Nicola Green: Ringing the changes

The director of comms for Telefonica tells Sara Luker that her ambition is to position the firm as more than just a utility outfit.

Nicola Green: 'When I told people that I was recommending O2 put its name to the Millennium Dome, everyone thought I was mad.'
Nicola Green: 'When I told people that I was recommending O2 put its name to the Millennium Dome, everyone thought I was mad.'

It is only three months since Nicola Green was promoted to director of comms and reputation for O2's parent company Telefonica UK, but her apparent comfort in her role gives the impression she has been at the helm for 20 years.

The 36-year-old has worked at the Telefonica group for nine years after switching to O2 from rival Orange. Although she has the occasional holiday, her only serious break from the cause was to have six months off when she had her daughter Maia, now two-and-a-half. 'I'm always home for bath time and now find myself watching a lot of Peppa Pig with my BlackBerry by my side,' she explains.

She seems to have found her niche in the setting of a global telecoms firm that boasts 265 million customers in 26 countries, 22 million of them in the UK under the O2 brand.

Green's eyes light up when she talks about crisis and issues management: 'I love a good crisis - who doesn't? I get a buzz out of issue handling and I stay very calm. Take our latest financial results. They were not good and we couldn't hide that. We communicated them, briefed the press thoroughly and moved on - if you look over your shoulder all the time, you'll get overtaken.'

When asked about her challenges at Telefonica, Green glosses over potential crises such as the High Court judgement ordering O2 to hand customer details to a porn company or an investigation by the European competition watchdog into collusion in the mobile sector.

Instead, describing what she sees as her key challenge, she says: 'We don't want to be seen as simply a utility company. We are moving away from mobile services and into digital, with services such as O2 Money and eHealth.' This push has seen the company recently hunt for a PR and public affairs agency for its new global business Telefonica Digital.

Another recent change to the firm's agency usage was calling in John Doe for a consumer brief to increase its 'sense of cool' among younger audiences.

John Doe founder Rana Reeves, who worked with Green while at JCPR ten years ago, says of her: 'Once you earn her trust, she will let you run with ideas. Nicola knows exactly what she wants. It's been amazing to see her grow up in PR. Even now in a board position she still has the excitement of when she started.'

Green confesses to being very hands-on, although she jokingly says she understands that she may have to take a step back 'before my team orders me to'. 'It's not that I don't think my team can do the work - they are incredible - it's because I love coming up with ideas and then working on following them through. I'm a doer.'

With her new role comes new responsibilities and Green is particularly immersing herself in public affairs - notably around the possibility of Ofcom giving O2 rival Everything Everywhere, owner of Orange and T-Mobile, an 18-month monopoly on 4G networking in the UK.

She says: 'Lobbying has become so important for us because we can't afford to be behind our rivals and we need to communicate to the layman, who just thinks 4G is a buzz word, the benefits of what a faster network can do for this country.'

Green restates the importance of having all the comms functions, from marketing to internal comms, working seamlessly together. This is something Meribeth Parker, group publishing director of the Luxury Group at Hearst Magazines UK, recognises: 'Nicola has always been able to think very laterally and work across all comms functions to amplify campaigns. She's very clever and started to do this at a very early stage in her career.'

Green places great importance on the fact that she now reports directly to Telefonica UK's CEO Ronan Dunne: 'It means we can be proactive now and make quick comms decisions such as when we decided to pull advertising from the News of the World. We had to respond quickly after fielding 290 calls and 17,000 tweets in one morning asking us to boycott the paper.'

She speaks of 'always wanting to be in comms' and studied for a PR degree at Leeds Metropolitan after reading an interview about a PR professional in a magazine.

'I think the magazine was Jackie,' she says, 'and I knew then that was what I wanted to do. It was like a lightbulb moment.'

This focus saw her gain an in-house comms role at Powergen and placements at Boots, the Co-Op and Ruder Finn, while her graduate programme at Burson-Marsteller led to her client at that time, Dr Pepper, stealing her away.

Although she does not have too much free time away from work, she confesses to loathing the three months gardening leave she had to take while moving from Orange to O2. 'I hated it because I'm a freak,' she says, laughing. 'I didn't know what to do with myself.'

A self-confessed 'risk-taker', Green marks backing the O2 arena as one of the highlights of her career.

'When I told people that I was recommending O2 put its name to the Millennium Dome, everyone thought I was mad,' she says. 'It took two attempts to get the board to sign it off.

'We believed in what we were recommending and we were right. The media buzz around us branding what was a white elephant at the time was amazing.'

Chalk up another win for PR risk-takers - and Green remains resolutely determined it will not be her last.

CV

2012 Director of comms and reputation, Telefonica UK

2003 Head of media & comms, O2

2000 UK campaigns manager, Orange

1999 Brand manager, Dr Pepper (secondment), Schweppes Beverages and Coca-Cola UK

1997 Graduate trainee; associate; senior associate, Burson-Marsteller

1993 Junior executive, Powergen

Tips from the top

What was your biggest career break?

When I had the opportunity to step out of PR and become brand manager for Dr Pepper. It gave me valuable insight into each element of the marketing mix.

Have you had a notable mentor?

There are several people who I turn to for advice and counsel, most notably my old boss at Orange, Denise Lewis, who set the bar high and greatly shaped the way I work today. I also regularly turn to Ann Pickering, director of HR, at Telefonica UK.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Demonstrate your comms skills by looking after your own PR. Gain experience in areas that really interest you as early as you can. I feel very passionate about this as it shaped my career.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Passion, determination and the willingness to continue to learn.

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