#StandTall with Annalise Brown

The purpose of Poppy Renegade #StandTall series is to showcase trail blazers but in today’s age of start ups and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to forget there are some incredible women who have been placed in a position of power and trust working in-house for major companies

As seen on Poppy Renegade.

You’re the MD of Hidden Characters, the PR Agency within M&C Saatchi Group, tell us a little more.

I wear three hats to work everyday split between the Managing Director of Hidden Characters, Head of PR for M&C Saatchi Group and the Chair of our industry body, the Public Relations Council (PRC). While they are very different roles, they do have one thing in common, you can never entirely predict what is going to happen on a daily basis. At any given time I need to know what’s happening within the news cycle that’s affecting our clients, our business and our industry.

What do you love most about what you do?

The people. M&C Saatchi Group is a 450+ person organisation, yet feels like an intimate group of people working towards a common goal with shared values. Everyone brings their own diverse skillset and unique point of view to collaborate and crack solutions to real business problems.

We love a bit of name dropping! Tell us some of the clients you work with.

We look after such varied clients across a range of industries including entertainment, food and beverage, lifestyle and services. From Universal Sony Home entertainment to BWS, to some of Australia’s most influential startups including ready made kids meals brand, Little Bud, energy retailer, Energy Locals and holistic health mobile solution Thrivor.

What’s your rule of thumb when it comes to inspiring your team?

Give them as much opportunity to learn outside of the four walls we sit in. Whether it’s external training, flexible working arrangements, our library or exploring new platforms or tools, we are a close knit team that learns from each other and we all have a healthy inquisitive nature.

People in PR either love or hate what social media has become, the struggle to work with authentic influencers is on the rise now that almost every Tom, Dick and Harry is ‘buying’ their way to high-follower status.  How does your team overcome this challenge?

We’re fiercely passionate about establishing and nurturing authentic influencer relationships and execute all social collaborations with integrity. We don’t subscribe to the ‘pay for post’ model. It just doesn’t deliver to the authentic connections we are looking for from influencers and brands.

For us, social and digital proliferation has given us the opportunity to build deeper relationships with influencers, utilising their services across multiple engagements and ensuring true integration into their channels with authentic and engaging content tailored to their audience.

Do you agree that the focus is now shifting onto micro-influencers?

When it comes down to it, it’s about understanding how real people live and at what point in their day we influence them, with tightly targeted messages, which will create impact.

There is still a purpose for big name celebrity ambassadors, when engaged correctly, their reach is invaluable. We find that true collaboration with these personalities can deliver exponentially, but the project has to be authentic. To them and the brand.

Engaging micro-influencers is definitely a trend on the rise. Micro-influencers have highly targeted, niche audiences. They also usually have a narrower, but deeper, passion point, which means that their audiences are more highly engaged. This enables brands to initiate tailored dialogue with an audience they know will resonate with their brand. The key (as always) is that the brands have to ensure that they are using the right representatives for their brands, however big or small they are.

2 quick tips for people wanting to be an influencer?

Understand the channel you are entering. Be authentic and have a real passion for what you do.

What was your greatest WOO-HOO moment for a client?

There have been so many over the years! I have had the opportunity to work on some iconic launches throughout my career; Xbox, Vodafone Live, Coke Zero together with some phenomenal events; Louis Vuitton global store opening, Sydney Olympics and eBay and Rugby World Cup and Visa to name a few. But it’s always the (often smaller) milestones that you achieve for clients where you can see the impact you have had on their business. I have had the opportunity to work with Eggs, where we literally changed perception and behaviour from an evil health risk to a superfood. More recently we have worked with start up founder of Little Bud, Rachel Grantham. She has totally changed her career and in the process developed a brand that is aimed at the working woman she used to be, healthy food for 1 – 5 year olds.

What I love about the work we are doing here is that we can actually see the correlation in website traffic and enquiries with the placement of our stories and conversations. Within two months of launching into the country’s largest grocers Woolworths and Coles, Little Bud is selling over 20,000 units per month. Most inspiring? Is that we get to share in someone’s dream coming to fruition.

Turning back time, you initially started a degree in Accounting and Finance, but somehow along the way ended up in PR. How did that come about given they’re somewhat worlds apart?

I always wanted to be in business and naively thought that embarking on a Bachelor of Commerce with those majors would give me a good grounding. I wasn’t prepared for the dryness of Accounting and Finance (or the debit/credit of balance sheets), so I changed to Marketing and HRM. However, I still hadn’t a clue about PR when I finished my degree.

I went to a job interview that I wasn’t suitable for. However the interviewer happened to have dinner with Deeta Colvin that night and I soon found myself doing a holiday cover with the doyenne of PR. I was fortunate that only a couple of weeks post that cover I was offered a full time position. Deeta was an inspiration. Her creativity, attention to detail, intelligence and chutzpah were formidable and her reputation as Australia’s number one meant that I had a fabulous introduction to PR from the very best. After that experience I certainly had the passion for this industry.

I don’t believe my initial focus on accounting and finance was wasted. Whether it was the first couple of years of my degree or just what I have learnt along the way, I do have an innate understanding of business. So it’s almost come full circle.

I have to ask, ‘Suits’, fan or not?

Totally. I’m hanging out for part two of season six to be released on DVD!

Literally had a conversation with my sister yesterday about how we were strangely attracted to Harvey Spectre, even though he is neither of our type!

You reached MD-status at the age of 32. Did you struggle with any ageist pushback from people who thought you were too young to know what you were doing?  If so, how did you cope?

I was lucky enough to work for an agency where everyone was quite young. We were all encouraged to push ourselves and we were kind of mavericks at that time, taking on some of the bigger more traditional agencies with some pretty big clients. Spin was the first integrated independent agency focused on youth, fashion and lifestyle so we were able to make our own rules to a certain extent.

The company was really empowering. Great ideas, passion and hard work were rewarded. At no time did I feel that I couldn’t achieve because of my age, gender or anything else. And for that I am forever grateful.

Best advice you can give someone wanting to get into the industry?

Be agile, resilient and have the ability to multitask.

You have to really know the media. Understanding what different bloggers, journalists, producers love and want is imperative to our job. And it’s easy to start – just consume many different forms of media and start to understand the different ways they communicate the same stories.

The most successful communications practitioners don’t just think about their craft. They make decisions that address their client’s businesses holistically. They’re able to build rapport with clients, media and influencers, understand how to address client’s problems and offer real solutions garnering tangible results based on a deep knowledge of their consumer. You sometimes have to have tough conversations and that’s where your good relationships come into good stead.

They also know that their people are the most important part of their business. There is nothing more satisfying that seeing your team grow and succeed.

Above everything, you have to love what you do and do it with integrity.

What’s your mantra?

Extend yourself until you feel uncomfortable.

Pet hate?

Timewasters and people who are late. It shows such a lack of respect for others and a serious belief in oneself that they are better than everyone else.

What’s your go-to tip for being confident?

This is going to sound strange, but research. Knowledge truly is power. The more you know about a topic, person, event or situation the more you are going to feel at ease when in it.

Fail-proof mood ‘pick me up’ ritual?

My personal relationships. I have a very close knit circle of friends, very few of them in the industry. Most of whom I have known for very many years. Their ability to make me laugh and just not take myself too seriously is what I cherish.

What does #StandTall mean to you?

Be proud, be strong, be authentic and don’t apologise for the person you are.