Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Marketing the Marketers: Michael Phillips, Communications Director, Havas Media

NDA’s Marketing the Marketers series talks to the marketing and comms leaders behind the success of our leading companies. Next up is Michael Phillips, Communications Director, Havas Media.

What exactly does your job entail?  

The organisations that embed PR and comms thinking through every facet of an organisation and right from the start of any workstream benefit most from the transformative impact PR and comms can have on an organisation – which is my vision for the function and it’s how I shape what my job entails. 

Lots believe PR and comms is about landing lots of media coverage, and that’s it. The reality is entirely quite different. Yes, landing coverage is an output but it’s one of many and coverage churn is a poor use of PR skills. It’s this misunderstanding where many organisations get it so very wrong and fail to benefit from its function. 

Excellent PR puts a mirror up to the business to help it transform to be a better version of itself. It helps relevant stakeholders understand information and have access to information and knowledge they need, be that prospective/current clients or talent right through to the media and more. It delves into the business to unearth stories to build compelling long-term narratives.  

Crucially, it’s commercially and strategically driven.

What campaign or piece of communications are you most proud of in your career and why?  

I’ll answer it slightly differently. Each organisation has people who don’t believe in the value of PR or don’t believe they themselves (or their work) is worthy of celebration. In my mind, B2B PR and comms isn’t a destination, rather it’s a journey with waypoints that evolves in tandem with an organisation’s commercial and strategic requirements as they change. 

Bringing people on that journey, helping people realise what they’re capable of and showing them how that generates personal, professional and commercial benefit, is the greatest pleasure in my role.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in your career to date and why?  

I’ve been blessed with some excellent line managers, one of whom has had a material impact on my life. If Paul Skennerton (my first PR line manager) hadn’t inspired me into cycling in 2018, I might very well not have regained confidence in my physical self after waking up unable to walk a decade ago. I’ve since gone on to complete two Olympic triathlons, 185km bike ride, 10km swim and a half marathon trail run (among more), raising £2000 for children’s disability charity, Kids.  

And Flo Gartland who inspired me to be a (lot) better – and entirely different – line manager. Line managing her made me realise far too many managers learn poor management skills from those who managed them – myself included at the time. As the number one reason people leave jobs or are unhappy in work is their line manager, we must correct that. I’ve made a good friend because I changed.

Each person’s influence echoes down the years. You need people like these in your work life. 

What is the biggest challenge in your sector and how is your company helping to address it?  

The biggest challenge facing the sector is the lack of understanding about what PR and communications is and does, what it isn’t and what it is, and what it can and can’t do. Phrases like “let’s make some noise” oversimplify the profession of communications to something that frankly doesn’t work anyway.

So, PR and communications could very well do with some PR and communications itself to demonstrate its strategic and commercial value. This is more critical now because making noise is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver as the media landscape tightens. I’m fortunate to work somewhere that ‘gets’ this.  

What is the biggest opportunity in your sector and how is your company helping to make the most of it?  

Often organisations believe they’re the same as another. Yes, services may appear similar, but the reality is much different and it’s folly to think an organisation is a twin of another. Each organisation has a unique story to tell; you just need to go digging for it and then tell it.  

How important, and why, are the following in helping you promote your own company:  

·       The press – The industry press is a brilliant barometer for the health of your business and in that sense, they help us be better organisations. The press has helped me be better at my job as a result. 

·       Events – External events are increasingly pay-to-play and while I understand the commercial realities why, pay-to-play devalues their place as a platform to promote your organisation. Nevertheless, the association with some key events and the networking opportunities are really important. PR professionals also need to do more to champion events to unlock budget for them.  

·       Your company’s owned media – An organisation’s owned channels are a brilliant tool as a destination for understanding your business, for thought leadership and information. It’s also a great platform to add personality to your organisation through video content. 

Each shouldn’t be considered in isolation; you need to understand how these come together to deliver impact. And importantly, you must ask yourself: who is my audience and is this the right tactic/format to connect to them through?