What's the role of Client Services Director in a copywriting agency, with Nina Whittaker

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By Jenny Plant and Jenny Plant - Account Management Skills Ltd. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Transcript:

Jenny 00:03
Today, I'm delighted to introduce Nina Whittaker to the show. She's the Client Services Director for Stratton Craig and Stratton Craig is a copywriting, copywriting and content agency. And I had the pleasure of working with Nina and her team pretty recently. And I was particularly struck a by Nina's leadership style, and also the cohesiveness of her team. So it was a really lovely feeling to work with her and her colleagues. So I was really keen to get her on the show to talk about her role as CSD. She's also kind of like deputy Managing Director. So I think it's really interesting for others maybe who are interested in getting into the role themselves, or you aspire to do that in the future to have a little bit of an insight, a window into her life, her role, and just get some thoughts on agency life in general. So welcome, Nina.
Nina 00:57
Thank you for having me, Jenny, really pleased to be here.
Jenny 01:00
Well, I'm delighted. Would you mind starting off just by giving us a little bit of background on you? And how you got to be a CSD?
Nina 01:12
Of course, no problem, I thought I'd actually start with a bit of a confession, always a good way to start a podcast. And so I was a student many years ago at Exeter University. And coming into my third year, I was thinking about careers. And I saw that there's an event for advertising, someone talking about advertising, I thought, that is the career for me. That's what I want to do. So I went along eager to find out more and what I should be doing to get into the industry. And it just so happened that a former director of Stratton Craig was presenting on copywriting. Before that day, I didn't really realise that there was such a career path, such a huge industry in this space. And so I took it upon myself to ask for work experience, because really the description of what she was doing, as the Client Services Director herself at the time, really matched my interest as a business management student, but also, my love of writing and essay writing, whatever writing I could get my hands on, I was doing it. So I asked for work experience and probably to say, I haven't looked back 13 years later is probably an understatement because I went from there and worked my way up through the ranks Stratton Craig really.
Jenny 02:27
Wow. I never knew that story. How amazing is that? It's interesting Nina you say that you didn't know much about it. Because this is a little bit of a pattern I'm seeing that a lot of people don't understand what does it mean to be in this industry?
Nina 02:45
Yeah, it was fascinating, because you do hear you hear about all sorts of careers as a student and to come up through school and University. And I think advertising is perhaps the closest that you would commonly hear about, certainly when I was at university anyway. But in terms of copywriting, and it's a really broad industr, to be honest, there's so much so many formats that you write for, whether it's reporting, social media copy, blog posts, articles etc. There's so many different avenues that a career in copywriting, or the industry can take is really super varied. So for me, that was the exciting part was knowing that I could merge my kind of passion for writing and editing with probably more of a business management mindset as well.
Jenny 03:30
So what did you start off doing? You started off with work experience?
Nina 03:35
Anything and everything, anything and everything. So when I joined, it was a very small team, there was just three of us. So I joined I was doing various bits and bobs, admin tasks. And it also started to get involved in things like costing projects, understanding what it was the clients wanted from us, briefing writers, being a shadow to others in the team at the time. So I did that work experience for about three weeks and I think it was and then it wasn't long after that I was offered the role as accounting exec. And I moved into that kind of more formal role of really helping to keep projects running and ticking along, and keeping clients and writers happy and on track. And then obviously working my way up through the ranks from there.
Jenny 04:26
Wow. Tell us a bit about Stratton Craig because you've probably seen during those 13 years an evolution not only of your own role, but obviously if the company and what they offer. So how has that changed and what were you offering before and what are you offering now?
04:41
So when I joined Stratton Craig, actually just before I joined it, just been bought by Darren who is the owner of Stratton Craig now and our MD and probably before Darren bought it, it was more of a collective of copywriters and so particularly focused in the legal and Financial industries, and they were doing a lot of writing in that space. And they started to build that agency structure with account managers as well. But Darren also had another agency at the time. So he really kind of accelerated that process in terms of building teams and growth around that kind of agency structure. And so we went from mainly offering copywriting on an ad hoc project basis, and through to adding services like tone of voice consultancy, content strategy. And obviously a huge amount of what we were doing went digital as well. So that opened up loads of new avenues of formats and channels that we needed to write for. And so really helping to support that growth has been a key part of my role, definitely. And the other key thing that happened is we opened our London office about three years into my role is Stratton Craig. So that then took me to London for six years, I spent my time there and did my stint in London and the team grew hugely in London. And then I now I'm back in Bristol, building the team here again. So it's been quite a journey. And at times, it's felt like, probably, I'd say, over the years, like two or three different roles, and two or three different businesses or based attention to grace that we've experienced.
