Page 48 - Adnews Magazine May-June 2021
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office, she was in the global pitch for Diageo, the multinational bev- erage alcohol company. “I was thrown into that meeting, so that was a good start.”
It was back into the office in early January, and then it was just a few weeks when lockdown hit.
“I was walking into something that I knew would be difficult but couldn't possibly have known it was going to be quite as tumultu- ous as it was,” says Hewitt.
Her biggest worry was jobs in her team. “That was the primary focus for the bulk of last year,” she says. “It was certainly the thing that weighed heaviest on my mind.”
She had 120 people looking for her to provide them with a sense of stability, focus, some certainty, in an uncertain and destabilising time.
“Making the best decisions possible so we could protect the jobs and the livelihoods and the mental health of those people was something I knew would be part of the job but I didn't necessarily think it would be the front and centre focus for the bulk of my first year,” she says.
Hewitt started to look with a more detailed and critical eye at wording of communications with staff during 2020.
With remote working, and the stress of rapid change, an unknown
“We had to create a way to keep our people safe and secure and motivated.
Imogen Hewitt, CEO, Spark Foundry
  near future, staff would read everything in detail. The chance of misinter- preting, or reading too much into a statement, was high.
“When everyone was at home, trying to navigate through stuff that was genuinely scary, I tried to provide some certainty,” she says.
“When you've got people who are wondering if their jobs are safe — who are wondering, ‘What are we doing this week? What are we doing next week? What happens in a month?’ — and there's disturbing news everywhere, the best thing we could do was to be kind and clear.
“When you're not all together and you can't have that sidebar conver- sation to double check that what was heard was meant, there's no room for ambiguity because it creates fear. Or it creates a vacuum where people will have to fill that with their own narrative, which won't necessarily be right and can cause more disruption than is necessary.
“I sat there and thought very long and hard about every single word.”
The agency also had more staff forums — more than Hewitt had seen before. “If we could create a sense of certainty about the decisions we may need to make, and when we would need to make them, and what the horizon looked like, and what our current financial performance looked like, and how our clients are holding up, and all of those sorts of things, then we could at least minimise people's fear. So that's what we did.”
When Hewitt was thinking about taking this role, somebody said to her, only half-joking, that chief strategy officers make the worst CEOs.
But those strategic and communication skills became more important.
She has spent the bulk of her career thinking through what people need to hear, when they need to hear it, in what format and whether or not that would work for them.
“What are the possible ways they could interpret that was a bril- liant skill set to have, when I was sitting there thinking about internal comms and the management of people's emotional state, more so than anything else,” she says.
 “We were also obviously paying incredible attention to cost

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