Intensive learning

James Whitmore: changing perspective

by Kim Evans

James Whitmore is Managing Director of Postar, the industry body that produces audience estimates for advertising campaigns in public places.  James took part in CLP’s Advance Leadership pilot programme for senior executives across the creative industries. An advocate for leadership development, James says that he came away refreshed and re-energised, appreciating the opportunity to step out of his own discipline and look at leadership issues through the eyes of people working in other parts of the creative industries.

James Whitmore is Managing Director of Postar, the industry body that produces audience estimates for advertising campaigns in public places.  He has spent much of his career in the advertising industry and benefited from the training programmes it offers.  He responded to an invitation to join the Cultural Leadership Programme’s Advance Leadership in the Creative Industries pilot programme because he is an advocate for leadership development and saw it as an opportunity to refresh his thinking and share his own learning.  He was stimulated by the different disciplines represented on the programme: ‘It allowed the participants to concentrate on the big issues and get away from the detail of their individual sectors’.

James feels that the ALCI programme fills a gap for the creative industries.  

Getting out of my own discipline and looking at leadership and talent management issues through the eyes of people working in other parts of the creative industries was enlightening and re-energising.  It also reminded me of what I have to offer.

James took part in the pilot programme for Advanced Leadership in the Creative Industries (ALCI) in 2009.  He has been a leader in the advertising industry for many years and decided to sign up in order to refresh his own thinking and give something back.

ALCI was set up by the Cultural Leadership Programme as part of its commitment to engage with senior executives across the creative industries.  It involved leading industry bodies in developing and promoting the programme, including the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising).  The IPA contacted James as one of the alumni of their own Seven Stages professional development programme.

James is very supportive of the Cultural Leadership Programme’s remit to support and develop leaders across the creative and cultural sector.  He’d benefitted from a number of training courses earlier in his career.  He came into advertising relatively late, at the age of 28, after several years in the production department of a national newspaper group.  He joined Young & Rubicam as a graduate trainee and swiftly rose up the ranks. After five years he was promoted to the board. He was appointed Media Director soon after and, in 1999, was made managing director of The Media Edge, a spin-off from the main agency.  Following the purchase and merger with CIA to form Mediaedge:cia, James was made Managing Director of the new firm. He moved on, becoming Managing Director of Postar, at the end of 2005.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the advertising industry invested heavily in talent.  The training I had was invaluable to me.  When I started as a manager, I did things entirely intuitively.  I knew I had potential but I had no framework.  The IPA’s Seven Stages Programme was devised to support career training needs from entry point right through to managing director, with each stage designed to provide relevant learning throughout your career. It is partly delivered by current leading IPA agency practitioners who are committed to giving something back to the industry. That was an aspect of the ALCI programme that made me sign up – the opportunity to work with other people, share thinking and support each other’s development.
Another aspect of ALCI that appealed to James was the fact that it brought together people from a wide range of disciplines and it was not metropolitan.
Advertising is very London orientated.  I knew a couple of people on the programme but many were from outside London and from different parts of the sector – design, music and media.  A number of the organisations were quite small; not all the participants were at the top of their companies. The fact that I was getting a lot of different perspectives was the key thing for me.  We faced very similar challenges but had different perspectives on them. That was enlightening.
The ALCI programme was spread over three months and involved a couple of residential sessions at Ashridge business school who had developed the programme in partnership with the Cultural Leadership Programme.  The sessions exposed the participants to the latest thinking on leadership, strategy, creativity at work and talent management, as well as drawing on the participants’ own leadership experiences and expertise. 
They got in some heavy hitters to talk to us – Greg Dyke, John Hegarty, Michael Peters, Roger Parry.  Those speakers really demonstrated that there was not one type of leader and the participants responded differently to those individual styles of leadership. The debate was lively.  The sessions hosted by leading creative industry organisations such as M&C Saatchi and Universal Music were also good opportunities for looking at how other sections of the creative industries work. We spent a day with each organisation and had to work through some of the business issues they were facing and present our solutions to the Executive Board at the end of the day.
If I have a criticism, it would be that we started with a great deal of leadership theory.  We had all been in our businesses for a while and that is probably not the way that people with our level of experience are going to learn.  Introducing a concept, then learning through doing and debating something is probably more productive. 
The fact that much of the programme took place in a residential setting, away from the office environment was important for James in order to have time for proper reflection.  He was surprised at how some participants found it hard to switch off  - or rather switch off their phones.  ‘Here we were on a course about leadership and every now and then someone would pop off to answer their mobile.  One of the things that I’ve realised over the years is that things are not going to fall apart if you are away for a couple of days.  In fact, the leader being away from the office is a great opportunity for others to take more responsibility.’
The programme focused on personal development as much as business theory and provided the opportunity for the delegates to share their individual leadership challenges.  There were opportunities to give and receive honest feedback on their performance, something that it is quite hard to get when you reach a senior position.
It was a supportive and dynamic environment. That really was a key factor. It made me realise that it wasn’t just advertising that was a stressful profession.  Everyone has to deal with pressure, has to manage creative talent, and we were able to share our problems and our ways of solving them.
James says he came away from ALCI refreshed and re-energised.  Like his fellow participants he is a senior executive in his field.  He has benefited from the advertising industry’s proactive approach to professional development but he knows that he needs – and wants – to keep on developing. 

I think it is really important that the training doesn’t stop when you become the leader of an organisation.  I know there are things I still want to work on to develop my own leadership skills.  I also know that there is a lot that I could give back.  One of the things that the creative industries need to think about is how they develop and use the skills of people like me in the later stages of their career to support the next generation of leaders

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