Meet a Peregrine: Darius Athill, Vice President
“Our clients are extremely tribal. In order to be considered part of the tribe, you have to be able to talk the language. If you can speak cogently about their business, you are considered a peer and not just a service provider. Then you can build a fruitful agency relationship with them. The knowledge allows you to be accepted by the client and to then make the relationship more informal, making them a friend and a Peregrine evangelist. Not before. Finding that balance has been very valuable to me.”
Q: What has surprised you about working at Peregrine?
A: Very little surprises me to be honest! The clients we deal with and their businesses are highly regulated, so it’s a very different type of media relations than you will find in other sectors. It means that you have to understand the nuances of regulation before you do the work. You need in-depth subject matter knowledge in order to properly advise a client and the clients we work with don’t lend themselves to hundreds of pieces of coverage all the time. It requires being quick and decisive – focusing on quality over quantity.
Q: What have you learned about yourself while working here?
A: Over the past six and a half years here, I’ve learned that the work never stops and you need to be an individual that knows everything is going to get done and to make that happen. I’ve learned that if you want to ascend to being a senior team member, you need to appreciate that things need to get done and do it. There’s no time for flapping and missing deadlines. It’s your responsibility.
Q: What is the most valuable skill you have learned here?
A: There’s a number of things. Firstly, I’ve been able to learn a lot about different areas in financial services given the broad client base. You’re not a true, industry-level expert in anything, but you become a generalist in a lot of different areas. Which is interesting, because the specialists don’t know as much in other areas as you.
Secondly, there’s an element to managing people that comes into it. The further up the ladder you get, you learn that the success of the company is about the ability of the senior team members to empower and teach the more junior team. When you see CEOs of start-ups, they say 70% of their work is managing the team. Part of that is having the ability to synthesize down key points of a pitch, messaging project or media campaign very quickly so the team can understand where we are going. I think I’ve learned how to take large amounts of points and filter them down.
Finally, building relationships with clients is important, but our clients are extremely tribal. In order to be considered part of the tribe, you have to be able to talk the language. If you can speak cogently about their business, you are considered a peer and not just a service provider. Then you can build a fruitful agency relationship with them. The knowledge allows you to be accepted by the client and to then make the relationship more informal, making them a friend and a Peregrine evangelist. Not before. Finding that balance has been very valuable to me.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: What’s funny is I still enjoy issues/crisis management despite the time pressure. You have complex situations that come from left field without warning and they require pretty quick, snap decision-making with an element of time pressure – and our clients really lean on you for advice. That’s when you really feel like you’re adding value.
Q: How would you describe the culture at Peregrine?
A: The things that stand out to me are that it’s collaborative and there’s a strong element of mentorship. It’s like an education culture. The fact that you have senior and junior people working closely all the time is very clear. In terms of hierarchy, I wouldn’t necessary say that it’s flat – as senior team members generally have to focus on more strategic work – but we are devoid of individual egos, which makes for a flatter structure than other agencies.
Q: What are the activities that happen each year that you enjoy the most?
A: The Christmas party is always a highlight, especially when the New York team came to London. The marketing events we put on are also fun, as is attending industry conferences. You see the formal and informal side of our clients.
Q: How do you think marketing is changing in the financial services sector?
A: There is always an increased focus from the C-suite at clients on ROI (return on investment). If you can prove ROI through measurement and analytics on your activities, that is the key thing right now. There’s a proliferation of data – so data analytics is very important.
Another one is that the lines between PR, marketing and consulting are getting blurred. To the extent that showing specialist knowledge in complex areas of financial services is key. Without that you can’t meaningfully enact campaigns that show ROI in the first place. You can have good management, but if your campaigns don’t have the specialist content to get results, there’s no point in analysis. It’s all about measurement combined with business results right now.
Q: Tell us about a challenging project you worked on and how you surmounted it?
A: It has got to be a global messaging project. I managed a large messaging project for a firm that had entrenched messaging in one area of the world and conflicting messages in another. The head of marketing was aligned with one part – they were our main point of contact – and the C-suite was with the other. We were tasked with sitting in between and creating messages that appealed to both sets of stakeholders, essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. The underlying subject matter was also very complex, so we had to explain it, differentiate the two geographies from each other, ensure they were no longer conflicting and get buy-in from both sets of executives on our recommendations without diluting the messaging so that it lost its edge.
It was all completed on time and both sides were happy and, even though it was intellectually tough and time consuming, I learned a huge deal.