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Marketing & Communications Leader Series ep.1: Bee Patel


We are pleased to be launching EMR's Marketing and Communications Leader Series, where we dive deep into the journeys of exceptional senior marketing and communication practitioners. Join us as we take a closer look as to how they got started in marketing and the strategies that led them to success in their industries. 

To kick off the series, EMR's MD Tom Brockton interviews Bee Patel, who currently holds the position of the Global Director of Brand & Communications at AlphaSights. Find out more about Bee's path to success and some tips and tricks for your career. 

Can you describe your journey to becoming a leader within the marketing and communications industry? 

 My journey, wow, I have to cast my mind back 18 years. Yes, I've been working for 18 years. So I fell out of university as most do, extremely poor. I had a really great time. I graduated with a degree in business management. and decided I needed to get a job that could help pay off my debts. With no real plan in mind, I went for the highest-paying job, which was recruitment, interesting enough. So, I fell into IT Recruitment and I did that for about 18 months, and then decided I've taken a real sort of liking to marketing, having sat next to a contractor within the firm. 

I made the move into marketing, starting within that recruitment firm, really just learning the basics on how to build a website, how to keep content updated on the website, and off I went really. So from there on in, I joined a large technology organisation having worked in tech recruitment and have really just worked my way up, being completely honest with you, everything from running events to running large exhibitions, demand generation programmes, working with European leaders right through to managing and heading up a European function in my previous roles. And that brings me to today, stepping into the world of professional services, and I manage a global team, really heading up all things communications and branding.   

How do you approach decision-making and strategy specifically to your current role? 

I think...in terms of decision-making and strategy, the starting point for me is always understanding the business strategy, like understanding the business goals, business objectives, the strategic direction that we are taking as an organisation. Equally as important, why. Understanding "the why" helps me to bring in the team, get that buy-in from my team in terms of the marketing goals and strategy that we set. 

Outside of that, once we set the goal and the vision on how marketing is going to support us on our business journey, it's really looking at where we've run specific campaigns or planning of that description in the past, what's worked, what hasn't and why hasn't it. And then in parallel with that, also looking at what is it our competition is doing, whether that's direct or indirect, what are they doing? And most importantly...What are they not doing? Because there is a tendency in our trade and industry to benchmark and essentially to keep up with the competition. But we're in a day and age today where it's not good enough just to be benchmarking and mirroring what your competitors are doing. It's a case of what are they not doing that we can get ahead and cut through the noise and get the attention of our decision-makers. 

Finally, and most importantly, is what's available to us, right? What platforms are available to us are relevant to the audiences we're trying to connect with? And then what resources, what experience do we have in the team? What resources and budget do we need to bring in?

What skills and or experiences do you feel have been most valuable getting you to the position you're in now?

All experiences are valuable in my opinion, whether it's a campaign that perhaps hasn't gone to plan, whether it's an idea that got put forward to the board of directors that didn't make it through, or whether it's a project that really took off and ended up scaling across a global remit. In terms of skills, I think there are some skills that are very valuable from the day I started and moved into marketing to where I am today.

Empathy is incredibly important, both working with your internal stakeholders, but also understanding the audiences, your clients, your target market. What are they feeling? What's important to them? What desires do they have? What pain points are we trying to solve for them? And I think in order to be truly empathetic, you need to be able to listen well. A lot of us think we are great listeners. I don't think many are great listeners, quite honestly speaking. I'm still working on it. But I do think listening is a key skill, whether you're in sales or whether you're marketing, is understanding your audience, your client, taking a really detailed brief. And that involves active listening where you're asking questions that help you delve deeper into what is required. And then outside of that, two other main skills I would take away, and I preach day and night, is writing.

There are some communications and marketing professionals out there that think they're amazing writers, and they probably are. But the skill never stops, the learning never stops, so continue to practice writing really well. But most importantly in this current climate is writing concisely, so writing to cut through. And that's actually more trickier than you think, trying to use less words to convey the same message. And in parallel with that is embracing change. I think at my level, you know, when you feel like you've gone through the ranks and…got all the experience under your belt, there is a tendency often to sit still and think, right, I know everything now. But unfortunately, we're in that world where change is all around us. So it's just having a wits about you, being curious and embracing that the fact that change is going to continue as we progress.

