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Marketing and Communications Leader Series ep.4: Dominic Elliott

Welcome back to EMR's Marketing and Communications Leader Series, where we dive deep into the journeys of exceptional senior marketing and communications practitioners. Join us as we explore their paths to success, from their early steps in the marketing and communications world to the strategies that brought them to the forefront of their industries. In this episode, EMR's MD Tom Brockton interviews Dominic Elliott, former Head of Communications, Asset Management and ESG at Credit Suisse (currently Group Head of External Relations at Holcim). With an impressive career at the Winton Group, BlackRock and his leadership position at Credit Suisse, we're excited to hear Dominic's insights into the industry. 


Can you describe your journey to being a communications leader? 

I suppose I've had a career in communications that has been somewhat non-linear. For the bulk of my career done something that's fairly common, which is to have worked in journalism to start with and then moved into communications, which is a fairly well-trodden path. But in between, I've done some slightly more unusual things. I've worked in international development for a year and I also spent two years as an equity derivatives broker, which was a very interesting experience and one that, you know, again, maybe wasn't something I was naturally suited for, but has been a really useful thing to have done and has informed a lot of my career since. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in communications after you finished working as a journalist? 

I was curious to see what it would be like to be part of a collective group pushing for you know, a kind of collective goal, right? I think as a journalist, a lot of the time you're working as a lone ranger, of course, you might be working with another reporter on a story and you've got your editor at all times, but it's a much more sort of individualistic, you know, pursuit, than it would be, say, working at a communications team where the goal is to help a company achieve its objectives. And so I sort of wanted to see what that would be like, I guess one of the great and pleasant surprises of moving into communications was that, yes, that was something that one got and that definitely was part of the experience, but that also there was this extraordinary variety in the work that one would do day to day. And actually as a journalist, yes, you have the flexibility to pursue different story leads and that can be quite exciting and rewarding and you certainly learn a lot. But I think in communications and marketing, particularly in communications perhaps, you get this day-to-day that is so different and you might have a challenge one day that is completely unlike anything you've seen before and that can be incredibly exciting and it keeps it constantly interesting.  

What have been some of the key challenges that you have faced now operating at your level?

I think, look, whenever you're starting at a company of the size of some of the companies I've worked for, these big multinational companies, you need to expend a lot of energy at the start to build your network. It's pretty hard to achieve a great deal unless you know the people you're working with. So you're going to find that the first three to six months, you spend a lot of time going for coffees with people. I mean, maybe they're virtual coffees, you know, just over Zoom or what have you, but you need to put in that legwork early on because until you have understood how people operate at the company, whether that's the culture, but also what the individuals are like and what makes them tick and so on, it's hard to really make a lot of headway. You need to spend time with your team. You need to make those relationships count because, you know, the deeper those relationships go, the easier it is to really bind together and do things when, you know, particularly when the times are tougher, you might be in a crisis, for example. And you need to have that connectivity and that sort of understanding to be able to get through those. 

How do you like to stay up to date with new marketing and communication approaches and technologies? 

I think it's always something that's a challenge, but we're quite lucky in that it has become a lot easier through, for example, LinkedIn, social media more generally, to follow people that are kind of leaders, influences in those particular areas. And that's a great help. So, I suppose something like ChatGTP is a kind of excellent recent example. It's not something that I have been able to use a lot with work just yet, but it's something that I am sort of trying to follow in terms of the latest developments and kind of how it might be used and so on. And I think you've just got to stay hungry to learn. You've got to keep reading, keep looking at things, keep sort of going back to people that you find, who are interesting. 

So in my case, I'll just give you a couple of examples on the marketing side, which is an area that I work slightly less in. And so, I guess that the onus for me is to just keep sort of tabs on what's going on there. But Rory Sutherland is just an extraordinary brain. He writes a lot, so you can kind of just get a sense for his extraordinary sort of intellectual approach to marketing by reading his stuff. And somebody else who is a very well-known marketer is Seth Godin, who's written, you know, a bunch of books. He's on TED Talks, YouTube. So it's justmaking sure that you dip in from time to time that these people pop up on your feed and and I find that to be quite a useful way to to just keep up to date with things.

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

I think one of the challenges with communications is that showing the data that demonstrates you're having an impact can be quite difficult. That's because… I'll give you two examples, right? Thought leadership, that's a kind of staple of any big company that wants to sort of improve its brand and get its name out there. Now thought leadership you can measure in a way that is sort of fairly intuitive. You can say, you know, the more coverage you get of your most recent research paper, also the infographic or whatever, the better. And that's a fairly easy one. Now you can present to a board of directors and say, look, you know, since we started doing thought leadership or since we've ramped it up, look at all of these great stats we've got. Everything's moving in the right direction. And that's fantastic. That's a kind of easy one.

The trickier one is sort of when you are on the other side, when you've got a crisis to manage your reputation defence that you're doing, how do you show your board of directors that actually you're doing well? Because actually it's almost the opposite. You want to show that the coverage has gone down. But it's not always as simple as that, as we both know. Sometimes a well-placed piece that is, that kind of does a good job of reflecting reality

in a factual, keen way is a good result. So it's not as simple. And I think sometimes you can use public surveys, for example, or kind of privately commissioned surveys of public opinion to show that sort of thing, but it's not easy. But all of that comes back to numbers. I think stats are really important. I mean, yes, you can kind of talk through what you're doing, but I think when you get to that higher level and you're trying to exactly demonstrate the worth of the team, you've got to have some statistical basis for what you're doing and that's something I think that at the board of director level, the people you're presenting to will tend to respond better to. 

What advice would you give to aspiring Heads or Directors of Marketing and communications or young professionals looking to advance their career within marketing and communications?

I think there are a couple from certainly…two or three from my career that I would share. I have one which I touched on at the start is, you don't necessarily need to feel that you have to have an extremely linear career to kind of make a success of everything. Sometimes it can be worth trying out the thing that seems more difficult, right? I think there is a barbell approach to work sometimes and it served me well. Yes, if you've got low-hanging fruit, go pick it. Because, you know, why wouldn't you? You’d be mad not to? And if you don't, maybe somebody else will. So go pick that low-hanging fruit. Do all of that. But sometimes you do need to stretch yourself and you need to take the path that maybe seems non-obvious, that's a little out there, because it can result in some quite exciting and interesting results. I'd say that's one thing.

Another thing I would say is, and this is particularly true in communications, I think, but celebrate success. It's very easy to just move on to the next thing. I think it's important, of course, to look at where things didn't go so well and control the lessons, but celebrate the success. Teams need that. It’s something that generates really good sort of juju or whatever you like to call it and people, you know, as a team bond over that sort of thing. So that's an important thing and sort of try to, you know, I think if you're in a team that does that really well, you're often in a really good place. So sort of seek that out, seek out those places that celebrate the success and have that really good atmosphere in sort of a team sense.

And then I think the other things I would say are, look, you know, it's, it is a journey, right? It's not something, you know, this is, this is probably a bit of a platitude and you would have, I'm sure heard this from others, but it's not a, it's not a sprint, right? You've got to pace yourself. You know, we didn't, you touch so much on what people do to relax and so on, but that stuff is really important. And even if you're going to have times in your career where you have intense periods, recognise those for those for what they are and just make sure that you're not getting stuck in a rut where it never seems to end, you know. Do take breaks, it's sort of such an important thing and do try to find time for yourself. So I'll leave it there Tom, thanks very much.

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

If you missed the previous episode with Noreen Biddle Shah, CMCO at Carne Group, listen here


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