Jenny 06:22
I mean, I don't want to put words in your mouth. But given that you have worked so closely with the business for so long, there's probably not one area of the business that you don't know something about. I mean, you do get involved in every area of the business.
Nina 06:35
Yeah, I think that's probably fair to say, definitely. I think I'm fortunate, we've got a fantastic team. So I'm certainly not responsible for all those areas. But I think part of the Client Services Director role, but also generally of being a director in a smaller business is that you do have an eye on everything and an opinion on everything is also really important to have and to be asked for as well. I've definitely tried my hand at a fair few different things in the business and also continue to have kind of sight as those things as well.
Jenny 07:10
So along that theme, what do you think is the real value of the CSD role in an agency?
Nina 07:17
I was thinking about this actually, because I think probably the really specific and biggest value probably varies from agency to agency because as a client services director, you have site across, obviously, all of the clients, you have a site of a lot of the operations within the agency that you're working for. And for me, certainly at Stratton Craig, that means I have sight of a lot of industries and types of projects. And so I'm constantly learning from one project, what might help with another project and so forth. And being able to have that bird's eye view of things, I think is so important to the client services director role. And I think it allows you to add value in the way that your agency needs iyou to. And so I personally, I'm always looking out for and considering how do we need to adapt to meet the needs of our clients who are also evolving and adapting, and those needs are always changing. So I think having that person who is always keeping their eye on the future, forward looking, okay, this is what our clients are going through, this is what the industries we work in are going through. And so that probably means that we need to position ourselves here to make sure that we are able to support them in the future. And so seeing what it is and then obviously putting in place the structures, the resources that are needed to deliver on that and to be able to meet those expectations that run your agency.
Jenny 08:39
You've also again hit on something that I think I completely agree with what you've just said. Clients buy into us, because we do have that bird's eye view over different industries, different types of clients, sometimes in the same sector, sometimes not. And funnily enough, one of my previous guests, Carey Evans, from relationship audit said that 100% of clients that they interviewed say that they want agencies to leverage their understanding and knowledge of other industries, other clients to bring to the clients, but only 25% of agencies do it. So I mean, you're obviously in that 25%, which is fantastic.
Nina 09:16
I think it's so important. Different industries can learn from one another, but it's also just different ways of working. There are so many ways you can tackle the same problems. And as a client services, anyone in Client Services, you see the different approaches organisations take and how they they work and don't work sometime, you can bring that to other clients too.
Jenny 09:36
Really good insight. And can you describe a little bit about your role. What are the key elements that you get involved in, so we have an insight into a day in the life of Nina.
Nina 09:48
Oh, goodness, no two days are the same, that's for sure. I think probably the best way to describe it is driving that full lifecycle of a client. So really from the first inquiry or referral, or however they've come to us, and I will often be their first point of contact. And at the start, a lot of it is about hearing what it is that they're looking for. And firstly, qualifying, you know, do we really think we can add value to this client? Is this the client for us? And are we the agency for them? And then trying to take that forward into shaping some kind of brief and diagnosing, what are their pain points and what value can we add, and how do we add that value. And so initially, understanding their needs and making sure that we're the right people, but then also bringing together the right people to be on that pitch, whether it's a pitch or a proposal, or however we're approaching the client, and the task and making sure I've got the right team around me to show them what we can do and I'm certainly not a single person in terms of the success that we've had at Stratton Craig. And that's so important to bring the team to life for our clients, I think. And so through the proposal pitch process, and once the clients then won really, that's when I bring on board another member of the Client Services team, and they probably have already been involved in the pitch themselves as well. They will then take the day to day running as the account over. And I will then tend to be involved more in key meetings, like project kickoff meetings, or quarterly business reviews, and anything where I guess it goes beyond just, okay, what are we delivering and how are we going to get there? What perhaps are the pain points that we're facing at the moment? And what opportunities have we as an agency seen that we want to tell that client about and taking that more strategic again, that forward looking view on things, and bringing that to the right kinds of meetings with the client on a regular basis. And you're obviously also, of course, senior point of escalation, if there's any issues. And thankfully, that doesn't happen too much. And I think that's a testament to the team that we built at Stratton Craig, but certainly if there's awkward conversations to be had they fall to you. So you kind of have to be prepared for those. And beyond that at Stratton Craig, there's also the people management aspect of the role. And so I will be supporting our client services team and our writers with their own their own roles, their accounts, but also their career development and helping them go in the direction that I've been fortunate to go in myself. Whether it's because we're a small agency, I don't know, but I'm very closely involved with the strategic direction of our own agency as well. So having my eye on so many things, allows me to offer that client perspective, when we're talking about what services we should be offering or even our own rebrand or whatever it might be. It's bringing that perspective to Stratton Craig's own growth and development as well.
