine.  One technology I could live without though: email.


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Author: Alice Weightman

As Founder and CEO, Alice established Hanson Search in 2002 and has since gained a reputation as one of the leading search professionals in senior appointments across communications, developing an incredible network globally.

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