Jennifer Sanchis caught up with Lucy Eckley, an independent consultant who has been in the world of PR for more than 20 years. With her mix of marketing, business and communication strategy experience, she has been advising CEOs and leadership teams at some of the UK’s best-known companies for more than a decade. In addition to her work on personal branding and content strategy, she leads the Oxford Independent Consultants Network.
Could you tell us about your background in communications and how you came to create your own consultancy?
It’s scary to think I’ve been in the world of communications for more than 20 years! I started my career as a graduate trainee in banking but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. So, I applied for an internal move to the marcomms function. I cut my teeth on some big B2B campaigns and learned about marketing strategy. A few more roles in financial services followed and I took my CIM qualifications. It was when I took an accidental step into internal communications, that I really learned about communication strategy. As budgets shrank and timelines got squeezed I learned to be resourceful.
I loved many things about working in-house – the team element, the insight into business strategy and the intellectual challenge of working with inspiring leaders. But the more senior I became, the expectation grew that I would work longer hours. I was working in London and this was leaving me little time or energy for a life outside work. At the time I wasn’t able to find a role that matched all my expectations in Oxfordshire, so I decided to create my own!
How do you see the industry of consulting and what would you advise freelance communicators?
The world of work is changing and becoming more flexible. With the rise of portfolio careers and freelance work there are many different ways to use your skills. It’s not the things we do in life that we regret, it’s the things we don’t do. Don’t be afraid to try something new or to follow a different path to your peers.
There is a challenge that once you’ve been a senior communicator you can turn your hand to so many things. When I first went independent, I used to call myself a freelance communications consultant. I soon realised this was too broad. I made lots of business friends but it was hard for potential clients to understand exactly how I could help them. Once I was able to say ‘I help independent consultants to build a powerful personal brand’ people were able to clearly understand what I do. I still consult in internal comms and content strategy but that work tends to come to me through my existing contacts who already understand the value I can bring.
What are the skills/qualities that contribute to your (or others’) leadership style that you think are important?
I think one of the most important things I bring is being interested in people and seeing them as individuals. For me, diversity and inclusion means recognising the whole person, including their different personalities, learning styles and ways of working. Not everyone does their best work from 9am – 5pm or by coming to the same place every day. Wherever possible, we need to enable people to work in a way that enables them to be and give their best.
From an early age there’s a lot of focus on developing our weaknesses rather than maximising our strengths. This carries through into performance management in the workplace. Running my own business has opened my eyes to how important it is to play to my strengths and to hire people to advise me or to do the things that are not my strongest areas. I’d love to see leaders building teams of complementary skills where each person maximises the time they spend doing the things they excel at.
Lucy runs the Oxford Independent Consultants Network, which arranges regular meet-ups for independent consultants. Find out more on their Facebook group.