Jenny 12:54
It sounds like you get involved into so much like, how do you prioritise?
Nina 13:00
That's a good question. I think that's a key skill that I have learned, particularly in the last few years of my role. I think prioritisation comes hand in hand with delegation, and really understanding the skills of those around you. Because everyone wants to be exposed to growth development anyway. So, if I've got 10 tasks to do and only time to do three of them, there are definitely people who can help me with them and support me on them. So partly, I look at who can help me with certain tasks, and who would benefit from being involved in certain projects and tasks. And then in terms of prioritisation, I'm a big fan of to do lists and writing things down and capturing what it is I've got to do and how long each thing should take me and asking myself regularly, am I the right person to do this? Is this the right time to do this? Does it have to be done today, this morning, this hour, whatever it might be. And it's kind of constantly shifting that to do list to to allow for reaction as well as proactivity.
Jenny 14:09
I think you're on the money as well. I mean, choosing the tasks that are really going to move the needle and move things forward is sometimes difficult, isn't it? Because we get caught out putting out fires and things like. Was it difficult for you because you started off so early in the company, and you were doing everything? Was it difficult to transition into that role where you're letting go and letting others take the lead? How did you find that?
Nina 14:37
It was difficult, I would say it was counterintuitive because until, at each stage of my career development, the things you're letting go of are the things in your previous role you were so closely held accountable for. And it feels really counterintuitive to be like actually, I don't need to know about that. I just need to know about the outcome of that or whatever it might be and and it was definitely difficult. And I think again, particularly in my role as CSD it's been one of my challenges that I've probably taken my time to get used to and to master. I don't know, even if I've mastered it yet. But I think, again, it's building the team around you, I've been really fortunate to be involved in the recruitment of the majority of the team at Stratton Craig. So I've really, from their first days with us been able to understand their strengths, their ambitions, and what it is that they want out of their role, so that I can build that, help them build that, but also know what to send their way, what not send their way and to really trust them in their capacity is as my team as well.
Jenny 15:47
That's kind of gold standard lead leadership, isn't it, right there, you know, find out what it's gonna motivate them? Because we're all intrinsically motivated by different things, and then help them with their own ambition. Tell us a bit about recruitment, because we discuss recruitment on the podcast recently. What's your recruitment process? How do you go about selecting the right people for you?
Nina 16:12
We have a few stages of our process, we try not to make it too laborious. But there's kind of, for us, just an initial informal chat with potential candidates who have shown an interest in a role and just really kind of, is this the right fit for you? And are you the right fit for us, equal kind of footing really, because I think you can write the best job description, and you can write the best CV, but it's always the things in between the line that really create the magic. And so telling them a bit more about the role and hearing from them, some of that stuff we just talked about, their ambitions, and what it is that they want from their next role and everything. And then taking that through to something a bit more of a traditional interview process with competency questions, and so forth. Because it is great to hear, really useful to hear, real examples of things that they've done and challenges or opportunities that they faced and how they've worked with them. And as a writing agency, we also involve some elements of writing in our interview process as well, or editing. And then we at Stratton Craig have found that our most successful recruits, we just had a feeling and that sounds so unscientific, but you can do all the personality tests and everything else. But I think that from those early conversations, you often start to get a feeling whether this person is going to fit into the fabric of our agency, and how we work and how we act and behave, I think is key. And so we talk a lot, and we try to talk a lot outside of interview as well and really just get to know, these candidates as professionals and as people in their own right, not just as candidates for the role that we're interviewing them for.
Jenny 18:01
Interesting. How has your business model evolved? Do you have a structure in place where it gives you the flexibility to scale up when needed? Because I know how you've been through a growth spurt, you've got some fantastic blue chip clients, how do you manage to resource effectively?
Nina 18:26
Stratton Craig has always had a mixture of writers in house and a freelance network as well as specialist writers, and many who have actually worked with Stratton Craig longer than I have, so very much part of our team, Senior Specialist writers who have chosen the freelance route for their careers. And so in terms of the writing side of our business, I would say that that has always been very scalable and it continues to be we we have experts across all the sectors and formats that we work with. And we build teams around our clients needs. And that's something that I think we've really managed to perfect the art of doing that and knowing the right people for the projects. I think, what we probably have seen more of a challenge with is the Client Services team, because obviously, as growth occurs, that's more clients to manage, and more clients to develop as well, really importantly, and making sure that our teams have the freedom to do that means making sure that we've got enough Client Services people on board to really grasp these opportunities. And so we have been through a bit of a growth spurt in the past year or so. In addition to that, we also have some project managers for example. So we do see a difference between account managers and project managers. So we can bring project managers in to manage certain projects for a client or a few clients projects at a time. But in terms of the actual client management and account management, that's the people that we want in house and the people that we build up in the team internally. So I think the easiest way to be scalable is to see that separation between the two.
