The MD: How to hold your nerve in challenging times

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Anyone who’s held the role of Managing Director or MD at a company will know it’s a tough gig with difficult decisions to make at the best of times.

Not only must they steer the ambitions of the board, they also need to be seen as one of the team among the ranks.

Here, recently appointed Managing Director at True, Andrew Godley, shares his vision of to maintain presence and poise amid a constantly shifting business landscape…

Andrew Godley MD True
Andrew Godley MD True

With so many over-engineered, far-fetched and potentially egotistical job titles sprouting into existence, the broad-brush but somewhat prosaic title of Managing Director at least does a fair job of reflecting a role with ever-shifting requirements.

I have learned that, coming into this role as the newbie can be more challenging than rising through the ranks.

Promotion from within means you have history with the company, you know the teams, and hopefully have already won the respect of your colleagues.

Stepping in from an external company: parachuting in potentially to solve business problems or to accelerate the growth curve of a company, requires a daily shift of emphasis.

Doubling down with focus where needed, while reassuring those around you at the same time.

In this challenging economic climate, in which clients are taking longer to make decisions and budget sign off can be delayed; unpicking mistakes, embedding successes, and running with opportunities – large and small – is more important than ever.

An MD must inspire both bottom up, and top down. Listening and responding with empathy, is a key part of the job; one which can be fraught as economic challenges mount.

While people management is not easy, it’s critical to influence others positively. In the world of advertising this extends to new business pitches, selling in creative work, and liaising with clients, partners and suppliers.

In our current working world of flexible and hybrid working, ‘presence’ is a critical consideration for an MD.

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Post-pandemic hybrid working requires critical skills of an MD.

Even though we’re not always at our most productive when physically in the office – and inspiration or problem-solving may in fact be more likely to spring from a lunchtime walk – I have learnt never to forget the importance of being present across all parts of the business.

The need to foster engagement from all staff can be even more acute when you have pressure from above, as well as from the market itself.

As working environments continue to shift and evolve, people need to know they can talk to you.

While the CEO may ultimately set the business agenda; the MD must make it happen – often in the face of pressure for short-term performance gains.

When communicating to others in the team, bad news must never come as a surprise. Even the hardest conversations and decisions can feel manageable if context and positive communication is there.

Fortunately for the creative industries, I feel that through the pandemic and all the associated upheaval, advertising got its ‘mojo’ back.

I saw brilliant work which supercharged performance and agency success flows.

The importance of brand vision and creativity came to the fore like never before. Including an extraordinary four hour immersive real-time, road slow TV journey cruising Australia vast landscape in an Audi; and Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds, dabbling in ads, with his Mint Mobile powerpoint ad, instead of the ‘epic’ ad planned pre-Covid.

Further disruptions to the industry see creative practitioners being offered a top seat at the boardroom table, such as Pharrell Williams at Lous Vuitton.

More importantly, B2B is championing bringing creative and media together. This is evidenced by research by WARC and Kantar showing that the most creative and effective ads generate more than four times as much profit.

The alternative – a focus on short-term success and financial performance above all else – is fraught with risk.

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Which way? Godley says focus on short term goals could be risky.

In this climate, an MD must help the team to see the long-term vision and hold its nerve, rather than resort to short-sighted compromise.

Empowered teams must be respected: It’s been shown time and again that creativity is the most powerful lever for change.