As part of our Life in Commercial Finance series I met up with Claire McClune, Commercial Director at WPP owned Geometry Global. Prior to joining Geometry in 2016, Claire was Financial Controller at Publicis owned advertising agency Fallon.
Can you tell me a little bit about your current role?
I am the Commercial Director for Geometry UK, WPP’s end to end commerce agency, leading a team of five. We work with the business to manage client finance: everything from contract negotiations, to monthly revenue recognition, to making sure we are billing on time; to client reporting, supporting new business pitches, and, everything in-between! My role is also strategic, a really interesting and challenging part of the job and a major reason I love commercial finance – it’s not just crunching numbers, it’s supporting business leads, and thinking ‘how can we position ourselves so that we are in the best possible shape to deliver growth for our clients.’
How did you become involved in commercial finance?
I always knew that I wanted work in finance, but not purely with numbers I like to roll my sleeves up and get involved. I went to University, studied Accounting and Finance, and then as part of my degree took a commercial internship with Disney in its European Head Office. That was the turning point, when I decided that being in industry was where I wanted to be.
It was a tough year to be an intern as the 2008/09 recession hit, an eye-watering experience, but, I learnt a huge amount with brilliant people. I was lucky enough to work with teams outside of finance to really understand the business and how our roles fitted in. After returning to University to finish my degree I set back off to London and moved into advertising. I have a lot of friends who work in marketing and it’s always been a fascination. So, I applied for a role as a Commercial Analyst at Fallon, part of the Publicis Group. I guess the rest is history! I was with Fallon for nearly 6 years and progressed to become Financial Controller before joining Geometry.
How has the sector changed during your time?
Change is constant, the world is moving at the speed of sound, It’s hard to pinpoint what changed when. When I joined the sector In 2010, it was quite siloed – Finance were the team that sat in the corner. Today, it feels that finance is far more integrated into agency life – there are networking events I attend bringing together a mixture of people from finance, account handling and strategy which makes the sector stronger as there is good connectivity. The need for commercial knowledge and awareness in all agency disciplines, is crucial to success. Budgets are fine-tuned annually, and clients need their budgets to work harder. One of my rules of thumb is to encourage my team to hot-desk across the agency, get to know the people and the challenges they face – I have actively encouraged my team to go and sit with different departments from Creatives to Account Handling, as it gives you great insight into the state of play of business and helps build personal relationships.
How has your role evolved?
Originally, I was very numbers focused. Now – I am very much a business partner. I spend a lot of my time alongside business and creative leaders, and their teams – I am very rarely sat at my own desk. Like most businesses, our is evolving. Since I joined, the UK Exco team has reshaped with a new CEO and a new ECD. Globally, Beth Ann Kaminkow has arrived as CEO from Kantar. This is all driving change and collectively we are working together to drive the agency forward as we look to create ideas that build growth for our clients in a rapidly changing landscape driven by tech and changing customer expectations.
How do you predict the industry will change/ evolve in the future?
The world has changed, and fast-paced technology has meant that many new channels to engage with people have opened up. The “digital vs physical” conversation has moved on. People are shopping seamlessly across channels and our job is to help our clients deliver inspirational experiences for their customers.The agencies best placed to win are those who have invested in tech, data and creative talent to create growth. Last year, for instance, we launched The flagship, a 360 degree immersive retail space which allows brands to test and prototype technology before going to market. It’s an exciting time to be in business – the opportunities to grow and compete in new and exciting ways open up every day.
What sort of skills/ personality is most suited to the role? Will this be any different in the future?
I think you need to be personable to go out and actively look to help with challenges and partner up with the business. Constantly question, look to the future and ask ‘what does that look like?’ and ‘what can we do to make ourselves better?’The role is fast paced, it gets quicker every year. Be super calm under pressure, organised and efficient, and take a step back when required.
Do you believe that one person at the top of a business can really define a company culture?
Yes and no. Culture is certainly set by the CEO – and we’re incredibly fortunate with our CEO Michelle Whelan. I also believe that it’s not necessarily down to the one person to drive culture change, I think that comes from a collective.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get into commercial accounting within marcomms?
Ask lots of questions, there is no such thing as a stupid question. When I first started out I asked every single question that you could think of. Ask non-finance people questions and for advice, these are the ones that will really set you up. If you are already a qualified or an experienced accountant, you’ve got the base knowledge of finance anyway – it’s then about taking that knowledge and putting it into practice to run a business. I spend a lot of my time dealing with business issues rather than finance specific issues.
Secondly, get a mentor – you can’t put a price on having a good mentor and they don’t have to be in finance. There are always people out there willing to help – you just have to ask! Take time to shadow people across different departments. I spent half a day with project management when I was a commercial analyst, half a day with production teams, and so on and I think this really set me up to give a business answer and not just a finance answer. Get out and go and talk to people, network, and get involved in round tables, commercial conferences – they are invaluable!