For part 3 of our Life in Commercial Finance series I met Leslie Quaynor, who as Head of Finance at Taylor Herring PR is closely involved with commercial decision making across the business. Leslie has more than 15 years’ experience working within leading creative companies in advertising, PR & publishing. Leslie is ACCA and MBA qualified.
Can you tell me a little bit about your current role?
The Head of Finance is a holistic role, which is split into two key areas. One side is your standard Financials – overseeing working capital, managing the finance team, financial reports and management accounts. Then there is the commercial side, which is a big part of what I do here.
The commercial element is a growing part of the role because I’m surrounded by creatives…really strong creative people, you can see by our awards. I need to constantly support, educate and sometimes even challenge the team to get where they want to be in terms of bottom line. Commercial finance is essentially taking financial information and measuring it against the macroeconomic factors like market trends, retailers and consumers, and advising senior management on their decisions, on how to be profitable.
On a daily basis I’m looking at contracts negotiations, rate card reviews, KPI analysis, budgets, job costing, ROI analysis and I’m also looking externally at market trends in the PR and related industries. This involves constant interaction with the business and creative teams, which I would say is now at least 45% of my role.
How did you become involved in commercial finance?
I see commercial finance as the next step after you qualify and become confident in other areas of Finance. It’s also the most value adding part of the role of a modern accountant to an organisation. It’s a role predicated on review and researching, analysis of company finance data bench-marked against internal and external factors and importantly advising senior management
It was a natural thing for me when studying finance, because I wanted to do more with it. First you get qualified, understand the financials, understand working capital, understand cash-flow, and run a finance team. But I always wanted to take it to the next step, hence why I did my MBA.
The MBA taught me to bring strategy and market analysis into my finance role, and not just looking internal but thinking external. I always wanted to do more with my finance knowledge.
How useful have you found the MBA in what you’re doing now?
If I had to summarise the MBA I’d say it gave me a holistic picture of the business environment. This includes finance, human resources, strategy, leadership… looking at the whole value chain of a business to understand how a business can add value and meet customer demands. The MBA helps you to problem solve in a strategic way, enhancing your ability to weigh up multiple solutions and options in a structured and timely manner, It also includes leadership courses which helps your ability to deal with people.
Would you recommend the MBA? Yes, absolutely. From an internal point of view it really does broaden you, and externally, it is recognised and respected and will boost your career prospects.
What is it that you enjoy most about your role?
I like that it’s pivotal. I have an opportunity to shape the financial future of the business. An example of that would be job costing. Every single campaign I sign off on, and I play a key role in the budgets, estimates and what the proposal looks like before it goes to the client. I have the opportunity to influence right from the beginning. It’s not a reactive process, I’m involved in the beginning and I directly affect the company’s bottom line even before it becomes a campaign that we activate.
I feel it’s a very integrated role. It’s also a very varied role, for example one moment having a meeting with the office manager about a photocopy machine, the next moment having a meeting with the board about our 5-year cash flow plan and some investments that we want to make. It’s also a very interactive role, constantly mixing with lead creatives and senior client services teams. I like the fact that it’s very broad.
What are the most challenging aspects?
The same answer as what I just gave – it’s very broad! A finance person needs quiet time to zone into their work and complete detailed analysis – sometimes that’s difficult to do! No day is the same at Taylor Herring, we problem solve here. We pride ourselves in being bold and pushing boundaries. We have new challenges all the time, and sometimes the normal finance responsibilities which are necessary require concentration and sometimes a little bit of “me” time. Which is difficult to get when you are so pivotal to what they do. And you have to juggle that! I love everything about my job…it’s just finding the time to do it!
How do you view the role of commercial finance within marketing communications currently?
I think commercial finance is essential in marketing communications. The trends within marketing communications are constantly changing, for example digital strategy…everyone is talking about digital strategy, when in fact everything is digital now, it’s the norm. The point I’m trying to make is, the trends move fast.
It’s essential to have commercial finance people who really know the business. My advice to anyone in this role is get close to your team. To really make a difference, you need to understand what is important to them. Keep yourself updated on industry and market sector trends. Any decisions you make in terms of procurement, investment, new projects will be further enhanced if you have a deeper understanding of your industry. I schedule meetings with my Client teams twice a month, where we discuss anything and everything to do with their area. I find this is essential to making the right recommendations.
And in the future?
It’s changing so quickly, you need to get close to the creative teams to understand what is important to them. We won an award recently for a twitter posting that gained massive media coverage, I think it was most cost-effective campaign award. The point is, if the team comes to you and says they need 10 Twitter accounts you should understand the broader reasons why. You need to look beyond just costs so you can advise them.
What is it that you look for when hiring for your team?
Ability to do the work is key. Also, ability to fit in with the team, willingness to improve, people who are not set in their ways. Two days are never the same here, I like a problem-solving mind. Good people skills are essential in agency world, you must be a people person.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to do a commercial accounting role within marcomms?
I think there’s a difference between certification and education. Certification is finite (once you get your degree you are certified) whilst education in a continuous process. To excel in commercial finance roles and indeed in many corporate roles you need to continuously self-educate.
You need to be industry aware. As a commercial finance person you should be educating yourself in the industry, so if that’s marketing communications reading PR Week, Campaign, Print & Retail Week. Know the big players, what are they doing well and not so well? Know the trends. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are ever finished, once you’ve stopped studying. It’s important to be well-rounded. And as a commercial finance person, the more knowledge you have of your industry, the more valuable you will be to your employer and the better recommendations you will make.
Taylor Herring PR (https://www.taylorherring.com/), and their Group companies including St. Marks Studios, Speakeasy Ltd and Poke are an award-winning Creative PR agency. Taylor Herring’s trophy haul for 2019 includes Campaign PR Agency of the Year, Drum Marketing Agency of the Year, Drum Best Advertising Campaign of the year and more than 20 others.