Jenny 20:08
So ease of scaling, because I agree with you separating the role, and I think, I know we've had this conversation in the past, but sometimes the account managers who are also doing the project managing it can impede those who are particularly good at expanding and developing those accounts. So just to reiterate, is that a deliberate thought on your part to keep them separate so that they could do those roles?
Nina 20:35
I think there is certainly still an element of project management involved for account managers. But in those times when we've seen a real pinch in resources, or a sudden influx of work that we need to deliver that's when we've really been able to showcase the project management that we can get some support on here. The clients need to have their regular contact and dedicated account manager, having the picky conversations with them. But actually, what is it that you account manager can just give to someone else, because it's essentially the project management part of your role. So it's not it's not completely separate all the time. But in the moments of squeeze, we can separate it quite quickly.
Jenny 21:21
We talked a bit about Stratton Craig offering strategic support for clients, and really having that bigger picture and umbrella view. Tell me a bit about your strategic department. Do you expect the account managers to have that strategic head? Or do you see that as somebody else's role?
Nina 21:44
I think there's, it's an interesting question, because I think there's two parts to it, really. Some of our clients come to us commissioning strategy projects. So they might want to content strategy or just a messaging framework or an a part of what's going to become their comms strategy for them as a business. So we have our content strategists and comms consultants, they're doing that. And those people also do get involved in our client account management as well and our account development, but certainly our account managers are looking at all of their clients from a strategic perspective in terms of really understanding their pain points, and diagnosing, you know, what does that mean for you as the individual in your business? How is that causing you trouble every day? And what can we as an agency do to help you solve that? So constantly kind of asking those slightly deeper questions rather than just what's the next brief that we can do for you but also, certainly for our top tier clients, helping them to look forward to look ahead at the opportunities that are coming their way. What could they be communicating about next, what might be a challenge that's on the horizon that communications could help them solve, etc, etc. So there's kind of strategic viewpoints on both sides. And we are lucky that we have our content strategists, because they can really help inform. They're fantastic researchers and have a fantastic eye for spotting these kind of opportunities and challenges but equally the account managers are learning from them and taking those processes into their own hands as well.
Jenny 23:26
Great point, it's good to have that mentorship internally, isn't it? You mentioned earlier that you have quarterly business reviews, QBRs, with your clients. Do you find that generally clients are open to your suggestion for having QBRs?
Nina 23:40
Yeah, I think so. I think we've seen a variety. Some clients want them monthly, to be honest, sometimes really they find that the more regular, the better, whereas some clients actually have their own cadence already of meetings, and there's just one particular type of meeting that we fit into. So rather than adding another one to the list, we might be invited to something that already exists. And so that could be bi-monthly or even just twice a year, something like that. So I think suggesting them always leads to something, it might not always be a quarterly business review. But whether it becomes a monthly or twice yearly, and it allows you to kind of hear how you can best fit into that strategic decision making that they're already doing themselves.
Jenny 24:26
I think that's a really golden tip right there for anyone that's not currently doing it. In my experience of working with different types of agencies, sometimes, if the perception is oh, we only do this, it's a service that's a little bit probably downstream, then how could we offer this kind of more upstream service? So as you say, just suggest it, because presumably, how has that helped your relationships with clients being earlier in their planning process?
Nina 24:56
I think it brings focus to that proactive tasks that we like to do with our clients, and it gives them a moment in time when they can expect it from us as well. And they prepare for it as much as we do to make sure that these sessions are really, really useful. So they will share stuff with us in advance, sometimes, voluntarily or sometimes, because we've requested it, but things that are really going to help us make the most of an hour or two together. And almost always, we need more time, because everything that we've discussed throws up more questions or more ideas etc, etc. So it allows us to have that kind of brainstorming moment that actually then leads to many more of those types of conversations in the weeks after as well.
Jenny 25:43
Fantastic. You've mentioned quite a few of them so far, but what do you believe are some of the essential skills for the CSD role?
