A View From The Comms Team
Estelle Bibby is Head of Media Relations for the Schroders group.
The company is responsible for £500.2 billion of assets and employs 5,500 people across six continents. She talked to us about her role and the new way of working that has helped them transform the way her team works.
She has led a team which has won the Headline Money Awards 'Press Team of The Year' multiple times.
PressChoice: How did you get into the industry?
Estelle: I fell into it. I got the junior PR role at Direct Line, and it was in the days when the Direct Line has just launched, was at itspinnacle. It was really revolutionary for an insurance company to operate directly with a consumer (previously a consumer would have used a broker and going direct to an insurance company was not possible). It was very much right place, right time. If you're going to start your career in PR it was certainly the right company to join.
PressChoice: Finance is a challenging area for Comms, as it is both life changing and important for consumers but technical and sometimes difficult to understand. How have you coped with those challenges?
Estelle: I think with Schroders, it's quite easy to talk about the business because you boil it down to the basics of what we do, which is based on a fairly straight forward principle. At its core our role it to look after people's assets and grow them.
The appeal is that investment management and wealth management touch almost everyone from someone with a junior ISA for their children, a pension plan or a high net worth family, the Schroders group offers a solution to a broad range of investments. Our story, the story of what we do should be of interest to everyone. The message we have is important and relevant and that helps in creating an appealing narrative.
PressChoice: What are the biggest recent changes you have seen in the industry?
Estelle: Clearly the huge and exciting recent move is the sustainability lens that has now been put on our industry. We are now increasingly focussed on making our company and the companies in which we invest more sustainable for both the planet and for people everywhere.
That approach links to our efforts to constantly improve diversity. Making sure that we have an inclusive culture helps bring different perspectives to the issues we want to raise and makes us much more effective.
PressChoice: Do you think the media has seen the importance of this new emphasis on sustainable investments?
Estelle: I do think there's a huge movement now around this issue. Everyone's realised the direction we have to move in, and I think it's been accelerated so much more with COVID. The pandemic has raised new questions about the way all sorts of businesses need to behave and there is a view that companies have a bigger part to play than ever before.
Clients are also definitely demanding change. They are inquisitive about what their investments do and what the impact their investments have on people and the planet. We have been engagement with companies in which we invest for over 20 years and its great to see how that clients are really engaged in this. so this is a new and important direction of travel for us.
As an example, we recently bought a business called BlueOrchard, which is a specialist microfinance business. Its where financial returns meet social and environment impact, for example it can helps farmers in West Africa with loan for as little as £50 to buy new cattle which could ultimately help an entire community. A business like that can have a fantastic beneficial impact on people’s lives and fits in with our desire to help create the sort of ethical change we want to see.
PressChoice: How effective has the new way of working during lockdown been for your team?
Estelle: We have just had a well-being survey, which showed some very interesting results. We moved very early on, to change the way we work. We invested heavily in technology to allow our employees to work remotely so when the pandemic hit we were able to move quickly to fully virtual working model. before COVID hit, started to allow people to work more flexibly. For instance, when I had my twin daughters 11 years ago, I came back on four days a week for a year, and then I went full time thereafter.
But we’ve now gone further with our flexible approach and launched our Flexible Working Charter, which was introduced last summer. So, if you've got childcare responsibilities, you can work in the evenings or early mornings. Also, if you want to take time out for home schooling and take some unpaid leave, you can do that. So, it really is entirely flexible now and it's been a fantastic change.
PressChoice: Some people worry that such flexible working means you have less oversight of your team. Has that been a problem?
Estelle: I have been thinking about starting a formal rota system as we cover Asia first thing but also the US later in the day.
We have some early risers in the team and I worry that people are working too long hours due to working from home. I am sure everyone is suffering from this. I haven’t found it necessary to do this yet as we work so well as a team that we really do lean on each other. If we need some support, people are very good at offering help to other team members and as such it’s a really creative environment.
We have daily catch up calls and I am conscious of wellbeing so I try to ensure everyone gets a break, it’s a constant juggle to get this right.
PressChoice: What are the biggest changes, you’ve seen in the way journalists operate and do you think that has made your job easier or harder?
Estelle: Sadly, there's a lot fewer journalists now as the number of publications has depleted and that places a lot of strain on editors and reporters.
That has also meant we have had to adapt and that has in some ways changed the way we do things. We've got a big content team now built mainly of ex-journalists.
We are now not only being a bridge between the business and the media but we are content providers ourselves and that is a really interesting new direction of travel.
For instance, looking at our media centre, 18 months ago we would have been uploading new content outing stuff on once or twice a month. I made a conscious decision to change this and publish far more frequently with stories from across the group. This meant more writing for the PR team but the rewards has been huge – the stats have been astounding. There is something like a 350% increase in traffic to the website since we starting posting more content. The amount of clicks and interest that we get on that newsroom is incredible.
PressChoice: Despite all the challenges, it sounds as if you are quite optimistic about the opportunities the new environment presents you with.
Estelle: I think it's super exciting. I've always thought that a Comms role is as exciting as you make it. You can be as creative as you like and with the trust of the business undertake some really interesting initiatives. We have been building on our relationships with broadcasters and now frequently host them at our office, we host global webinars for our international journalist audiences more frequently and we work as hard to engage with journalists despite the lockdown situation. with these things and we are trying to look at the work we do with new eyes and make the changes that are needed. That includes hosting broadcasters at Schroders to make use of our fantastic site and re-imagining what is possible in all the areas we in which we operate.
I am a firm believer in improving everything we do by just 1% each day, just because something has been done the same way for years does not mean it needs to be done the same way tomorrow. There is so much to be done on the sustainability and making a difference, its really exciting to be part of this movement.
That is where we are at the moment, making the most of the changes we see and of course there's so much more that can be done which we are looking forward to.
Estelle can be found Twitter @EstelleBibby
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