Holly Dawson

Holly has spent over ten years creating and implementing marketing and communications strategies for a variety of organisations. As a writer and editor, with a background in both print and digital media, she has devoted her career to crafting the right stories to tell to the right people in the right way. She enjoys working collaboratively with the client to establish key goals and messages and identify the best audience and channels for the campaign. Her clients include luxury brands and charities, tech startups and digital agencies, small businesses across different verticals, and some big-thinking, maverick individuals.

Read more about Holly’s work in an interview with her here

Holly, what does your work with businesses entail? 
In a nutshell, it’s about finding out where someone is right now, discovering where they want to be, and working together to figure out how to get there. We start with a conversation, where I ask lots of questions, and work closely with Ed to make sure everything is rooted in the reality and goals of the business. Ed and I are a double act – words and numbers!

We put a strategy together that outlines a realistic road map to reach the identified goals. This might include recommendations such as a new website, stronger copy, new social media channels, sorting out mailing lists, creating editorial calendars, collateral like leaflets or magazines, events, talks, new audiences or sectors, and general PR. I then work closely with the rest of the comms department here at Runway Advisors to hand over the delivery of those goals to our social media, PR, digital marketing, web-building and editorial production gurus!

How would you describe your approach?

My approach centres around ‘The Five Cs’ – Curiosity, Connection, Collaboration, Compassion and Commerce. Note that ‘Communication’ isn’t one of those Cs – rather, these five components all work together to generate strong, thoughtful communication. Curiosity is so important… it’s my job to midwife other people’s curiosity in you and your business, and also to make you curious again about your own business. The process of putting a marcomms strategy together often helps business owners to fall in love with their businesses again, to remember why they do what they do – or to discover they want to take it in a different direction.

What do you mean by ‘compassion’ when it comes to businesses?

‘Compassion’ is one of my favourite words, and it is under-applied to business. There’s often a cynicism that you can’t be compassionate AND make money. That’s not true. The best businesses are  ones with an internal culture of respect and empathy between staff, with an embedded practice of listening and adjusting, and ones where they are deeply attuned to their customers’ needs. You don’t need to be a certified ‘ethical business’ to do those things; you just need to be a human, as well as a business owner.

When I start working with businesses, it’s about listening to where they are now, understanding where they want to be, and intuiting together how to get there. Call me sentimental, but compassion has got to be at the core of that. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

What do you enjoy about the job? 

Connection. All of my work is about connection. In the first instance, that means me connecting with the client. Then it’s about helping them connect back with their business or project, to figure out what they want. When that’s in place, we can find the right words to tell the right stories to the right people in the right way, to help them connect with the business. And then the business itself works out ways to keep the connection with the customers going. It’s a circle.

I’ll never stop being soppy about the power the right words have to connect people, ideas, audiences and aspirations – to connect eyes and ears to minds and emotions. Sometimes it’s about connecting a business owner back to the person they wanted to be, to the business they wanted to have. My own career has also been built on connecting – I went ten years without a website, getting all my jobs through meeting people or being referred via word of mouth. Good things come through rich and fruitful connections. It’s all about ‘mutual impact’.

Can you tell us a bit more about ‘mutual impact’? 

I love feeling moments with clients of what I call ‘mutual impact’.

Have you always done this line of work? 

I’ve been many things – from an obituarist to an urban shepherd (yes, that’s a thing!), music journalist to press agent, an accidental netball coach and a walnut farmer in the south of France. I have always written, since I was a very small child, and I always thought I would work with words in some way; however, when it came to choosing universities, I was pushed in the direction of a ‘proper job’, so I went off the to London School of Economics and thought I’d end up working in ‘the proper job’ of international policy development. Writing remained my first love, though, and when I began taking bits of journalism on alongside my day job, I knew that was the direction for me. I quickly got an editorship of a B2B journal, and my career took off from there.

What sort of work have you been involved in since then?

I’ve been freelance for nearly 15 years, with a few PAYE stints in editorial and digital comms departments thrown in. Alongside advising businesses, I also edit books and magazines, I teach creating writing, and I’m reader-in-residence at Charleston in Sussex. I often get given projects no one knows what to do with. Ones you can’t label or even describe; ones that require multiple hats or a range of approaches. I like the weird tricky projects left on the shelf. I could find something curious on a wall of wet paint. There’s no such thing as a boring project.

What are your observations of digital versus traditional marketing channels? 

I think it’s coming full circle. There has definitely been a shift away from aggressive digital marketing overload to return to some of the principles of traditional marketing – authentic storytelling, print media, face to face interaction, and a move towards simpler marcomms. When I speak to businesses now, they tend to want to put out the kind of marcomms they themselves like to receive – I get a lot of people not wanting to do blogs, or newsletters, or Twitter, because they themselves are tired of them. It’s interesting that Twitter and Facebook are falling as sites of business engagement… Instagram is more and more popular, because it feels more ‘real’, warmer, more interactive, with a focus on deeper relationship-building. There will always be space for a balance between print and digital, between hard and soft approaches. But I think people want things simpler, nice and more human – both customers and business owners.

What’s next for you? 

I was lucky enough to get a book deal a few months ago with HarperCollins for my first novel. It’s what I’ve always wanted, so it’s very exciting – but slightly nerve-wracking as well! I’m working hard on that at the moment, alongside my other work.

 

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