'People are my job, I am a servant leader' - Roisin Donnelly

Senior marketers must invest in their team as much as themselves, writes Marketing's Power 100 'leading mentor' of 2014, Roisin Donnelly, the P&G brand director of Northern Europe.

Roisin Donnelly
Roisin Donnelly

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A lot has changed in marketing over the years of my working life. We have been on a journey from mass to targeted; to personalised then to native. Change is here to stay, with the pace and complexity increasing each and every year.

However, one thing that has not changed and will not change is that brand management is a people business.

A complicated industry

Fundamentally it’s about the people we serve, who make a choice every day to buy our brand or a competing product. The more we deeply understand those people and put them at the heart of every business decision on our brand strategies and brand plans, the stronger our brands will be for today and for the future.

People are not part of my job; people are my job

The other part of the people business is those we work with. We are a complicated and interdependent industry with clients and agencies, brand-owners and media owners. The core reason that I have stayed in brand management, and at Procter & Gamble, for so long is the people. In my role, I am building the business for the short, mid- and long term, but also building the organisation to succeed today and long into the future.

People are not part of my job; people are my job. At P&G we promote from within, making our people our most important investment area. I am evaluated and rewarded for building the people as much as I am for building the business. We want to recruit, develop and retain the best people in the P&G culture and so people come first here.

Diversity is key

I am fortunate to work in a company that truly values and drives diversity. Diverse teams get better business results. Diverse teams better understand and represent diverse consumers. Diverse teams are more innovative and creative. Diverse teams are more fun to work in.

Diversity embraces all the visible and invisible differences, challenges the status quo and helps everyone involved reach further than they could alone. I am a great believer in gender diversity, ethnic diversity and style diversity.

But in diverse teams, you need to understand each other so you can get the best out of each other – and a huge part of this is learning how you need to change and adapt your own styles and behaviour. I have never stopped learning about other people and, in turn, about myself.

Knowledge is power

I am a strong believer in coaching, and a passionate advocate of the power of mentoring. I have strong

Mentoring, support and advice shouldn’t only flow down the hierarchy. Senior leaders need help and advice too – and often the most helpful support is from more junior colleagues.

and supportive mentors both within and outside P&G. They have helped me understand myself better and make the difficult choices in my business and personal life – the key to the perpetual work-life balance debate.

I also have a diverse family of mentees inside and outside P&G, in the UK and around the world. P&G recruits a lot of brilliant people, some of whom choose to leave and do extraordinary things outside, but I keep in touch with many of our alumni and act as a mentor and coach. I do feel like a foster mother and it’s something I’m very proud of, but mentoring is a two-way relationship and your mentees help you to grow, too.

This is the very essence of reverse mentoring. Mentoring, support and advice shouldn’t only flow down the hierarchy. Senior leaders need help and advice too – and often the most helpful support is from more junior colleagues. Everyone should be open to this perspective and actively seek it out.

How can you be a better leader? How can you better serve your organisation and people? How can you adjust your style or approach to situations to get more out of the people around you? Ask these questions and the insights you get back are gold dust.

I belong to some unique UK industry organisations, all of which help marketers across the industry connect and help each other to grow.

WACL is an incredible network of extraordinary women who are always ready and willing to help. Mentoring is in its DNA and I have not experienced another group like it.

I believe you can do anything, but not everything, so your team comes first

The Marketing Society is also a valuable network and I’m excited by its expansion to Hong Kong and Singapore. The Advertising Association and its Front Foot organisation are inspiring, and effectively driving the business case for our industry with government and stakeholders.

These institutions showcase everything that is great about our industry but also provide crucial support and mentoring networks for members, which helps everyone in marketing be the best they can while always aiming higher.

Not a dictatorship

I’ve always aimed to be a ‘servant leader’; serving and supporting my organisation from the bottom rather than dictating from the top. I want to be a foundation to support and coach the organisation to reach its full potential, with everyone having the responsibility to drive their own projects and develop themselves.

I believe you can do anything, but not everything, so your team comes first. You are only as strong as the people around you make you – so invest in them as much, if not more, than in yourself. Help them to grow and you will grow yourself.


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