Interview with Bev Ryan – Smart Women Publish Podcast

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PHILIPPA: I moved across to Accenture in 2018. I run a division here in Australia, which is relatively new, called Accenture Interactive Operations. We work with marketing departments of larger organisations who are looking to find efficiencies in their marketing function, and who are looking to navigate the huge technology explosion that has overtaken the marketing department.

When I wrote my book, ‘Rules of Social Engagement’ in 2015, the challenge that everybody was struggling with at the time was social media and content marketing, so that’s why I went down the path I did with the book. But obviously, that’s evolved even more over the past four years ago.

Technology has fully exploded. The art and craft of marketing now completely requires a lot of science as well. And it requires a huge investment in technology if you’re in a large organisation with millions of customers. I apply a bit of the common sense approach to marketing, which was the theme in my book as well.

I was brought across to Accenture with very little technology experience, but I was brought across here because of the way I think and because of the way I can simplify complex issues. So, my role is really to bring together the various people at the marketing function, whether they’re technology people, content people, advertising people, media buyers, or what have you, with the right experts within my organisation.

I have to bring in people from our talent and organisation division and we basically help clients re-craft an organisational structure that’s built for today’s technology. It was a huge shift for me because I’d come out of traditional media, and obviously was part of the advertising industry in Australia when it went digital. So, the book was my turning point where I realised that my common sense and all the knowledge that I had acquired over 20 years had real value.

Kylie Bartlett, my coach at the time, said to me, “You actually underestimate the value of what you have in your head and the arsenal of knowledge that you have, and how that might help people.”

I’d come out of the corporate world and I had a small marketing business, and I was contracting to small to medium businesses in Brisbane and I wasn’t sure how I was going to monetize and scale that, and raise three children? So, I needed something that would allow me to have a little bit of flexibility and that would allow me to develop a tangible, profitable business, and do it in a way that I was providing something that people could afford.

BEV: Tell us about the writing process.

Kylie was really, really critical in helping me frame my thinking, frame my story, put the right building blocks in place to make sure the content made sense and was structured in a way that it could be meaningful and useful for a business. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. And I wouldn’t have thought that what I had to say was hugely valuable.

I think a lot of knowledge you acquire, especially when you work for a big organisation – I’d always worked for big publishing and television organisations – you just have to adapt on the fly to suit different client challenges, and you don’t really understand the true value of what you have.

When I wrote the book I decided that really the problem was about navigating the rules of social media, and figuring out how to play in the new space at the time. So the book was titled ‘Rules of Social Engagement’ and it was very much designed to be sort of a step-by-step guide to demystifying all of the jargon that sat around content marketing and the use of social media to drive business outcomes.

And so ‘Rules of Social Engagement’ was about stripping back all of the layers and figuring out what you wanted to talk about, what your customers wanted to talk about, getting into their mindset, and creating a program of content, and delivering it across the right channels at the right times with the right messaging. And it was very common sense.

Each chapter had a template that you could download to fill out for your own business. So at the end of it, you came out with a business plan or a marketing plan that delivered outcomes for your business. It’s a very hungry process creating content for social media and it’s hard for people to understand how that’s going to generate business outcomes.

Kylie worked with me on what my value proposition was with my book. What’s going to be different about this book than the other books that are out there? That’s probably why it was well received because there was a practical element to it where you actually had to think. It wasn’t like you just read the book, closed it, and then went, “Okay, now what?”

The actual writing of it took six months, and I did that predominantly at night and in the school holidays. I’d find blocks of time. I’m not very structured person by nature. I’ve had to become so a little bit, but I would go in fits and starts: I’d always kind of try to put a good five or six hours in a week minimum.

Our kids were about 14, 11, and five or six. So, they were all in school, but there was lots of homework and lots of activities, and I had my business. So, I tried to put aside some time every day, but if I had a nice long window of time, I actually enjoyed writing. So, I would find if I had three or four hours, I’d allocate half of it to writing a little bit. And, of course, I’d go on in waves of productivity, and then I’d go off.

There were sections of the book that I enjoyed much more than others and those would come easily. But then obviously there are, like with every process, bits that you don’t love as much or you don’t know as much about so you have to do research on. But I had the end in mind. I always was aware of where I was, because I’d done the structure of the plan, I knew how far I was in the game, and so once I got halfway through, I got quite motivated cause I was like, “All right, well I’m in the home stretch now.”