Nina 25:51
I think there's some that are common to every client services role, of course. So organisation and time management are crucial and only intensify as you become more senior in that kind of space. And I think the one that I always hone in on is listening, and listening to clients and to your own team as well, I think is absolutely crucial, because it's only really through the listening that you can spot those opportunities, read between the lines or hear between the lines, and spot the challenges that you you're there to help your clients face. I think my tip would be listening is the one to hone and to really focus on. And then with that comes also empathy and once you've listened understanding and truly, truly feeling what it is that your clients are thinking or your team are thinking, so that you can offer them the help that they need in that moment. I think the worst thing you can do is go in with assumptions as to the position they're in and, and not hear what it is that they're really saying to you about what they want or need from you.
Jenny 27:02
Great advice. Anything else?
Nina 27:06
Definitely problem solving is the other aspect is the role. And problems not always being a bad thing. You know, this is opportunity solving in some cases as well. I think there's this constant need to adapt and shift and be ready to pivot at any time, depending on what it is, comes through the inbox through the client inquiry, you know, through the website, and so forth. And making sure that you're always kind of ready to think on your feet as well.
Jenny 27:40
I think this is really good advice because the agency life is very much like that, isn't it? No day, as you said at the beginning, is the same. And you have to have that kind of mindset, growth mindset and flexible approach to most things to survive.
Nina 27:59
One of my mentors, a coach that I've worked with once described my role, and it was just as I was going into the CSD role. And I was having a bit of trouble moving with, with the role and making sure that I was always changing direction if I needed to. And she was like, You are essentially the football manager on the side of the pitch, the ball is always moving, your players are always moving, their players are always moving, and you need to look to watch all of it. And just keep moving with it all and adapting your steer and your direction, based on where the ball was going next. And that's probably, I haven't done her analogy justice, but I remember at the time thinking, finding some peace in that understanding of actually, that's my job now, my job isn't just to follow the project plan and just to keep going and deliver my my job is to steer everyone around as everything keeps on shifting and moving. So I found that a very useful way of looking at it
Jenny 28:59
It's a fantastic analogy, and I'm going to steal it. That's a brilliant- actually anyone who's even thinking about going into the CSD role that's a fantastic kind of vision, a very easy way of of kind of understanding what it's all about. So thank you for sharing that one. You've talked about you're working at a more strategic level with clients generally. Can you share some examples of some of the most effective ways that at Stratton Craig you've been able to help your clients businesses grow?
Nina 29:36
At a very fundamental kind of level Stratton Craig works with clients in a lot of technical sectors. The past kind of five years or so I would say that there's been a real awakening as to the need to communicate clearly and accessibly with audiences. Even in those most technical sectors, you're still really communicating with people and so something that we really focus on is that clarity and accessibility of the content we write those kinds of industries, which I think in itself fosters understanding and engagement and loyalty that delivers growth for your clients, almost immediately, really compared to perhaps how they have been communicating in the past. And then also through our strategy services, we are helping clients to explore new formats and new channels. Every other day, there's a new way that you could communicate with your audiences and actually helping them to explore and experiment with those. And crucially, to measure the success of those experiments is also helping our clients to reach wider audiences, new audiences, or just to reach their current audience in new ways as well. And the other thing that we do is produce a lot of annual and sustainability reports. So for me, that's about laying the foundations for growth. So, these are the things investors and analysts and everyone are looking at. So before you've even thought about your end audience, we're actually helping with the setting and making those solid foundations on which to grow as well. And that's a huge part, and certainly, increasingly growing in terms of the advice and support that our clients needs, you know, these regulated industries have to report on these things, and ESG, and so forth, it is becoming a huge topic for them. And without those, the ability to grow is hampered, so certainly that as well.
Jenny 31:30
I bet you've seen a huge growth in requests for that support?
Nina 31:34
We have, as I said, ESG has been, certainly past couple of years a real influx, based on various regulations but also, kind of alongside that is a general need for tying together everything a business is already saying into a more cohesive narrative as well. So we're working with clients to look at everything they're currently saying, and bring it together to kind of a single source of truth, because global businesses have so many versions of the same story, in all these different contexts that actually having, again, that external bird's eye perspective on it can really help see quite how in cohesive they can be at times and bringing that together can be can be really helpful, I think.
Jenny 32:24
Absolutely. Your thoughts about measuring success? How easy is it to measure success in the world of copywriting and content strategy?
