Hugh Taggart, MD and Partner at Bell Pottinger PR

Hugh Taggart is Managing Director and Partner at one of the world's largest Public Relations Agencies. Hugh spent 20 minutes with us to give us the inside scoop on the PR world, his career and what he looks for in his employees.

Posted by Alexandra Lewington, Tuesday April 12 2016

The Inside Scoop From Industry Experts

Hugh Taggart is Managing Director and Partner at one of the world's largest Public Relations Agencies, Bell Pottinger. Hugh spent 20 minutes with us to give us the inside scoop on the PR world, his career and what he looks for in his employees.

How did you end up at Bell Pottinger?

It’s quite a long and complicated story but the opportunity actually came about through my best friend who was at Pelham – then the financial arm of Bell Pottinger. I was working in Australia for Betfair and dating a girl (now my wife) who was living in London. I made a number of trips to London while we were working out where to live and I met a few of the Bell Pottinger people while I was here. We stayed in touch and when I finally made the move they prepared to make it happen and moved quite quickly. I met with a few other agencies – we compete with most of them today – but there were a number of things pulling in Bell Pottinger’s favour: great brand, interesting work. The fact that my best friend worked here and they were willing to sponsor me, was also fairly compelling.

What do you believe is the biggest shift in PR in the last five years?

Definitely the shift to a digital age.  I remember faxing press releases and literally cutting and pasting coverage books when I started, so we’ve made quantum leaps since then. Digital is totally changing the way we think about and deliver our services – it’s driving creativity, central to innovation and underpinning new technology. Tied to this shift is the decline of print. So what used to be a classic media relations game is now becoming a content, digital and social game.

What traits do you look for in your new hires/employees?

I’m big on team, so I look for a spark, something different, someone who can add to the culture of the group and complement the existing skills and dynamics within the team. It also helps if they’re passionate about their job and want to work hard.

What did your five year old self want to be?

A sports commentator - I was desperate to be the next Bruce McAvaney [an Australian sports broadcaster]! I thought he had the best job in the world. In many ways I still do… but I always thought that one day I’d want to take my kids to watch sport rather than working in it. It’s a poor excuse, I know!

If you weren’t working at Bell Pottinger, what would you be doing?

I would be doing that [a sports broadcaster]. I watch and consume a lot of sport, although sadly far less than I used to. I suppose there are a few similarities in the roles of a presenter or commentator and a PR consultant in that both have to craft a compelling story of the game, business or issue in front of them. 

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Follow your instinct and surround yourself with good people.

Hugh Taggart - Managing Director Of Bell Pottinger

Who has inspired you in your career so far?

I’ve worked with some really good people in all of my roles. Some who have been entrepreneurial, some who are brilliant managers of people and some who are incredibly creative. All of them have inspired and challenged me in different ways – and hopefully I’ve learnt a bit along the way – but ultimately you have to find your own strengths and styles.

What tips can you give communications professionals that want to get to your position?

Knowing when to buy a round of drinks is pretty important

No seriously, watch what the good leaders do and listen and learn from them.  It’s really important to understand what you’re good at, know where your gaps are (and you’ll have plenty), but be confident in your ability and back yourself.

Leadership can be a shock to the system, so leading projects, campaigns and teams, no matter how small, will only help when you go for and take on bigger roles.

Why do you think a lot of PR professionals get to a certain stage agency side and then want to go in house?

There will always be people seeking in-house roles, particularly those looking to specialise. I don’t think agencies are for everyone and it takes a certain kind of person to succeed in them. However, good agencies can keep their best talent so long as they are constantly stretched, given additional responsibilities and offered new opportunities.

What are the ingredients for an award winning PR campaign?

They are usually very simple, built around a strategic insight and brilliantly executed. 

What’s been your most embarrassing moment in PR?

Struggling to think of one genuinely embarrassing, but a long time ago I sent a client an email about the client, which was intended for a colleague. It wasn’t exactly complimentary so there was a bit of explaining to do. Very embarrassing at the time but fortunately the client had a good sense of humour so I escaped unscathed. Lesson learnt though. 

What keeps you up at night?

An 8-month old baby at the moment – that’s more than enough to keep you up at night without thinking about work.

But workwise, mainly people matters - making sure that we’re developing and looking after our talent, because a happy and motivated team usually means you’re doing great work, which means you have happy clients.

What’s the best part of your job?

The breadth and depth of our client work, and the different kinds of business challenges you are asked to solve by some of the leaders of the most recognisable businesses in the country. And the people. I get hugely energised by the quality of people that we have at Bell Pottinger.

What’s the worst part of your job?

That sometimes it [PR] isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. Communications is an essential ingredient in business performance and it can play an enormous role in shaping a company’s growth trajectory and commercial success. Too often this is overlooked and not invested in and that’s frustrating.

And finally, what’s your signature dance move?

The Melbourne Shuffle!

Quick Fire:

Wine or Beer: Wine these days                

Dogs or Cats: Definitely dogs

UK or Australia: UK for work, Australia for pleasure

Football or Rugby: Rugby

Reuben or Sinclair: Reuben


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