Harriet Knight and Hannah Penn
Meet Pablo's new joint managing directors
Harriet Knight and Hannah Penn on taking the reins at the independent agency
21 June 2021
The independently owned Pablo has just shaken up its management team, promoting Harriet Knight to joint managing director and brining in Hannah Penn from AMV as her counterpart.
The pair replace Peter Moulton, a founding partner, who will now take on the role of chief operating officer.
The moves come as Pablo sits atop the new business league. So, what can we expect from the new duo, who have been given authority by chief executive (and big-time rugby fan) Gareth Mercer to put their own stamp on the agency?
How will you divide the responsibilities of MD?
At the moment, it’s a bit like dating, and we feel like we’re in the early stages of a relationship, getting to know each other, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses (Hannah has certainly already spotted my Achilles heel of tardiness, I’m sure) and seeing if each other’s Tinder profiles were totally accurate.
But ultimately, we’re looking to complement each other's skill sets; working, learning and leading together. We’re looking to be the yin to one another's yang if you will.
One of the interesting things about how Pablo is set up is that we operate a ‘Now’ and ‘Next’ organisational structure (which Harriet was the architect of) - not just at an account level, but also a management level as well. You’ll notice that at most levels of management we have a tag team, Dan Watts and Tim Snape as ECDs is one such example. Why? Because we feel it’s very hard to operate in a traditional agency leadership model of just three people as it can actually limit a number of things such as growth, ability to support and develop young talent and ultimately sharing the load of the day-to-day management and delivering on the future vision of the agency. Our roles as Joint Managing Directors are no different. It’s absolutely vital in somewhere like Pablo that we’re not just focused on landing the plane right now (as we are doing with the latest addition to the fold of DFS), but also looking ahead to what's next; what’s the next creative opportunity, what’s the next thing in culture and society we can have an impact on. This approach is what helps us be Pablo. What gives us a sense of forward momentum. And with two of us as Joint MD’s we can wingwoman each other to switch between the Now and Next focus and ensure that we don't lose that.
Gareth [Mercer, Pablo’s CEO] has said you can put your own stamp on things, ripping up the rule book where appropriate. What plans do you have, what will you discard and what will you enhance?
For us, it’s all about creating space for great work to thrive whilst being agile. Part of that is about making the process and the way we operate conducive to the creative. And the other part is about ensuring that we create a place that people actually look forward to coming in to work each day. We work in one of the most fun and exciting industries, and bringing to life creative ideas should be nothing but enjoyable. What we’re ultimately motivated by in our approach is making Pablo the best place in the world for the best talent in the industry to do what they do. So, we’ll rip up anything that gets in the way of our people doing what they enjoy, in a way they enjoy doing.
There are so many incredible things about Pablo that have got us to where we are today and we would be foolish to not recognise these. Part of that is not taking all of the industry’s received wisdom as gospel. Pablo is at its best when it’s shaped more like a lean, agile, speedboat, not a big tankard chugging along. That’s something we mustn’t lose. And working together (both with clients and other agencies) is hard-wired into the process. We ‘front-load’ the thinking to get to ideas early, reaching a consensus together before getting our collective shoulders behind the work. We don’t believe in ta-dah moments and love to engage clients early in the creative process and keep them involved; and that allows us to create a unified mentality across our team and our clients, creating a shared vision and agenda. And we actively encourage Pablos to have a growth mindset and embrace a spirit of entrepreneurialism (or as we call it internally ‘Be more Gareth’). For example, most people don’t know this (as we never shout about it) but Pablo has created products including an alcopop brand, owns its own restaurant and mobile coffee business. We want to keep building on this and finding ways to get better and better at it. Gareth has always said that the best thing about Pablo is that if we see a better way or something isn't working, we just change it. We intend to do just that. For example, our Head of Production found a great way to link creativity and agility to the Deliveroo account by building our own production studio. I (Harriet) really enjoyed supporting him to craft that offer.
We want to create a space where people are actively encouraged to be entrepreneurial, where everyone has a voice and a part to play and being a brand that demonstrated our point of view, take part in the conversation and is defined just as much by its behaviours as we are by the work (giving up our office last year and donating savings to Shelter being one such example of this which we’d love to do more of).
Pablo is top of the new business league table, having steadily risen in profile over the past few years. How do you intend to keep pushing it?