And then I got excited. I got excited to show it to other people. I was the reader of it for the beginning. And then, I brought my friend in through Facebook, my friend in the UK to read it for me, who I’d gone to boarding school with for five years, and she runs a content company in London. She was the first person who actually read it. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what’s she going to say? What’s she going to say?” And she was really positive and came back going, “Wow, I can’t believe you created that and all this.” That gave me even more confidence. And she had some really good feedback, suggestions and ideas.

BEV: I know you had some pretty amazing things happen after you launched your book. Did you intentionally put your marketing hat on, and think, “Well, how can I maximize this book now it’s here?”

PHILIPPA: It’s funny how I’m in a sales type function. I’ve always worked in a sales function, but when it comes to selling yourself, and being pushy about yourself, it can be hard because you feel like you’re being arrogant or you’re being pushy. And when I struggled with that, Kylie would always push me. She’d go, “No, you’ve got to follow up. You’ve got to get more people coming to the launch.” The key was getting a hundred people in the room on the day, which I did. And that was exciting.

And then I used my own channels in social media to get the message out there. And it’s amazing how that sticks. I had a relatively large number of followers, yet nothing in terms of huge ‘influencer’ stakes, but enough in my industry and enough people that were aware of what I was doing. So it brought me more awareness and a new level of understanding about what I did and what my value was.

I knew how to write awards applications and I would be getting invitations for all the award submissions and I decided to put my hat in the ring. Awards wins build up a bit of credibility and confidence, and it really helped me leverage the network that I’d built to generate awareness. And, you have a short window of time really with a book, because it’s not new forever.

I remember the excitement of flying to Sydney and having my whole family there, and winning the People’s Choice Award at the BNT awards for Women in Media.

BEV: You also won global book awards, which is pretty exciting. So, the first one was the Bronze Medal in the IPPY awards, which stands for International Independent Publish Book Awards, which are based in America. That was amazing. And in 2017, your book was the Global Book Excellence Awards Winner. So, that’s a very big deal.

PHILIPPA: Yes, it was exciting. There’s always this fear when you create something that there is something in it that’s not right. Are people going to sort of execute the plan and have it not work? There’s the usual self-doubt that you have. But it was hugely invaluable to have you and Kylie guiding me along the way because I’d never done it before. And I think following a process and having to answer to someone who will say to you, “Why? Why? Why would you do that?” Or, “What’s in it for the audience?” Or, “Why have you put it that way?” And having to think it through from another point of view.

Probably the biggest thing I got out of it was confidence in my own knowledge and my own ability.

BEV: Do you feel like there was a pathway from publishing your viewpoint in your industry to where you are now. Do the dots connect?

PHILIPPA: Definitely. I didn’t go back to corporate at the same level I’d left. When I left I was effectively in a sales management role where I was working with marketers. I went back as a thought leader and as a guide and as a sort of trusted advisor. So, I think publishing my book changed the perception of me.

I got lured back into the corporate world, but at a different level. And I’d always enjoyed that world. The only reason why I’d left it really was because of the children and the nine-to-five thing. You know? I’m now at Accenture full-time and I’ve been here for 16 months, and it’s the first full-time job in the office that I’ve had for 18 years. I was approached to join Accenture, and when I was interviewing, my book was mentioned a lot. That was a part of my resume that made me stand out from other people in the field.

I don’t think I’ll be writing a technology book anytime soon, but what I’ve done is I’ve taken the strategies, and then employed them in bigger companies, and I guess as part of a bigger operational process. So my book has been a launch pad for sure.

BEV: I think more professional women should seriously consider publishing as a way of standing out in their industry: take their expertise and put it together in some shape or form as a book, because there’s so much involved in that. The learning process for start, and the consolidation of ideas and viewpoints as you write, and choosing what you want to be seen for. That’s really first step, isn’t it – deciding what you want to be seen as an expert in?

PHILIPPA: You need to be confident that the knowledge you have has value, but you also need to validate the demand for that value. Have a look at who else was playing in that space, and ask how your book will differentiate from the other books that are out there. And work with professionals to produce your book!

Philippa Spork is a marketing strategist with 25-plus years’ experience in key account management and sales leadership within the Australian advertising and media industry. She published ‘Rules of Social Engagement’ in 2016, and soon after that she won international book awards and a major business award. Her book also helped lead to her new role in corporate Australia, as Director of Marketing Operations with Accenture.