Richard Taylor: executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications, Macmillan Cancer
Richard Taylor: executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications, Macmillan Cancer
A view from Richard Taylor

Hire people who are better than you, says Macmillan marketing director

Macmillan Cancer Support's fundraising and marketing director shares some of the advice that has helped to inspire and motivate him throughout his career.

You have to earn your stripes

I once had a bizarre experience when I was spotted working in a shop on Oxford Street by a director of the Early Learning Centre. He said: "I’ve never had customer service like you gave me – come and work for me."

That was an amazing break but, at the same time, I thought he was reckless and I didn’t know if I wanted to work with someone like that. In fact, he got fired about two months after I joined.

He put me under a manager who said: "I didn’t recruit you – you have three weeks to prove yourself."

What that experience gave me was a confidence and a self-belief that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had. And I did prove myself: I slogged away and went on to become UK and Europe stores director there.

Surround yourself with brilliance

Because of that experience, my eyes and ears are always open when it comes to spotting talent. The secret is to bring in people who are better than you at any job that you could ever do. I’ve really lived by that. I’m never threatened by brilliant people; I don’t have to be brilliant to have brilliant people working around me. They make me look good.

Remind yourself why you do what you do. When someone who has had cancer (and I’ve known many) tells you their story, it can stop you in your tracks. Hearing the horror of it, how frightening it can be – it moves you. And when one of our palliative nurses tells me about their work and I see how valiant they are, that moves me too.

It may sound like a cliché but it’s because of these people that I want to be the best I can be at my job.

Know when to refresh

Macmillan is the best-loved and most-trusted charity brand in the UK. In the 17 years I was at Cancer Research UK, Macmillan was watched with envy. I’ve always loved the confidence of the Macmillan brand.

Our "Not alone" campaign has become synonymous with Macmillan and has entered common parlance when talking about cancer. Yet I don’t think isolation is the biggest challenge that patients are facing, nor is it the greatest need we are trying to meet.

Ten years on, I think it’s the right time for us to refresh our brand. 

You are your harshest critic

Overcoming your own insecurity is far tougher than the challenges other people will give you. However high up you are in an organisation, your inner voice will paralyse you if you listen to it.

I used to be the classic "I’ll get found out because I’m a fraud" type person. In the early days at Cancer Research UK, I worked with a coach when I was moving roles from retail to marketing and was worried about the responsibility and scale of it all.

She pointed out that, every time we spoke about this move, I talked myself out of it. That was a light-bulb moment. I now talk myself in. 

Embrace your ‘rebel heart’

I’ve got a bit of a rebel heart in me. I’m a non-conformist and I like challenging the system. At school, I spent more time in the corridor than the classroom. I was a pain in the arse, basically.

So there’s mischievousness in my character, which has always been there. There’s something in me that’s constantly asking, why do we do it like that?

I’ll tend to push the parameters and I’m not inclined to do something because someone says that’s how you have to do it. If you want to be ambitious for your organisation, it’s important to challenge the status quo, the received wisdom and the cultural norms. 

Keep innovating

Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is like a national treasure. It’s 25 years old and it started with a volunteer who invited her friends round to her house. I love that.

We hope it will still be up there as a top fundraising brand in 20 years’ time, but we can’t rely on it. So we’re already thinking five, ten years ahead. We aren’t looking at what other charities are doing, we’re scouring the world looking at the consumer market, behaviour and practices.

We are asking, what does the funding of charitable services look like in the future? Keep innovating if you want to turn the conversation on its head.

Richard Taylor is executive director of fundraising, marketing and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support. Before joining Macmillan in 2015, he was executive director of fundraising and supporter marketing at Cancer Research UK, where he oversaw the rebranding of the charity in 2012.