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Me and my partner

By The Drum, Administrator

December 3, 2003 | 5 min read

Ali and Martin go for a stroll.

Martin on Ali

When Ali had her wages docked, for the cost of damage to NHS property, viz. one telephone handset, I realised our relationship had moved on to a new level.

Obviously, damage would have been minimised had the handset reached its intended target, me, but no-one could accuse Ali of being indifferent in her opinions.

Good business partnerships require a matching of independent spirits. Who needs someone who will agree with all your great insights into the human condition? You can get that working on your own.

Ali’s expensive public school education left her with a less than deferential attitude to authority, so when I hired her in 1995 I quickly realised we had to establish a partnership based on respect. She questioned everything. Usually, she was wrong. But when she was right, disaster was avoided.

But good partnerships need matched attributes as well as constant interrogation. Ali is impulsive where I am inert. She can establish an immediate empathy with people while I need a good five years. Without my caution we’d be constantly duped by charlatans. If it was left to me, we’d never meet anyone new. Not that I’m introverted, but the gift of instant rapport is Ali’s contribution to Western civilisation. Of course, once people have seen through that surface charm, I’m there for the long term. But, above all, Ali has the two key characteristics for anyone in our business; bravery and determination.

In the years when we built up the HEBS brand, I did the advertising and Ali did the PR and these demarcation lines blurred in a way that led to great work. I couldn’t have done it on my own.

We’ve known good times and we’ve known difficult times. In the public sector we don’t have bankruptcy and mergers, God has given us restructure and policy review instead. The results are often similar.

One of the most difficult things about a good partnership is preserving its essence while integrating it into a wider team. When we doubled the size of the communications unit in 2001 it was hard for us to admit Justine and Danielle actually made the work better, but they did.

Ultimately, there’s a recognition that two sets of complementary skills are not enough to cover all the eventualities.

But when it comes to covering the ground quickly, debating the issue and taking action in the 15 minutes (if you’re lucky) available in PR you can’t go to a committee. At these times intuitive understanding comes into its own.

Ultimately, good partnerships in business are about recognising your limitations and finding someone with complementary strengths. And that’s worth the odd missile.

Ali on Martin

Predictably, Martin has finished his piece and I’m starting mine a week later. This story begins for me in 1995 when I was drawn to applying for a post at HEBS because of the absolutely stunning and compelling TV advertising. (It certainly wasn’t for the pay.) It was a chance to work at the nerve centre of something I perceived as being very special.

When offered the job, I didn’t hesitate. Having assisted Jim Faulds, a notorious (in the nicest possible way, Jim) slave driver, I was hoping for a more comfortable billet. Actually, I began to work harder than I’d ever worked before.

Martin expects everyone who works for him to be completely and utterly focused on the communications output, dedicated, like him, to excellence. “Everything that comes out of this office must be perfect.” (Pity about the shirts then.)

In reality, the relationship is symbiotic; I finish all Martin’s sentences for him and he doesn’t let me interrupt. In the end we were forced to buy and fight over a mechanical hailer, which yelled “shut up and listen!” We still sometimes don’t, simply because we just know what the other one is going to say. These shouting scenarios arise only because we’re passionate about the work and care enough to fight over the approach if we don’t agree. Nothing would be easier than to say OK and slope off home at 5pm. It doesn’t happen.

I feel privileged to have worked with one of the most intelligent, analytical yet creative people in marketing in Scotland. Having great ideas is the easy bit; turning them into reality is where the tears and toil come in. What I’ve learnt from Martin is to stop and think, to look for the downsides of any action as well as the upsides. Sounds defensive and cautious, but it’s your money we’re spending and we like to get best value.

Born on 20 September, Martin is a true Virgo, perfectionist, ultra-critical, with an absolute talent for spotting a mistake. But he’s also a good boss – loyal, supportive, with a willingness to compromise (once you’ve set fire to his office). He performs well on radio and TV, which makes selling stories to the media a positive experience. He strongly feels that accessibility and flexibility are key factors in developing a good relationship with the press.

The advertising account is with The Bridge and Feather Brooksbank is our media buyer. Together we have won many prestigious awards – it’s been an honour to be a part of it. It’s no accident that our research shows that Health Scotland’s advertising comes across as “authoritative, friendly, non-judgemental, non-finger wagging and supportive – a friend” – Martin’s character exactly, apart from the finger wagging.


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