Amanda Mackenzie is on the executive committee of Aviva and as the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer she is the guardian of the brand, customer and reputation. Non-executive director at Mothercare and a member of the steering group for the Lord Davies report on women on boards. Amanda campaigns to support women in accessing general management roles. A creative at heart, she talks to Myriam Crété-O’Carroll about trends, technology and wisdom.
You have an impressive career in advertising, marketing and communications. Has it always been on the cards?
No, I can’t imagine it has. At about 14, I auditioned for the Royal Ballet School and I was told I was the wrong shape. Then I decided I wanted to be a doctor and frankly, I did not do well enough. I found my way into psychology and then never looked back. So it was sort of serendipity – born out of plans not happening – which is why I think you always need to create options and be open to paths that might not have been in your mind.
During your career you’ve worked with prestigious brands – BA, BT, British Gas, Mars, Chanel…The British have a strong reputation for their creativity. How do you nurture your right brain?
I love playing the piano. I used to sing lots and be in London choirs. I love the arts and I am on the Board of the National Youth Orchestra. Just being around creative minds is really important to me. Also being aware of creativity is almost like using a different muscle. Your right brain needs to complement your left brain and it’s wonderful when you let that side of your brain just go. It’s beautiful.
What do you think is fundamental for brands to stand out?
A brilliant planner once said you build brands like a bird builds a nest: one piece of straw at a time. It can’t ever be one-dimensional. The other mantra is that a brand is and a brand does, so brands ultimately stand out by how they make you feel and by the service you receive from them.
What are the current trends shifting the communications market?
I would say digital, big data and simplification. Technology can now profoundly change how we receive products, to the extent that they can almost change a product in itself. I think for instance of the way we can now read books on tablets. I wonder if it will eventually change the way the authors write? Then we have access to more data about customers than ever before. So we have to figure out how we can make sense of a world that is changing, how we receive it and how that can be married with making it simple for all of us.
Because the last thing any of us needs is more complexity in our lives.
Talking digital, do you think social media could ever be relevant to brands like Aviva?
Of course. Not sure any company has cracked the social media business model yet though. I can’t bear the fact that some obscure brands ask to ‘Follow us on Twitter’. ‘Why on earth would I? What are you giving me for doing that? I’ve got a life and no thanks!’ So let’s just be thoughtful and use common sense; as long as a brand is adding value or is relevant for its customers, it’s ok to be active on social media.
Aviva has reached three quarters of a million followers on Facebook. How did you achieve such a success?
If I’m honest, I would not have expected that from an insurance company. We link our social media activity with our CSR work and we get our customers to help us further the cause. We make our customers feel they’ve got a reason to want to play and that’s how it works best.
You’ve contributed to shaping the Lord Davies report. What are the barriers still stopping women reaching board-level positions?
The pipeline is a problem. We’ve got to keep helping women in their mid-twenties to follow their ambition and dare to think bigger; because unless you encourage young women to own a PNL [profit and loss] account driving themselves forward, you’re going to have them as entrepreneurs – or running support functions like I am – but you’re not going to have them as general managers or actually running big companies over the long term. And what a shame.
What advice would you give to women to achieve more fulfilment?
There is a lot documented about barriers for mothers or working mothers in general e.g. confidence, childcare, ambition, guilt. I also think having a sense of duty is imperative. Think about this logic; if you have a pension, some of that pension will be invested in this country’s biggest companies. If you believe that business is better run with more diversity throughout all levels, then if you stay in a FTSE 100 and help it thrive you are actually helping everyone in society. A soldier’s duty is more obvious, and of course moving, but why not think about a senior role in a large company as contributing to society as much as say working for the government. Feels strange to think this way? But why not? So I think all of us should have that sense of duty.
It does not need to burden us, but it should bind us.
What would you not live without?
My family is obvious, but if I had to be alone on a desert island I would want my grand piano, an endless supply of music, chocolate and wisdom.
Myriam is the features editor for our Inspirational Women in business. She is committed to raising the voice of women in media and has met some of the most prolific women (and, dare we say it, is as inspirational as those she interviews!).
Myriam has been working in the industry for over ten years, with CNN and CNBC Europe. She is also the founder of Smart Content, a boutique consultancy helping brands to express their authentic personality and engage with their consumer groups, through compelling content.