In all honesty, the last year for Pablo has been an incredible learning curve but one we are very thankful for as it’s one of the key drivers of being top of that league table. We’re a very different shaped agency coming out of Covid than we were going into it. We often say that it feels like Pablo is now ‘coming of age’ going from being a teenager to a young adult and the last year has been a big part of that. Key for us will be harnessing these learnings as we re-enter this new world - continuing to be more proactive in our thinking, continue to change the rules, keeping learning, focusing on what’s possible, creating different shaped ideas, embracing that entrepreneurial spirit, nailing our ‘now’ and ‘next’ system so we’re always looking ahead, being more decisive and learning to say no to opportunities that aren’t the right fit so we don't overstretch ourselves. This attitude really is what has helped us create new partnerships with Costa, DFS, Deliveroo and Betfair over the last year. It now feels like we have found our mojo and really got into our stride. Making great, talked about work for these and all our clients will be our best advert for future growth. And we’ll continue to be looking to pick the very best partners on our journey to help us do this, as we have so far this year. We want to ensure we stay relentlessly restless, driven and hungry, and protect our incredibly precious culture and what makes us such a special place to work as we grow and get to welcome even more brilliant future Pablos.
Harriet, you've worked for networks before - how different is it working at an indie, and what should Hannah expect?
I had a brilliant four years at Ogilvy which I look back on fondly but Pablo offered me a much-needed new challenge. I wanted to feel uncomfortable again and have the opportunity to make a real impact. I relished the opportunity to try things a different way and be more entrepreneurial (something I had really enjoyed during my time at Karmarama when it was just starting out). The beauty of being at an independent is that you have full autonomy which means you can really shape the direction of the business. And that’s at every level, not just management. Every person counts so much more in an indie and there’s a genuine sense that people are much more invested in the company and ‘in it together’. It sounds corny but it feels like a fun, crazy family at times. And I’m sure if you asked any ‘Pablo’ today, they would say the same thing - that this feels like their business. I think that’s one of the reasons there’s momentum about the place, as everyone is moving together towards a shared goal.
Hannah, what attracted you to the new role?
Throughout my time at AMV, I got to learn from an agency which was already fully established and consistently recognised as being one of the best in the world. But the opportunity that Pablo offered which felt so unique and irresistible was to help to build an agency on its way up – right at the time where our industry has been given a welcome nudge to positively disrupt itself in the wake of the pandemic. Pablo has exploded through the hardship of the past 18 months because it has had the freedom and integrity to do exactly what it has needed and wanted to by its clients, people, and even by society at large (through incredible initiatives like the Shelter partnership and stay home campaign). I knew seeing that, that it was an agency made up of incredibly hungry, humble and thoroughly decent people – and being asked to help shape the next chapter of that story alongside Harriet whose phenomenal reputation precedes her in this industry was too good to miss. Since the announcement my LinkedIn inbox is full of people telling me Harriet is the best person they’ve ever got to work with, and I’m already realising why!
Pablo gave up its office space last year, donating the money saved to Shelter. Do you intend to continue working remotely?
Like most people across the industry over the past year, we’ve really missed being around one another. Adland humans are the most sociable of creatures, so we recognise how important it is to have a place that we can call ‘home’ for Pablo. Whilst we’ve adapted quickly and managed to thrive during remote working (surprisingly so given some people who shan’t be named didn't even know how to use Google Docs before Covid), but nothing beats having a shared space where you come together with your fellow Pablos and with clients to collaborate and make magic and mad things happen. We’re definitely working towards having a fixed and permanent new home when it’s safe to do so again. And whilst we all loved our old, leaky, garage with no central heating at 4 Holywell Row (it had a certain charm about it), what this period has given us the opportunity to do is think about what the office space needs to be for today’s Pablo in the new world that we will all be operating in. Central to the design of the new space will be how we can continue to remain agile, how we can help the more introverted Pablos (who have really flourished WFH) continue to do so, how we can ensure we further embrace flexible and remote working (that has been such a positive from the pandemic) whilst at the same time ensure we all do come together IRL around the big conversations (e.g. the creative work) - we’re looking at a ‘one in, all in’ policy to aid this. And most importantly, it also has given us the chance to upgrade our bar ready for the revival of Pablo’s Friday night cocktails ritual.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
Harriet and I were both much more up for being joint rather than sole MDs. It’s been a huge part of the excitement for us - being a partnership. Getting to have a sparring partner, a running mate, and someone to learn from so closely at this stage of your career is incredibly rare and special.