What is your approach to working with and successfully communicating information to non-marketing and communication stakeholders, possibly such as a board of directors?

One of my favourite topics actually. So a few points of advice here. First of all, and probably quite, I'd say it's an obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many forget, is speak their language. So they don't want to hear about the marketing gobbledygook. Speak in their language, right? Translate to how it's going to help their business. So a good example would be, and it's one that I've used quite often is rather than talking about PR or media relations, talk about the corporate reputation, the business reputation as an example. And suddenly you've got ears perking up around the room. So first and foremost, speak their language and prepare to speak their language. So don't just walk into the boardroom, having it magically happen, you need to go and work through like how to represent this to someone that knows nothing about marketing and driving the benefit to them in the language.

Secondly, it's translating ideas at macro level. The devil is in the detail. We all love it. As marketeers, we have a lot of attention for that side of things, but at busy board level, they don't want to know about the detail, but that's not to say you don't prepare the detail, right? So it's going in armed with metrics, data, every granular detail possible around a project plan or a campaign, but present at macro level, but then be armed with giving the detail when they need it, because that will help build your credibility in the room.

The final point is never going with a single idea or a pitch. From my experience, business decision-makers, especially at that senior board level, like to have options. They like to feel like they've got a few solutions to select from to collaborate on. So even if you don't have more than one idea, make sure you go in at least two or three and present them as equal ideas that essentially the board of directors or the business decision makers have autonomy on picking.

You have a busy and demanding job, how do you balance that with Bee Patel outside of the office in your personal life? 

Outside of the office? What's that again? Yeah, it's a really interesting one. So I have two young boys, 7 and 11, busy, busy, busy. So I have this framework that I use. I call it the three P's, which I talk about all the time, actually, both personally and professionally. And it boils down to three things. It's prioritising. So ensure that you are prioritising everything that you are doing day and night, whether that's personally or professionally, and then planning in that order. So work out what the five things that you need to get done today or this week and then plan whether it's using your diary time blocking, whatever works for you, make sure you plan them in to get them done. And then finally is prepare for the unknown because it will occur, whether that's at work or whether that's your son forgetting his homework or having a sports day, prepare for the unknown. So it's the three P's prioritising, planning and preparing.

What advice would you give to any aspiring Heads or Directors of Marketing or Communications, or young professionals looking to advance their careers in marketing or comms? 

So marketing and communications, you can study the core principles. A lot of it hasn't changed since the day I started in marketing in terms of like how you build a solid marketing plan, like your audience, context, platforms, budget, measures, those things will never change. I think there are some core skills and areas that, whether you're coming out of university or you're aspiring to become a marketing or communications leader that you should build on if you haven't already.

Learn to persuade. It is crucial in your career and learn to negotiate hand in hand. You will spend each and every day persuading your internal stakeholders, your external stakeholders. For me, it's an invaluable skill that I use even today. So learn how to, if you don't know how to sell and negotiate, maybe they can come to you to get some advice podcasts and training materials out there. The second one is: be aware of your personal brand, right? Have a plan strategically. What do you want to be known for? You can't be known for everything. So for me, when I interview candidates, I'm looking not just at their experience and their skill set, but also who does this individual stand for. So, you know, your digital brand across your social channels or LinkedIn is extremely important. So be mindful of what you're commenting on, what you're putting out there because it all forms part of your personal brand and reputation goes a long way, especially in the world of marketing.

The final point, which I'm so passionate about day in and day out and have been from pretty much studying at university is take pride in everything you do. And it's something that I coach and encourage my team to think about even today. Everything from a text that goes out on your phone to an email that you're sending to another stakeholder in the business. If you are not proud of it and it's not your best, it shouldn't leave your inbox.

Listen to the full interview above and follow EMR to hear the next episode in this series. 

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