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Credits

Strengthening the communications profession
from the outside in

 

At Andrews Partnership, our mission is to enhance the strength and stature of the whole communications industry. This means not only matching the perfect communications executive to the right top-tier organisation. It often means harvesting unorthodox outside talents; people with the sort of complementary skills that can enrich the whole profession as it grows and develops.

In 2020, two of our executive search placements, for example, we worked to match a large communications agency in Hong Kong with executive hires from the field of law. Sard Verbinnen & Co. is a full-suite strategic communications agency, with particular specialisation in high-end positioning and reputation management for blue-chip multinationals – restructurings, IPOs, M&As, corporate governance, litigation and crises. With many of the world’s leading investment banks on its books, the company has always endeavoured to foster diverse talents – right up to the most senior levels in the agency – to support the complex strategic and commercial needs of its clients.

“While it may seem like a gear shift, going from in-house law to agency-side communications, for me, it was a perfectly logical extension of my career,” says Genevieve White, who in January 2020 left her role as in-house transactions counsel for UBS’s investment banking arm to become Managing Director of Sard Verbinnen’s Hong Kong office. “Investment banks and law firms are both strong service environments and those of us who built our careers in those environments are familiar with many of the corporate and financial issues that our clients engage us for and the quality of service our clients require and expect. Our clients benefit from a lawyer’s global approach to managing transactions and other bet-the-company situations while understanding the market dynamics that need to be successfully navigated. Strategic thinking, problem solving, crisis management, and of course the ability to write well and accurately are shared skills across both law and strategic communications, as well as good leadership, client management, and building a great team and culture.”

And for any communications team with pretensions to business partnership, ‘seeing it from the other side’ is an absolute necessity, not just a handy alternative perspective, argues Jay Qin. He has followed a similar path to White, under the introduction of Andrews Partnership to leave his post as associate director at British law firm Osborne Clarke earlier this year to take up a post as Principal at Sard Verbinnnen. “Many of us at Sard Verbinnen in fact come from politics, law or investment banking for that very reason because that’s how you offer the sort of refined product required by your businesses. Whether you’re in-house or agency, to protect a business’s reputation during a complex M&A or the turbulence of a litigation, you can’t just be great at adding the final gloss. Your team needs to understand the mechanics of the situation, whether it’s a major deal or a crisis situation, to effectively communicate them. You’ve got to know contracts and financing. You’ve got to know law and regulatory politics. It’s the lived experience of all the different sides of the matter, and how it’s likely to unfold, that enables you to steer clients on the risks they face and the opportunities available to them.”

"While it may seem like a gear shift from in-house law to agency side communications, for me, it was a perfectly logical extension of my career."

Nevertheless, both Qin and White have been in rapid learning phase and both agree that, at a personal level, their own skills portfolios have been dramatically enhanced over the last six months. “As one example, I’m starting to understand, in a much more profound way, the nuances of how and why organisations communicate,” says Qin. “In law, you can always refer back to legislation, regulations, first principles and precedents to guide you. But in communications, the answer is often much more interpretative and collaborative, necessarily so, because any messaging, even a single Tweet might be read by multiple segments of society with different interests — professionals, consumers, business partners.

How do you take into consideration all those interests when you have the company’s reputation in your hands? That’s the trick of communications, I believe: You have to think horizontally rather than vertically, taking the collective view as much as possible. In law, you drill very deeply on issues until you know you have found the answer. In communications, the answer finds you – and it comes at you from multiple directions outside. The skill is being receptive enough to capture it when it arrives.”

"As one example, I'm starting to understand, in a much more profound way, the nuances of how and why organisations communicate."

 

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