According to CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Europe, Melanie Faithfull Kent, smoothness is dull. When talking about international collaboration, we should embrace a degree of friction and collision to facilitate innovation and positive disruption. This is what creates added value for our clients, and is what she strives to achieve across Hill+Knowlton Europe.
Melanie Faithfull Kent, CEO for H+K Europe, recently paid a visit to the Oslo office. We used the occasion to chat with her about the international dynamics of Hill+Knowlton, Norway’s role in the global network and to get some unfiltered feedback on what it’s like visiting the country.
There’s a lot of talk about the positive effects and synergies that come with being an international company. Given your extensive international background and role within Hill+Knowlton, we would love to hear your perspective on what the key benefits of working more closely across markets and geographies are?
-Multi-country projects are a unique opportunity to bring the brilliance we have across our offices together and do magical things for clients. They enable our people to connect, learn and grow – individually and professionally – and sometimes even re-locate temporarily for a project. Those are exchanges I’d want to stimulate more. Bringing together a diverse group of people like this is also where our creative thinking can shine under the right conditions. These include our H+K methodology and framework, but it also crucially needs a safe space where anyone feels enabled to come with fresh insights and ideas – the ones our clients value the most. So, there’s loads of benefits to international collaboration.
As with any big corporation and business network, there’s always the question of how to best leverage the diversity within the organization to generate the best possible output for clients. Surely there must be certain issues and bumps along the road when dealing with such a melting pot of a work force, stretching across large geographies. With that in mind, how can we become more streamlined when leveraging our European network?
-There are very real operational complexities to international collaboration. At the same time, I don’t think smooth or streamlined necessarily should be the ultimate goal we strive towards. If you work towards smooth, you’re going to end up with dull. As a company and network, I believe we benefit from some degree of friction and collision; it’s in the space where ideas collide that the innovation and new client thinking can be found. In the end, we want to create an arena for disruptive thinking, rather than an international corporation in which we are all the same and we focus on efficiencies over everything. That model works for some sectors, but I don’t think it’s the right model for ours; we’re not a factory or a production line.
Dealing with all of Hill+Knowlton’s European offices on a day-to-day basis must give you some insights into the inner workings of these markets and how they interact. What role do you see Norway playing in a European and global Hill+Knowlton context?
-Norway is a northern anchor to Hill+Knowlton as it is a market with solid operations, great people, and innovative clients that positively stand out. In turn, this status quo provides stability and opportunity to the network overall. In some ways Norway is like a diving board from which Hill+Knowlton can dive into the region with an edge. Norway is already an established hub for innovation, with exciting business opportunities, innovative cases and competent colleagues that the whole network can benefit from. That’s already the status today, and this is something we’ll continue to build on.
Hill+Knowlton is the only PR- and communications firm in Norway that is truly global. Adding onto that, the fact that we have more than 80 offices in more than 40 countries has become close to a mantra to many of us. But what makes the international fiber in Hill+Knowlton a selling point and differentiating factor as an employer?
-Picture Hill+Knowlton as a global synaptic network: it’s where you can find people, ideas and expertise from all countries and cities in which we are present, all through one entry point. This network is connected; constantly developing as we work together, exchange ideas, best practices, and innovations. This is hard work and a continuous process though. We have mentoring structures, communities, groups organised by specialist services or sectors; many things that bring together people with common interest to learn or to develop their ideas. While many competitors may work with affiliate companies, we believe this truly integrated international organization is how we best take advantage of our great diversity, and indeed it gives a competitive edge when you know Portugal, Poland or France are just one click away. As an employee, it’s a truly enriching work environment to thrive and grow in.
In what ways do our clients benefit from the international Hill+Knowlton network?
-To our clients, it’s like subscribing to a gym membership. You may go to the gym closest to you, but you can also use any of the gyms available around the world, gaining access to specialized personal trainers and bespoke solutions at your request. And it is important for us to make clients aware of this option and the extensive ways in which we can accommodate their needs worldwide: Even spanning cultures, countries, sectors, and continents. That’s what H+K is all about to me – and our One H+K philosophy. But just like gym memberships, the real trick is to show up and use it. What’s the point of having that card in your wallet if you never take advantage?
You’ve been traveling to Norway fairly frequently for more than a decade now. What’s your favorite thing about visiting Norway?
-My favorite thing about Norway and Norwegians must be the unique combination of humility and directness. Whenever I compliment the country, Norwegians often respond by highlighting the poor weather or other negative aspects. But I never relate to whatever negative thing they find. I love this place. It’s clean, well-functioning, with great architecture, amazing food; it’s a beautiful and honest country and society. So, this may just be their way of downplaying what a great place it actually is. But one thing I don’t get, and I was brought up in the Netherlands so I should be open to this – is the brown cheese! What is that all about?