Nina 32:32
That's a question we are asked so often, and it's certainly not easy. And it is possible, though, I think the thing to remember is that rarely does anything stand on its own in terms of the success that you get. So alongside copy, you also have design, and I think those two things work together to deliver the results that you get. So we would never claim success purely based on copy but there are ways that you can, you can understand and evaluate the success of what you do. So, particularly if it's online, there's all sorts of metrics, things like Google Analytics, where you can see are people engaging for longer with our blogs, for example? Or are we driving more traffic, because actually, we're talking about more relevant things so we're appearing in more search results, etc, etc. There's some fundamental pieces like that, but we also do things like social listening, or focus groups as well, for our clients, where we just understand what, how their audiences perceives them. And that's a much softer measure of things. But if a client has struggled with how it's being perceived, or they're going through a rebrand and want to be shifting their position in the market, that's such a useful way of hearing from clients based on your tone of voice was this and it's now this, read those two statements and tell us which company you prefer the sound of. So there are definitely ways to do it. What we tend to do in those early stages of any strategic project is identify what are the relevant KPIs that we can use with this project that are going to get us closest to understanding the ROI?
Jenny 34:16
It sounds like you play the role of really steering the client through this. Do you work with every type of business from kind of startup to global companies? I mean, I know a handful mostly are global. But do you qualify which types of companies you can help the most?
Nina 34:40
We do we work with all types of businesses to be honest, a lot of our clients are global and international companies, but there are definitely startups and smaller companies in there as well. And I think that the common thread between them is that they have a need, they understand their need to communicate clearly, consistently and engagingly with their audience, they value their communications. So we work across all sectors as well. So in some sectors, it's that they are really struggling to stand out and that's the kind of challenge that they come to us with. But in others, it really is, actually, no one understands what the hell we do so can you help us articulate it better than we can ourselves because we're way too into detail. So it varies so much but I think it's just that recognition that the words they're using really matter.
Jenny 35:32
Very, very powerful. And let's go back, going back to your role, talk me through some of the challenges that you face, give us some examples of things that you really have to be prepared for.
Nina 35:46
So I think, I think that football match analogy is a good one, because the day never stands still really, there's so many things going on within the team and the clients that you have that actually, there are constant surprises, and some of them are good, and some of them aren't good. But it's just always being, putting yourself in a mindset where you're ready to shift direction and reprioritise as you need to. Sure. And because you are pulled in a lot of different directions. And I would say it's not unusual that all of those things require attention at the same time, you get that perfect storm quite regularly. And so I think prioritising, delegating and managing expectations as well. I think, over my years and Client Services, probably my biggest learning is that when I'm honest with my clients, and I share this is what we're able to do, but this is what we're not able to do right now. That's what really I find strengthens the relationship and moves it forward when you're facing a challenging period. So managing expectations, and making sure that clients and teams are always communicated with clearly and aware of the state of play really is super important. And then in terms of other challenges, I think, moving into the CSD role, as I said, is a challenge because you're having to let go of things that have always been part of your role. And so, certainly for me that was the challenge of moving into the role. And then beyond that, I think it's perhaps something around the fact that as a CSD, you need to kind of allow your team the freedom to fail. And that comes to me very unnaturally, because I just want to support my team and help them do the very best possible. But I know that I've had learnings along throughout my career, and they've been some of the biggest turning points of my career. And so it's so important to kind of advise and guide people but also to step back and not micromanage them through to success, because actually, that's not really success on their own terms. So for me, that's a big part is kind of allowing them freedom, and being there to support them, should something go wrong. But certainly not micromanaging, or babysitting.
Jenny 38:21
I've seen how your team have responded to that, and the way you manage and I think you're an absolute natural. And that's probably why your team is so loyal. And you build that trust. I'm just saying that honestly, through an external observation. So what you are doing that really well. I'm just curious to know, do you have any kind of insight into how you manage people. How would you, if you had to train another person in how to manage others? Is there any kind of thing that you would say, you mentioned, don't be a micromanager? I think that's clear, find out what their their ambitions are, so that you can help them progress. Anything else that you think would be useful?
Nina 39:07
I imagine a lot of Client Services Directors are in a similar position to me where they have been in the role that they're managing themselves. So for me, I quite regularly refer back to things that I experienced in the role when I'm talking to my team and trying to help them understand how to manage a situation or, you know, just guiding them on a particular task that they're having to do. And I will share the learnings that I had when I was in a similar situation, which I think the benefit of that is that it brings me kind of into the room with them and not someone who's telling them how to do it and oh, you should do it that way, because that's the right way. It's actually I did it and I learned this so you can decide what you do with that, but that's my experience of this challenge that you're facing or this opportunity that you're facing. So being honest about the challenges that I had when I was at that stage I think, helps to humanise the kind of the relationship between you, really. And I also have invested quite a lot of time and getting to know my team as people and outside of work. We are sociable bunch, so I know lots about them, and they know lots about me. And that doesn't work for everyone but I find particularly in a small business it has fostered a real sense of cohesion and support within the workplace. And I think it's that genuinely understanding that you've got each other's backs. And for me as a manager, that's really important when I'm having to deliver some bad or difficult news or having to work through a challenge with someone is actually, I think that belief that I've got their best interests at heart comes from knowing them as more than just my account management team.
