Steffan Williams, group managing director at Newgate, on why corporate PRs need to be decisive, the similarities between investment banking and comms and the importance of teamwork.
What media do you consume in the mornings and on the way to the office?
I’ve always been a Radio 4 fan. I wake up to the Today programme and listen to it using my phone on my way to work. I also look at Twitter, the FT and City AM on my way in. Given the use of algorithms with most social media networks I really appreciate the linear nature of Twitter. Apart from selecting who you follow, it just streams past you in real time without any distortions (that I’m aware of).
How do you divide your time across the working day/week?
My work time really splits into three areas: advising clients, managing the business and marketing. Most of my time is taken up with advising Newgate clients and I’ve got a great senior team so much of the management requirements are handled by others.
We’re hiring and some of my time is also spent talking to people, because when it comes to prospective senior hires that’s something I really can’t delegate. In terms of marketing, it’s of course incumbent on me to be out and about meeting people – something I’ve always enjoyed doing anyway.
What’s the highlight of your working week?
There’s no specific highlight. The Venn diagram of what I enjoy doing and what I do for a living shows quite a significant overlap I’m happy to say. It’s rewarding to help clients tackle issues and I get to spend lots of time with a variety of interesting people drawn from a multitude of worlds. I do take great pleasure in seeing the business flourish and grow.
What is the most important attribute you look for in a team member or an employee?
The ability to be an effective part of the team. As a former rugby player I’m a bit misty-eyed about teamwork. But in all seriousness, the essence of professional services is scalability and without teamwork that simply can’t be achieved.
That’s one respect in which communications is now finally starting to emulate other more established professional services markets such as law, accountancy or management consulting. In communications, the founder nearly always dominates the firm that he or she is running. In other parallel markets that’s nowhere near as prevalent.
Famously, you ended a career in investment banking to go into PR. Any regrets?
I’m not sure I’d agree that I’d ‘famously’ ended a career in investment banking! In any case, I have no regrets whatsoever. It would have been much more challenging – perhaps impossible – to found a business at 30 years of age if I’d stayed in investment banking and I’m much more of a communicator than I am a banker.
Are there any striking similarities, or vast differences, between investment banking and comms?
They’re both essentially advisory businesses so there are some similarities. Interestingly, to me at least, I’ve started to be approached by relatively senior investment bankers who are interested in moving into communications. There are already few examples of people who’ve made this switch in other firms.
As one such individual said to me just last week: ‘I’ve spent most of my career advising my clients on how to communicate with their actual and potential investors but now the issues of working for a major bank don’t make that an easy thing to do’.
If you could change one thing about the comms industry what would that be?
I think that the communications industry should be seen as a fully-fledged professional service these days – the perceived value of reputation has never been higher. Even though it doesn’t appear on the P&L or balance sheet there isn’t a sensible CEO in the world that isn’t concerned with enhancing and protecting their company’s reputation.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Make a decision. Many people are terrified of doing so. I actually learned that lesson on a rugby pitch during a practice session in my Oxford days. I got the ball and hesitated for a second whilst deciding what to do with it. Whereupon a huge South African second row ploughed into me. When I eventually regained the ability to stand up the coach said to me ‘next time you’ve got the ball do something with it!’.
For someone starting out, I’d say you’ll get out what you put in. Work hard, enquire and be a good team player.
How would you spend your perfect weekend?
In deepest, darkest West Wales – a mixture of hiking, fly fishing and eating and drinking with friends and family. What I did last weekend in fact.
After a disappointing 6 Nations this year, what will the Welsh Rugby Union team need to do to turn the corner next time? Will they?
Ah yes, the key question of the day! Our regional sides are still too weak and that is a danger. Central contracts should hopefully help but only time will tell. We have far greater depth in the Welsh squad than ever before but still have a curious mental brittleness when it comes to the big games. When we overcome that we will become truly formidable…
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