Profile: Angela Watts, V-P of marketing and comms, Spotify

Spotify's new head of comms has a tough challenge ahead but is a firm believer in the gentle approach, finds Arun Sudhaman.

Angela Watts
Angela Watts

When Angela Watts left her role as Yahoo Europe's director of comms in December 2009, she found herself with a week to spare before beginning her next gig.

A time for relaxation, perhaps, before launching the next phase of a PR career that has brought considerable success.

Instead Watts spent her time off cleaning up after her sick two-year-old son. Mischievous minds might say that experience served as preparation for her new position as head of marketing and PR at online music start-up Spotify.

Just four months into her role as brand guardian for her young charge, Watts has already had to start polishing. Newspapers have jumped on the claim that Spotify inadequately rewards artists, thanks to the widely touted story that Lady Gaga received just £108 for one million plays of her hit Poker Face.

Watts disputes the substance of these claims. But it is clear that Spotify's status as a media darling may - in time-honoured fashion - be about to shift.

'It's funny; since I've joined Spotify there's been something each week,' says the 34-year-old. 'To a certain extent we are a media darling, which is brilliant.

'But everyone is painfully aware of the danger of over-hype. The more successful you are, the more the press want to find that little Achilles heel that makes a story.'

Spotify's relative youth means Watts' housekeeping duties are more literal than they might at first appear. She is in charge of the four-year-old company's office move from Centrepoint to Soho, and has been buying cutlery for the new digs.

Not that she is complaining. Drinking mint tea at the Charlotte Street Hotel, Watts is almost unnaturally agreeable, with no trace of the self-importance or the hard edges that often mark out clients in the tech sector.

It is not an act, says Libra Group head of comms Gareth Zundel, who first managed Watts as a graduate trainee at Harvard PR.

'She had a very conciliatory and gentle approach to business and people, combined with genuine commercial acumen,' says Zundel, calling the combination 'unique'. 'She is proof that you can be soft and gentle and get the job done, and it doesn't prevent you from being decisive.'

Watts, presumably, would be happy with this assessment: 'I don't think you need to be a bitch to be successful as a woman in this business, but I think that's the mistake some women make.'

Spotify makes much of its status as the new kid on the block. But it has already clashed with Apple, and the media have taken to referring to the rivalry as a David vs Goliath battle.

Is Watts ready for the fight? 'Yeah, absolutely,' she says with a smile, before tempering her remarks. 'I don't think we need to be arrogant or brash. We are ready to go into battle, but in a friendly way.'

It is not a ringing declaration of war. Then again, Watts arrived at Spotify after several years at Yahoo, during the internet giant's painful adolescence in the shadow of a younger, savvier contender.

'Apple is a formidable rival, but Google was quite a formidable rival at Yahoo too.'

The suggestion that Google comfortably won that fight is met with a gentle 'now, now'. Clearly, it is hard to rile Watts.

Her departure from Yahoo just two months after promotion to head of European PR suggests she has little difficulty in making big decisions. But she admits she did have concerns over the risks of joining a start-up that has yet to turn a profit.

'I wasn't looking to leave,' she admits. 'Absolutely, there were risks. But it took just a few minutes talking to (co-founder) Daniel Ek for my fears to be allayed.'

A background in music presumably helped sway the deal. Watts is a freelance percussionist in various London orchestras, although she admits Spotify might target a slightly different demographic.

'I did find myself in Fabric last week, which was hilarious,' she says, in a bid to debunk the idea that her job revolves around partying at gigs. 'There's something wrong about someone my age clubbing.'

These days, Watts has her hands full with her young son. And, of course, her young employer. 'My friends have said it's like I've found a new lease of life,' she muses. 'You don't have to jump through a lot of hoops to make things happen, which is really refreshing.'

Tougher days may lie ahead, but with Watts at the tiller, one senses Spotify's brand ethos will remain optimistic.

'It's going to be a challenge to keep the Spotify culture going through all of the expansion,' admits Watts. A rollercoaster ride beckons. Watts would not have it any other way.

 

Angela watts' turning points

- What was your biggest career break?

I've mostly been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Joining Overture just as the online advertising revolution was taking hold and just prior to the company being acquired by Yahoo! is one such example.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Gareth Zundel and Mark Casey at Harvard PR both taught me a great deal as I was starting out and I remember with fondness Gareth's 'Cunning as a Weasel' training for account executives. I've been blessed to work with so many inspirational people. Recently, working with Eric Brown at Yahoo taught me that you can gain respect from those around you and totally kick ass without being a tyrant.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Be proactive, accept every challenge with a smile, always look for the wider business context and avoid fluff at all costs.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

Hunger, the ability to both analyse and empathise, and those who come to me with solutions not problems.

 

CV

2010: V-P of marketing and comms, Spotify

2009: Director of comms, Yahoo Europe

2008: Head of EU b2b PR, Yahoo Europe

2007: Head of PR, Yahoo UK & Ireland

2006: Head of EU PR, Yahoo Search/Search Marketing

2003: PR manager, Northern Europe, Overture

1998: Graduate trainee, Harvard PR

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