Jenny 41:04
Lovely. I think that's fantastic. I'm interested in your view on this. And one of the biggest questions I get asked most frequently is, what do I have to do to get promoted from account manager to account director. And similarly, for those that are maybe at a senior account director level, looking to step up to CSD and I'd be really interested in your view on what is it for both of those steps? I personally think it is a step. But I would love to just hear you're having been through all of that and seen it with your team.
Nina 41:38
I'm not surprised that it's a common question because it's something I struggled with when I was going through those stages. And I think I particularly struggled with the concept of the difference between account manager and account director. Because actually, when you describe many elements of the role and even when you see the people in action, they're often working on similar tasks, or the same tasks together quite often and they probably are responsible individually for certain clients, etc, etc. So it's hard to distinguish what it is that makes you an account director versus an AM. I think certainly at Stratton Craig and my understanding generally is, it's probably more about how you do what you do than what you're doing. I think it's stepping into having a more strategic focus, as you become the account director, you really are responsible for steering your client in the direction that you as an agency believes they should go in. And so it's about always bringing, and being prepared to share your independent opinion of a situation, a challenge, an opportunity, a trend, whatever it might be, being well researched into what it is that your client does, their industry and the opportunities that they have ahead of them. And bringing that to meetings and articulating in a persuasive way, and taking them on that journey with you and building that kind of authority and trust that they're kind of like yeah, Nina really knows what she's talking about in this topic. She's clearly been speaking to others, or she's seen a really interesting article, or whatever it might be. I didn't know that and I think she can help me with that kind of thing. So for me, I think, moving into that account director role, that's a big part of where you start to do a lot more of that. And I think that was the hardest thing for me to grasp was like, but I am putting ideas on the table, etc, etc. But actually, once you're doing that, you see that taking that slightly more forward looking approach is actually quite a big difference to what you were doing as an account manager.
Jenny 43:47
I love the way you explained that. Thank you. . And what about this leap? Maybe you've got someone listening, that's thinking, well, I'm senior account director. I know I'm ready for CSD. What do you think that big jump is about?
Nina 44:07
I mentioned earlier that part of the key to the role is being able to understand strengths of others around you and building teams and using the skill sets that are within your team. And I think demonstrating that you can do that. I think you have opportunities to do that in any client services role, but demonstrating that as the senior account director is certainly very important. And I think also, from my experience, a big difference was showing and demonstrating my interest and my affinity for the strategy of Stratton Craig as an agency as well, because obviously, as the Client Services Director, you then are brought into many different conversations about actually where are we going as an agency and where should we be going as an agency and so in the run up to becoming Client Services Director, I was actively looking for processes that I thought actually I think we can improve that and or services that others are offering that we aren't, but I think we should be. Looking for opportunities to develop and improve the ways we work and the things we do as an agency and I'm taking those to Darren, my boss, and showing him you know, I really care about Stratton Craig and this is my idea, and open to the feedback on that, and then actually driving that forward. I think driving is key, rather than just giving someone an idea and hoping someone else does it.
Jenny 45:37
Again, really nicely put, two things really bringing the best out of others because let's face it, not everybody can, not everybody finds it easy to do. So, you know, it's not to say you can't learn how to do it, and then being that real, commercial business leader, with that view of I'm passionate about where this business is going. I'm obviously passionate about the clients businesses and how we can help but also where we go.
Nina 46:08
You've just reminded me something on leadership in any industry, that's certainly something I've experienced is increasing my self awareness has, I think been really key to becoming a client services director. Understanding what it is that motivates me, truly, and what it is that triggers me when I'm stressed or under pressure, and shifting my perspective on stress versus pressure as well. And that's a whole other conversation but, and certainly, I had a coach who helped me to better understand how I was coming across to both my seniors and the more junior members of the team and how I could adapt the way I communicated when I was under pressure to better support others and each other up and things. There's definitely something in building your self awareness to become a better leader. I think it's crucial.
Jenny 47:03
That is such a good tip, Nina. Can you share what actually was the feedback to you? What was the lightbulb moment. Do you mind sharing?
