celebrating brilliant account women

Empathetic Leadership : Weber Shandwick's Helen Bennett

In our ongoing series featuring standout account women, Weber Shandwick UK CEO shares her insights

By creative salon

Nearly two years into her role as CEO at Weber Shandwick, Helen Bennett has played a key role in advancing UK and multi-market communications initiatives for clients like HSBC, Unilever, the Nike Foundation, and Aldi. Bennett, who has been at the agency for 15 years, was promoted to London MD in 2019 and a UK leadership shake-up of Weber in March 2022 resulted in her promotion to the CEO role.

At the start of her time as CEO, Bennett revealed key new leadership roles within the UK business including Natalie Buxton as managing director of the UK network and Suzanne Gilson as UK chief financial officer and has since brought on board its first UK president, Amy Garrett, former executive vice president, creative.

Michael Frohlich, the global chief transformation officer and CEO at Weber Shandwick, EMEA, describes Bennett as an extraordinarily empathetic figure who possesses both sharp intellect and a vibrant personality.

"She brings invaluable insights and solutions to a range of client challenges, and our recent growth in the UK is due in no small part to her smart decision making and ability to attract and retain top-class talent."

From her beginnings at Porter Novelli, the British Heart Foundation, and Razor PR, to almost two decades later with Weber Shandwick, we chat with Bennett on her role as an account person, emphasising the privilege of having behind-the-scenes access to prominent brands and the tangible impact her work has on their performance.

Helen Bennett on being an Account Person

Tell us about one experience you’ve had as an account person that made you really proud

It’s not one specific experience but I never take for granted the fact we are given such behind the scenes access to some of the world’s biggest brands and businesses – and that our work and recommendations have such a tangible impact on how they are perceived and perform.

I’ve been lucky enough to advise some incredible global companies – everything from banks to biscuit companies, tech companies and charities – and I haven’t once had a day where I’ve watched the clock and wondered how long it is until I can go home. That’s the real joy of our roles – that each and every day brings something different.

What’s been the biggest learning you’ve had in your career?

That there is huge power to be had in asking the right questions. It’s easy to get focused on bringing the right answers to the table but you’ll get to much better – and much more valued - solutions if you truly understand why a client needs your help.

What makes for a strong, productive client / agency relationship?

Shared accountability to achieving clear goals and a mutual commitment to holding each other to account along the way, even when that sometimes means having tough conversations.

Someone once told me that clients get the agency they deserve - and it’s definitely true that a client who invests time and energy into setting their agency partners up for success will undoubtedly unlock more value from the relationship.

But I also think there’s a responsibility on agencies to reward that trust by caring passionately about making sure the work we do delivers real value to a client. If we can’t readily explain why our work will help contribute to a client’s business goals, it will always be an uphill struggle to be seen as more than a vendor.

What’s that one skill that the best account people you know have?

It’s perhaps counter intuitive to everything we’re taught about client centricity, but the very best account people I know have always put as much energy and passion into building teams internally as they have on building great external relationships with clients. Because highly motivated, high performing teams that enjoy what they are doing will always deliver better, more impactful work for clients – and when the work is brilliant, retaining and growing clients becomes much easier.

What advice would you give to people wanting to be a brilliant account person?

You’re not doing your job properly if you’re the primary reason a client values your agency. Of course your role is key in terms of being a trusted counsellor, but if you aren’t constantly looking for opportunities to bring other people’s expertise and experience to the table, you’re doing both your client and your agency a disservice.

This was a wonderfully liberating realisation for me – that I didn’t need to find the right answers on my own, or be the last person in the office trying to crack a brief. It makes it much less lonely and much more fun. And it also stops both your role and your work becoming static. I’ve learnt so much by bringing colleagues in to help me evolve what we do for clients and how we do it.


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