HTC's global PR director Julia Herd is inspired by the F-word

The global director of consumer and product PR for handset maker HTC uses her fear to drive her on against the competition, reports John Owens.

Number One: Julia Herd says it's fantastic to be market leader
Number One: Julia Herd says it's fantastic to be market leader

Some people are crippled by fear, but not HTC's Julia Herd. 'I live by fear,' she says. 'If I didn't have that sense of fear and wanting to achieve more, it would have been difficult to have got where I am in my career.'

Herd has risen quickly to head the handset firm's global consumer and product PR, and hearing her describe an around-the-clock routine, from which her only respite seems to be a 7am rowing session, it is perhaps not a surprise.

'I have a massively competitive streak,' she confesses in the frank but friendly manner that characterises her approach throughout the interview. 'I want to be the best and with that comes a lot of work - I'm like a dog with a bone.'

Then again, some might feel that 36-year-old Herd would be justified in experiencing a touch of trepidation.

HTC has been hit by poor sales and a diminishing market share recently, with Samsung and Apple cementing their positions as the top two. Last month, Taiwan-based HTC announced a 98 per cent drop in year-on-year profits.

Herd says HTC faces 'challenging times' but points to the upcoming launch of 'hero product' - her term - HTC One as evidence of brighter things ahead.

She is also quick to stress that HTC is still a relative newcomer to the market, having only launched its own-brand mobiles in 2006.

But when pressed, there is acknowledgement that more must be done to turn glowing product reviews into sales.

At this point, she becomes careful with her words: 'There have been things we could have done better. From my perspective, we need to look at where we believe, as a company, we can gain traction. We need to focus both from a PR and product development perspective. Perhaps we were trying too many things.'

Focus, it seems, is the key word here.

Acknowledging and embracing the growing ubiquity of mobile phones, Herd refers to HTC as a lifestyle brand. One of her aims has been to embed the four cornerstones of the brand - imagery, audio, content and design - within the minds of youngsters and those with a bit of cultural clout.

'We were not gaining the traction that we wanted in the lifestyle space and as far as a target market goes, it is relatively young people,' says Herd. 'With trendsetters, content is hugely important - they generate and consume a lot of it.'

Herd's agency-side background takes in both consumer and tech, and is one that is characterised by fighting the corner for brands facing a challenge. Examples include helping to reposition luxury ice-cream brand Haagen-Dazs following the launch of similar products by Ben & Jerry's, and Virgin's entry into the mobile phone arena.

'It's fantastic to be in a position where you're working for the market leader, but when you're not you have to push yourself a bit further. There's real satisfaction in seeing a company grow,' she says.

The attraction of her HTC role seems obvious, though she is quick to dismiss any underdog tag for the company.

John Mandeville, a consultant who worked with Herd during her time at Weber Shandwick, says her success lies in both personal drive and the ability to motivate: 'Julia was very encouraging, and had an upfront and honest manner that stripped away stress and superfluous nonsense. Her passion lies in the consumer sector and getting to grips with what people desire and how brands can bring that desire and aspiration to life.'

So how will a mobile market that Herd calls 'hugely dynamic and challenging' adapt to meet these aspirations?

Another new phone emerging from the HTC stable gives an insight into one of the likely battlefronts for supremacy.

Discussing the HTC First, which incorporates Facebook's Home software, Herd sees the incorporation of social media into mobiles as the next industry revolution. She contends that consumers are moving away from big-name sites towards different online communities.

'As a brand that means potentially doing something we feel will target absolutely everyone is potentially less effective than the servicing of different communities and what they want,' she says.

How to do that for a comms remit that spans Asia-Pacific, EMEA and North America, while keeping a coherent image on a global level and fighting back against the global technology behemoths it counts as rivals, is another matter.

But whether it is on the Thames with her Maidenhead rowing team, or battling for the latest in a line of challenger brands, it is safe to say Herd is up for the fight.

CV

2012 Global director, consumer and product PR, HTC

2010 Head of EMEA PR, HTC

2009 Associate director, Weber Shandwick

2007 PR manager UK, Nordics, Spain, South Africa and Middle East, AMD

2000 Account director, Consolidated PR

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Every firm for which I have worked has contributed to where I am today. However, forced to choose, it would be my first job at Consolidated. The experience I gained was invaluable, as it gave me a solid background in consumer, corporate and b2b PR.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I have been fortunate to have had great leaders in all of my jobs. However, my mentor is my mum. She has always encouraged me to go after what is important, but not to the detriment of others, to celebrate my successes and to learn from my mistakes. What better advice could one have?

What advice would you give people climbing the ladder?

Believe in yourself. Work out what you want and to go for it. Take every opportunity to improve yourself and to learn from others no matter how senior you are.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Spark. There is a huge amount of talent in the PR industry but the one thing that sets a person apart is their get up and go,their drive to succeed and a glint in their eye that makes you want to see just how good they are.

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