And together, we’re hoping to just really set alight the next chapter of Pablo. To keep building on the great momentum to date, and create some killer work. We’d love to get to the end of this year and have Pablo not just known for its new business success, but for world class talked about work.
What's your all-time favourite piece of commercial creativity?
Hannah - I adore the simplicity and deviousness of It’s a Tide ad. I can’t think of a greater creative coup than a brand from such a low interest category hijacking every single commercial across the most talked about ad break in the world. It’s hilarious. It’s outrageous. And if there’s a better example of advertising being the only legal competitive advantage we can give our clients I haven’t found it.
Harriet - Crumbs. All-time favourite - that’s a BIG question. Some of my all-time favourites you perhaps wouldn’t call ‘commercial creativity’ such as Meet the Superhumans, Man Boobs for Boobs, BHF Staying Alive, Lacoste Save our Species. Over the last few years I have really enjoyed a lot of Burger King’s work. Not least because they do a job of not only informing culture, but creating it. Burger King Whopper Detour is a standout example. What a great, fun, ‘classic BK’ way to harness a competitor's advantage and drive commercial results - taking their app to No1 in the app store, increasing sales by 3x through the app and leading to their highest footfall day instore in 5 years. Pure brilliance.
What have been your career highlights to date?
Hannah - I’ve spent my career to date at AMV and have had almost 12 years getting to learn from some of the very best and nicest in the business. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by people constantly wanting to help me grow, from incredible role models like Dame Cilla Snowball, to my peers on the Marketing Academy scholarship and Management Today’s 35 business women under 35. From a creative perspective, I caught the bug early getting to work on the Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas in a Day’ campaign. I realised the extent to which our industry has the potential to transform business working on the Tropicana ‘Little Glass’ campaign – thanks to which we turned a declining brand in a declining category to double digit growth. And the potential we have to change our consumer’s lives through our award-winning TENA Men work with brave clients at SCA. Being asked to help to lead the 100 strong account management department that I grew up in was a dorky advertising girl’s dream come true, especially thanks to the team I got to lead it with. Whatever I strive to achieve in my career from here though will be forever eclipsed for my family by the time I got to work with Buzz Aldrin for our ‘From the Mighty oat’ Quaker campaign. For them, that’s where I peaked and it’s downhill from here!
Harriet - There’s not much workwise that I send my parents but when the news broke of my new role, my sister put it straight up on the Knight family WhatsApp group. It was a real moment that I’ll never forget, hearing all the lovely words of support from my family.
But if I think back before the events of the last few weeks, there are so many things I can’t pick! Firstly, making the break from the world of Investment Banking (despite losing three-quarters of my salary overnight) to dive headfirst into the world of advertising. Not for one second do I regret it. Then there’s being part of the winning pitch team for my first ever pitch (Debenhams at JWT). Winning my first Cannes Lion for Listerine of all things. Having the opportunity to work with two incredible power women, Hattie Matthews and Nicola Mendelsohn and learning the ropes of new business at Karmarama (in that time transitioning the biggest ever Client into the agency of B&Q and driving two new pitches a month for their production agency, with a 90 percent success rate). Being the first person from Karmarama to be accepted as one of 30 people on the prestigious Marketing Academy Scholarship. Finding my second family in India after spending half of my year in Mumbai trying to double the Dove business there. Launching Baby Dove globally and supporting mothers all over the world into their forays into motherhood. Making the move to Pablo and all the shenanigans that have come with it - from building an Account Management and Project Management Dept from the ground up, spearheading the Holland & Barrett Me.No.Pause campaign, having many David & Goliath moments in pitches (DFS, Costa, Deliveroo) and most recently, leading a company through a Covid Pandemic to not make any redundancies in the process (that probably is the single proudest moment in my career to date).
Do you like rugby and if so, what team do you support?
Honest answer, we’ve not a clue about rugby. If there’s one thing the management team at Pablo wasn’t lacking, it was ruggers. That patch is well and truly covered. We’re hoping to bring a bit of culture to the management team with some appreciation for wine (Harriet is a trained sommelier) and 2000s boy bands (Hannah is a JLS fanatic).