Iain Anderson of Cicero Group chats with us about listening, hiring up and always going further than you're asked to go
Iain Anderson is an expert in integrated communications, global political risk and public policy. He has over 25 years of experience in communications, initially as a business journalist and then as a founding shareholder at Incisive Media. He has also worked for a range of politicians, including Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP on his leadership bids. Iain is co-founder and executive chairman at Cicero Group where he focuses on public policy and corporate communications strategy, supporting many global FTSE and Fortune 500 blue chip organisations. He provides CEO and board-level counsel. Iain is one of the Financial Times' OUTstanding Global 100 Executives. He regularly contributes to national and international print and broadcast media including Sky News and BBC. He is also a contributing political editor of Square Mile. Exploring the careers of the most powerful communications pros around the world today, James Sandford, Consultant at Hanson Search, sat down with Iain to find out more about his career and how he made it in the industry.
How did you get into communications?
I have a picture on my office wall of the movie poster for All the President's Men. That was my inspiration for getting into this business. When I was 15 or 16 years of age, I was at that point where I was wondering what to do with my life. I saw that movie and that was it. It was that blend of media and politics that has always intrigued me and it is at the heart of what I do now. That’s what first inspired me to become a journalist. After a decade of doing that, I went into comms. But simply put, it was that movie that started it all.
What personal attribute has most helped you in your career?
Listening. The big temptation by a lot of folks in comms is to transmit rather than receive. I think that, actually, receiving is a more important part of the job. Listening to debates, listening to the news agenda, listening to what’s going on and actually developing that emotional intelligence is important.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Creating my own business. The old metaphor about painting the forth bridge is appropriate here. It’s just something that’s never over. The moment you launch a business, you could rip up the plan on day one as the reality is always different to the conceptual stuff. It’s a rollercoaster and it remains the single biggest challenge. It was on day one and it remains so in the fifteenth year.
Who is the most inspiring person you have worked with?
That’s easy – Ken Clarke. The most unspinnable and certainly the most frustrating from a communications perspective, but also easily the most inspiring and interesting person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Always go further than you’re asked to go. If you’re set something to do, do it and then do more. Bring to life ideas and concepts and strategies that the person who set the original task hasn’t even thought of themselves. People who do this are like gold dust and they’re the kind of people who make you confident that a job will be done well. Another one would be to, as Richard Branson said, surround yourself with people who are more talented than you. Do not be afraid to ‘hire up’.
What do you think will be the biggest changes in the communications industry in the next 10 years?
It’s starting to roll out before us already – nationalism killing globalisation. We’ve created a very networked world, but it’s a network that is potentially just for elites. And because of that, political backlash is trying to attack that world. Nationalism is killing off what has been created and frankly with barriers and walls looking like they’re going up, that is going to create huge challenges. Does it mean that every message now needs to be deeply domestic, for example? If that is what’s ahead of us, techniques are going to have to change massively.
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
Open. Inquisitive. Relentless.
What is your dream global PR and communications role?
To work for an international body like the United Nations or World Bank. If I wasn’t running Cicero, I’d be doing something like this. The challenges of communicating across national boundaries are fascinating.
How can we help?
If you are looking for the best talent in financial PR or communications, please don’t hesitate to contact me via LinkedIn below for a confidential discussion.