Nina 47:13
Of course. So I think the time came, when Stratton Craig, I'd been in London for six, seven years. And we decided actually, we're going to reopen the Bristol office, and that I was going to lead that reopening, and the building of the team in Bristol. And so I think I think I had a bit of the weight of the world on my shoulders at the time. And I was managing my own personal life move to Bristol, and also trying to recruit and train a number of new team members in Bristol, and keep all of those London clients happy and make sure that everyone was still on track there as well. So it was a big task. This was when I was put in touch with this coach, because we talked about it and she had been in the office with me at times. We'd had feedback from the team and I think that when the world was on my shoulders, it all came out through my face and I'd be sat at my desk frowning like this, and it would make some of these new members of staff not feel like they could come and ask me a question because they were like, Nina's so stressed out, I can't go over, and it was simple things like a post it note on my screen to tell me to remember to look up and just breathe or whatever it was. But that was one of the, for me, one of the simple pieces of feedback that I got. And that I've really tried to work since, is just not holding all that stress within because it does show, even if you're trying really hard not to bother everyone else, there are ways that it shows. So share the load with your manager or whatever it might be, and it will naturally kind of play out for you. Another thing that I really learned was the ways others communicate as well. Some people communicate completely, they hear things or some people feel things and it was listening out for what others say, so that I could adapt how I was talking to them at the time to deliver the message better or in a way that would make them feel more listened to and to show that they were listened to as well.There was various things we worked through, and I still talk to her now. So it was a fantastic experience. But there was definitely a kind of a big shift at that point for me in terms of self awareness.
Jenny 49:31
Brilliant, brilliant tips. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm sure those little insights and the story around it will be really helpful to others. I had something similar happened to me. I've my face said it all.As you say, as a leader, you set the tone energetically for the rest of the team. You know, if you walk into the office with a face like thunder having had a bad weekend, you just it reverberates doesn't it round the office and everyone kind of feels this tension? So thank you for sharing that's really, really useful. So let me just talking about the future, I'm just conscious of time as well, how do you see things evolving for your clients? How do you see the services you offer, matching the ever changing needs of your clients?
Nina 50:22
I think something we are seeing is that, in the long distant past, as I said, we did a lot of projects with our clients. And what we're now seeing is the clients actually require entire programmes of content. And that's really across all the industries we work with. And, within those programmes, there is a need for so many different formats and channels and requirements, that it's not just one writer, to work with a client, it's actually a team of maybe 10 writers working together, and also individuals on certain projects within that programme and bringing a real range of skill sets together to actually cover all the bases and to make sure that those communications are really successful. So, certainly, we're seeing a trend away from, we need to create a website towards actually, we're rebranding, and these are all the things we need to do and we need to make sure that we're threading the same story throughout all of them. So I think definitely, clients are joining up their own things, which is then obviously, filtering through to the work that we're doing with them as well.
Jenny 51:30
Are they becoming more open minded to having project teams working remotely in different places? Are you seeing a shift in that as well?
Nina 51:40
Yeah. And I actually have seen that they value that they value knowing that, we have writers who many are based in the UK, but many aren't so actually having writers who perhaps work in different jurisdictions for legal clients and, or who understand the cultural nuances and how certain language is going to be received in a certain market. There's definitely a want, particularly from our global clients, to have a team that reflects their globalness.
Jenny 52:15
Amazing. Nina, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing so much value. It's been really, really insightful. And it's great for me to get to know you on a different level as well. So this has been brilliant. I'm just keen for you to share your contact details. First of all, who would you like to be contacted by and how can they get hold of you?
Nina 52:37
So firstly, if anyone, if anything, I said things resonated with anyone, I'd be happy to hear from anyone who has got ambitions in the industry in terms of account management, I've benefited from mentors and advice throughout my career. So I'd be really happy to chat to anyone. And, and then in terms of clients, we do work across lots of sectors and performance, so I won't bore you with those, but I think clients who are looking for a partner, a partner that specialises in writing and words, so perhaps, to work in collaboration with the other agencies they might have on their roster, and who are clients who are really happy to open up their strategy to us because I think that's when we can really add the most value and build the best relationships when we really fully understand what are their pain points, and what really are their objectives, their business objectives that we are part of meeting. And so for us, that's Nirvana is having clients where we really do become that seamless extension of their team and can support them in strategic discussions as well as delivery of their projects.
Jenny 53:48
Amazing. And is the best way to get hold of you on LinkedIn or your website.
Nina 53:53
I'm on LinkedIn, Nina Whittaker and also you can just drop me an email nina@strattoncraig.co.uk as well.
Jenny 54:01
Thank you so much Nina, again. I really appreciate it.
Nina 54:03
No problem. Thank you for having me.
Jenny 54:05
Pleasure.

54 episodes