As part of our Meet The Makers series, Imogen Gardam tells us what she loves most about working at Edelman Smithfield, advice for potential new joiners, how she would describe the Edelman Smithfield team and much more...
What has your journey into Edelman looked like and how did you get into the communications industry?
I started working in communications pretty much by accident after leaving university with no real idea of what I wanted to do. I fell into PR working for a startup that specialised in financial and professional services companies. It was a baptism by fire because it was a small company with an eclectic client portfolio – everything from a stem cell specialist to a bin collecting company. I had to quickly get familiar with how to pitch a story and how to make clients newsworthy.
When I was looking to leave there, I was adamant that I didn't want to work in financial services PR. To be honest I applied to Smithfield mainly for interview experience! But, when I met the team and heard about their client list and the type of work they did, I wanted to give financial services a go.
I joined not knowing what an asset manager was and had no knowledge of financial services whatsoever, but I've been here now for over six years working with some of the most interesting and influential companies in the investment and wider financial services industry.
Almost on the day I signed my contract with Smithfield, the Edelman acquisition was announced and since then it's been such a transformation. Being part of the wider Edelman network has given us the ability to be a truly global practice working with colleagues and clients across all teams, all sectors, all over the world.
What achievement are you most proud of?
It's very hard to pinpoint one thing because I'm really proud of the work we do across all aspects of the company. One particular highlight is the thought leadership that we help produce. I am really lucky to work alongside incredibly clever people at Edelman Smithfield and, together with our clients, we have the opportunity to come up with ideas which are genuinely different and insightful.
There's perhaps a perception that financial services or corporate communications isn't creative, but that's just not true. It takes a huge amount of creativity and really detailed subject matter expertise to work alongside heads of comms as well as fund managers, chief investment officers, and senior management teams to develop big, complex ideas that reflect their expertise and are also of wider interest to media.
Projects I've worked on that I've really enjoyed include developing reports and white papers on the changing nature of risk and volatility in markets, or measuring levels of sovereign debt, or another on the inflationary impact of the transition to net zero. And it's not just within investment – I've worked on big pieces on the future of insurance premiums and innovations in the energy market. Working with such varied companies on a wide range of issues is a big part of the job.
What do you find most rewarding about the job?
Alongside the brilliance of the people in my team, it's the ability to speak directly to experts about what they consider to be the biggest trends at any given time – whether that is macroeconomic, geopolitical, sector or industry led. I've worked in financial services communications through Brexit, COVID-19 and the meteoric rise in ESG investment so, even in a relatively short period of time, have witnessed some big changes evolve in both wider society and markets.
Being able to speak directly to fund managers, economists and investment strategists is not only invaluable in terms of allowing us to do our jobs well, but also it's just really interesting to hear directly from people who are truly influential in markets.
For example, in November this year, I was at COP26 in Glasgow and had the chance to listen to some of the biggest corporate and financial services companies in the world on issues like the cooperation needed between the public and private sectors on combatting climate change and how companies are moving from simply recognising the need to implement policies and practices to meet the Paris targets to actually delivering on these promises.
Being in the room at these events is a huge learning opportunity and you come away brimming with ideas on how to develop the work you're doing to deliver the best result for your clients.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout your time at Edelman?
Adapting to working from home during the pandemic was obviously a really big change, especially because our team is very collaborative and I really missed the ability to just turn around at my desk and run an idea past someone, or even just to chat on a lunch break. That said, I think everyone would agree that we absolutely rose to the challenge and continued to deliver top-quality work for our clients. Once we got used to it, we talked even more than normal!
Another challenge stems from the fact that news and markets move quickly and therefore the work we do is extremely fast paced. Keeping calm and a sense of perspective when there are multiple balls in the air can be testing. And, of course, when a journalist breaks the deal you're working on at 4pm on a Friday, that gets the adrenaline going too!
Looking back at my career so far, one of the challenges I've enjoyed the most is thinking hard about how a client can stand out. Financial services is a really competitive industry and column inches are limited, so it's a challenge to think about how a company can differentiate its point of view in a way that both meets its commercial objectives and is thought provoking for the press.
How do you stay motivated?
Without a doubt the people I work with keep me motivated. They're just an incredibly nice bunch.
I felt right from the very beginning an overwhelming sense of team spirit throughout the whole of Smithfield and Edelman more widely. We have a very flat structure, and everyone is keen to hear ideas from across the whole team. Anyone can throw their hat in knowing we're going to get the best results if we listen and draw from the different skills we all have.
Fundamentally it's a people business so the colleagues you work with really matter. I think there's a huge sense of camaraderie, whether we win a new client or deliver a particularly strong piece of work. That's hugely motivational.
What role does Trust play in the work you do in Smithfield?
When it comes to financial services data is key. Our clients are at the forefront of this, using data, sophisticated AI and natural language processing to understand the world around them and to guide business decisions. Edelman’s data-led philosophy – particularly on Trust – makes us a really compatible partner to our clients because we share the same values around insight, analysis and empirical evidence to inform our decision making and how we think.
If you could offer one piece advice to someone considering a role at Edelman Smithfield, what would it be?
If you’re just starting out and thinking about a career in communications, don’t be put off that it says ‘financial services’ on the door.
Looking across our team, we all have a hugely varied range of backgrounds, people who’ve read all sorts of things at university and come from so many different paths. Part of the fun is getting to grips with the subject matter and being around people who’ve been at it longer than you and have such a technical and detailed understanding from which you can learn.
One of the most interesting things about the work that we do in Edelman Smithfield is that it spans so many issues – everything from politics to environmentalism, to technology and fashion. All you really need is a genuine interest in the news and what makes a compelling story.
It's an exceptionally varied and interesting job. You don't know what one week will include to the next, so it is perfect for anyone who wants to work in a dynamic, fast-paced and challenging environment with a lot of great people.
What do you do outside work to relax?
I've just moved to Dublin, working with all my clients in London in the same team but just based in a different country. At the moment I'm spending a lot of time exploring a new city and, to be honest, trying to develop a taste for Guinness!