Meeting AMEC’s leadership team as it kicks off search for new CEO

Meeting AMEC’s leadership team as it kicks off search for new CEO

AMEC announced a search for a new CEO this week. Barry Leggetter is stepping down after 11 years. I caught up with Barry and AMEC chairman Richard Bagnall to find out more.

In a wide ranging conversation we talked about Barry’s incredible legacy, the challenge of managing a voluntary organisation, and what’s next for both AMEC and Barry.

Inevitably the topic of Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) also came up.

Richard - Why is measurement in public relations such a slog?

I’m a classic poacher turned gamekeeper having worked in public relations before moving over to grow and run measurement and evaluation consultancies in the 1990s.

One of the key issues is just the terminology – no one likes to be ‘measured’ in their day to day work. When this was coupled with an old-fashioned view that public relations is an art and not a science, and less controllable than other marketing disciplines, it was no surprise that measurement and evaluation took a long time to evolve in the sector.

We need to remember that the very first credible businesses offering measurement services only really got properly established in the early 90s and the mega companies of today weren’t established until really the last decade.

The early measurement pioneers were very focussed on content analysis – reading and analysing press clips and gauging what they said and who they potentially reached. There was little attempt to tie the impact of the public relations to organisational objectives, or to the bottom line.

That’s all changed now, not least driven by the acceptance that some of the commonly used early metrics such as AVEs are flawed and losing their relevance.

Richard - How do you benchmark AMEC’s progress?

We do this in several ways with multiple key performance metrics which we believe provides a balanced view of our impact. I can think back to AMEC being founded in the boardroom Metrica, my old business, in 1996. AMEC was very small with just a handful of UK based measurement specialists as members.

Today the number of members has grown significantly to over 160 in 80+ countries around the world. Members now include public relations agencies, leading not for profits, International Governments, and global corporations.

AMEC owns and runs the largest survey into global measurement trends and can see for ourselves that our educational initiatives have great impact – the use of AVEs around the world is at an historic low, awareness of the Barcelona Principles is at an all-time high, and the take up and use of the Integrated Evaluation Framework, which provides clear practical steps on how to operationalise those principles as best practice, has been phenomenal - it’s been translated into 20 languages and is in daily use at multiple organisations around the world.

Interest in our work and the provision of credible evaluation and insights has never been greater than now. We measure this through demand for our educational resources like the AMEC online college & international certificate, attendance at our events, including the forthcoming annual global summit in Barcelona, and the record-breaking volume of entries our annual awards generates.

Barry - I hope that we’ll have chance to celebrate your AMEC career in the coming months but how do you view your legacy to the public relations profession? 

What I hope our members and public relations professionals alike will recognise after my 11 years in charge is that AMEC is a credible and relevant professional organisation that is constantly innovating and above all, educating. If people see AMEC like that, I will feel I have achieved something.

Richard - There have been various initiatives to rid the industry of AVEs. Can we not just accept that the industry is polarised between practitioners stuck in the past and those that are progressive?

Why would we want to do that? It may, regretfully, have an element of truth but as a campaigning organisation that focusses on educational efforts to help practitioners adopt best-practice, we’re not prepared to stop now. The good news is that things are getting better.

In 2010, when the Barcelona Principles were adopted (Principle No 5 condemns AVEs as an invalid metric, simply stating “AVEs are not the value of communications”), our research showed that globally around 80% of measurement programmes contained an AVE as a component metric.

Today, that number has fallen to around 18%, largely due to some of the emerging markets using them. AMEC’s role as global educators here is critical. We’re winning this battle, now is not the time to give up.

Barry - It strikes me that being the CEO of a membership organisation is a thankless task. How do you manage the different motivation, agenda, skills of your voluntary bosses, and members?

You have identified the one thing that the AMEC CEO always must remember – that the people who give me such great help are volunteers.

A Not For Profit CEO may run the organisation but he is not their boss. I have learned, I hope, to manage my own sense of wanting things to happen immediately but always with a realism that I have to be patient with the deadlines and time-pressures of others. No-one likes to miss a deadline. There is no point being critical. Be encouraging and find a way around any road block.

A politeness in navigating conference calls to get the result we all want, I find is especially helpful. The AMEC job is challenging but it is also a wonderful opportunity to work with fellow public relations professionals internationally and to really make a difference.

Richard - AMEC has grown impressively in scale and reputation under Barry’s leadership. It’s shifted away from media and embraced social listening, performance and management metrics. What’s next?

That’s right. Barry’s sheer hard-work, dedication and leadership has helped transform the organisation beyond what anyone could have imagined when he took the role on. The sector has exploded in relevance and importance with interest and investment never higher.

It’s an exciting time to work in communications measurement and evaluation. Organisations now can see that our members don’t just provide performance metrics to demonstrate the value of public relations, but additionally surface insights and intelligence that drive and improve strategic decision making and operations.

Next steps for AMEC will be to continue to broaden our membership globally but also into the tangent marketing disciplines in which public relations now finds itself operating. And underpinning all of this will be our significant efforts to support the educational requirements of the communications sector in terms of understanding and deploying best-practice.

Barry - What does the CEO’s job entail? What skills are you looking for in your successor? And what’s next for you?

There is no doubt that my long experience in public relations, where I had many trade association clients over the years, was the perfect background for the AMEC job, e.g. the ability to act as a consultant to the Chairman and Board; being self-motivated to achieve deadlines and being able to promote the organisation effectively, either in person or through content.

When the CEO role was first advertised, I took a planner’s approach to looking at the organisation, its potential and what was needed. The biggest opportunity I identified was a need for this very small, UK-centric organisation to develop internationally.

I hope that my successor will share the real passion I have for AMEC and the international potential that still remains. I’m proud of what we have achieved in my time as CEO. I have chosen to leave AMEC after 11 years because it’s time for someone else to come in with new ideas. I hope to work in a similar or consulting role at another professional association.

Richard - I once called Barry one of the hardest working and driven people in public relations. Are these important attributes for candidates for the role?

You’re right, Barry is one of the hardest working individuals that I have ever known, always putting in the necessary hard work to make sure that our objectives are met and to keep things moving forward. I know he’d be more bashful however and would simply say “Barry is Barry” and that people who have worked with him in public relations will know what I mean. He has a restless energy to want to perform at the highest level. But we don’t expect people to work the hours that Barry does.

This is a part-time role and it is probably time for a reassessment about the support structure. Barry started with AMEC when he was also part-time Executive Chairman with Bite PR so it is a role that for the right candidate could be undertaken with an existing role if there was enough time to go round. 

Richard - How do potential candidates apply for the job?

Anyone interested should in the first instance email me their expressions of interest and attach a copy of their CV. I will be send them a detailed job spec and we can take things from there.

The closing dates for applications is 14 May 2018. There has been significant interest in the role already which is not surprising and a great testament to all that had been achieved and the interest in the sector. But we want to hear from as many people as possible so if this sounds like an interesting opportunity for you, then please do get in touch.


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