An Interview With Rita Clifton
How did you get involved in corporate speaking?
I’ve always enjoyed speaking and presenting as part of my ‘day jobs’ in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi and then in branding at Interbrand. My first big ‘gulp’ corporate speaking occasion was when I first became the strategist on the British Airways advertising account in the late 1980s. My MD was called away to a meeting a day before a big speech to 500 British Airways staff and I had to step in. I showed ads that made people laugh and cry…and I was hooked. It then grew into public conference speaking for the agency and then has just developed over the years.
In your opinion, what is it that keeps brands like Coca-Cola and Apple at the top of their game?
The most important characteristics of any great brand – in any sector or geography – are clarity, consistency and leadership. Clarity of what you stand for, and how that’s different from the competition. Consistency of how that difference shows up, through everything that organization does, makes and says (including internal to external cultural consistency). Leadership in terms of innovation, restlessness and setting the agenda n markets. (It also helps that the leader of a company epitomises the best values of your brand – and preferably isn’t an idiot)
Why do you enjoy being a speaker?
The huge reward is when you feel you are able to help someone understand a new idea, or something which can help them improve (or even transform) their businesses, organisations or indeed their own lives. There is a moment in a speech if it’s going well – let's call it the ‘ping’ moment – when you can just feel that at least some of the audience really get what you’re saying, and connect with it. It's exciting and gratifying on so many levels.
Who would you most like to share a platform with?
Apart from a range of the obvious amazing historical figures, I’m honestly happy to share a platform with anyone with an interesting point of view about business, sustainability and the world. My major public figure ‘crushes’ are Sir David Attenborough (whom I did actually introduce at a dinner speech a while ago, and told the assembled diners about my crush!)…and Caitlin Moran. In business, I have also been privileged to share platforms with Jonathon Ive and Angela Ahrendts – I’m a big admirer of both.
What can a corporate audience learn from your experiences?
One of the great things about working with so many businesses, across just about every sector and around the world, is that you can draw so many parallels and lessons for corporate audiences of all kinds. Often, it is really useful to look at categories in addition to your own to stimulate thinking. Also, it’s a privilege to have sat on the variety of boards that I have (and do), and this really helps me to understand what it is that boards are preoccupied by, and their priorities.
What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?
I think it's always useful to have a few key ‘sight bites’ of facts and examples, or distinctive sound bites in presentations that people can easily remember – and a short, vivid ‘checklist’ of things that people can think about and put into action in their day jobs straight away.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
If I’m in the UK…with my family, cooking a meal when my daughters are home, having a walk in the countryside around us, doing yoga, reading the Sunday papers…and having a glass of something nice!
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