Damon Jones does not do strolling. Procter & Gamble’s external relations leader is 15 minutes late for our interview but,
after PRWeek is whisked swiftly into a Soho Square meeting room, it becomes apparent that Jones is not only fleet-footed but is also a quick thinker.
Given Jones’ background, this is no surprise. Last year, the American took a six-month leave of absence from the FMCG
giant to head press relations at the Democratic National Convention in the US. One imagines this was an event where Jones, in the best tradition of the West Wing-inspired political generation, had a chance to hone his penchant for rapid-fire action.
Then there is Jones’ CV, which certainly indicates a man in a hurry. Since he joined P&G 12 years ago, the 33-year-old has risen through the communications ranks with alacrity. ‘I am an adrenaline junkie,’ he admits. ‘I like fast cars, jumping out of aeroplanes… and working on the biggest political campaign ever.’
Jones is in considerable demand these days. It appears everyone wants to replicate the awesome success of the campaign strategy of President Barack Obama, who is in London this week for the G20 summit. ‘It happens after every political campaign,’ he explains. ‘There are a lot of people trying to make a lot of money out of it. It doesn’t concern me, but you don’t need a lot of high-priced consultants to look at the lessons and apply them to your business.’
For Jones, it was the chance to learn – as much as being a part of history – that convinced him to take on the role for the
Democrats. ‘P&G recognised it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,’ he says. ‘Politics is such a fertile ground for corporate communicators to learn – you only get that type of training in few places.’
The specifics of those lessons will be saved for PRWeek’s upcoming PR on the Edge conference in late May. Suffice it to say Jones has returned from his stint with a considerably enhanced understanding of communications. As an example, he had to deal with media that were seemingly convinced the convention would implode. One day after the successful event ended, meanwhile, he found the news agenda had been hijacked by Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
These issues demonstrated to Jones the inherent difficulty in controlling a message. It is a challenge for many large companies such as P&G. ‘There’s a certain insularity and arrogance that what we do is very important,’ he admits. ‘You’ve got to be in touch with what’s going on. What is Unilever going to say? What is Tesco going to say?’
They also brought home the importance of – yet again – speed. ‘He gets to the heart of something very quickly,’ confirms Ketchum Europe client services MD Serena de Morgan, who has worked with Jones since 2006. ‘And he has a contagious, upbeat personality – it makes you want to work for him.’
This is combined with a level of comfort with risk that sometimes sits uneasily with multinational company executives. ‘I’m willing to try anything once, and the majority of my jobs have been unique assignments,’ he says. ‘If there are some challenges that haven’t been faced – or a project no-one else wants to do – sign me up.’
Jones is relentlessly effervescent throughout the interview without ever suggesting a tendency towards froth. ‘He’s got that perfect balance of being very professional and very lively,’ adds de Morgan.
It is an attitude that chimes with a campaign that was fundamentally optimistic. Despite spending most of his time stuck in the ‘press office on steroids’ as he calls it, Jones made the most of the opportunity – attending all of the key speeches, and ‘turning off for a while’ when he showed his mother around the convention.
‘When Obama walked out on stage – to know we had done this,’ recollects Jones. ‘[We thought] this moment is perfect.’
A heady moment indeed. But, as every adrenaline junkie knows, after the highs can come a low. Surely the transition from playing a key role in one of the biggest media spectacles of all time, back to a regular working day, must have been tricky?
‘There are things you miss – the pace at P&G is very different,’ says Jones. ‘But one of the things the campaign taught me is the value of working on something for which you have passion.’
Can Jones’ obvious passion for cleaning products ever reach the heights of the campaign experience? ‘I’m striving towards it,’ he says with a smile. ‘What connects the two is something in which I believe.’
What was your biggest career break?
In 2002, I was asked to work on a significant business restructure. The project wasn’t well understood, wasn’t seen as high profile and was global in nature. It was a role no-one else really wanted and some mentors even advised against doing it.
But I took a risk and it paid off. I learned more in that role than any other.
What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?
Clearly articulate how your core skills can be applied to various business challenges and work across industries and disciplines. Market yourself leveraging these core skills and avoid labels that might limit the opportunities for which you might be considered.
Have you had a notable mentor?
My most notable mentors are my friends and family, who keep me well grounded and balanced.
What do you prize in new recruits?
The ability to share a well reasoned, well articulated point of view.
Being both credible and convincing is fundamental to a communications leader.
2008 Director of press relations, Democratic National Convention
2007 Associate director, external relations leader, Procter & Gamble (P&G) UK & Ireland
2005 Associate director, brand external relations & influencer marketing, P&G Western Europe, then associate director, brand external relations, P&G UK and Ireland
2002 Group manager, external relations & communications, global business services, P&G
2000 Manager, external relations, P&G North America
1997 Specialist, corporate communications, P&G