Profile: Anna Shipley, head of communications, Nokia UK & Ireland

The daughter of New Zealand's former prime minister tells Arun Sudhaman directing comms at Nokia is similarly diplomatic.

Anna Shipley
Anna Shipley

Anna Shipley hates being called a client. The head of comms for Nokia UK and Ireland prefers to think of her agencies as an extension of her own team.

So it must have been quite a wrench this October to end the company's relationship with two-year incumbent Lexis PR and shift the business to Good Relations in one of the biggest account reviews of 2009.

If it did hurt, Shipley is bearing up quite well. There are those in the agency world who think Nokia pitches too often, a charge that Shipley dismisses with the minimum of fuss.

'I guess it's my prerogative to know when the time is right,' she counters. 'People who know me, I hope, would recognise that an agency repitch is something we do in a very thorough way.'

That much is certainly true. The Nokia review attracted attention not just for its billings - a cool £400,000 - but also for an interactive element that subjected agencies to a process that sounds a little like a military interrogation.

'We had 15 different scenarios,' explains Shipley. 'Without question we made agencies uncomfortable. It wasn't a matter of putting them on the spot or trying to catch them out but making sure that they were equipped to help us. Sometimes that's hard to test in a PowerPoint presentation.'

Shipley is not afraid to rock the boat. A source close to Nokia points out that Lexis' eventual departure from the account may have stemmed from an inability to 'spar with Anna'.

'If there's an issue I'll raise it and address it,' says Shipley of her approach to agency relationships. 'I'm a big believer in giving feedback as and when things happen.'

'She is strong, straight and - at times - dogmatic,' says the source. 'But she is the consummate PR professional and incredibly passionate about Nokia. It's almost like a social mission.'

That enthusiasm is in ample evidence at a rather spartan cafe inside Nokia's central London facility, slap bang in the middle of the Soho red light district. The 31-year-old exudes glamour - one website has likened her to Hollywood screen siren Maggie Gyllenhaal - and there is enough Nokia boosting to sway the company's most diehard opponents.

All of this arrives by way of an endearingly strong Kiwi accent. Shipley has been in the UK for eight years now, but believes her status as an outsider has been more of a help than a hindrance.

'There are lots of things about Brits that I naturally am not, so I observe it but I don't feel it,' she says. 'I don't mean that to sound philosophical and certainly not rude, but I think making sure you are connected to the audience and understand the cultural differences has been incredibly important to me.'

Judging by her rise up the ranks at Nokia, Shipley is a fast learner. It may also be a tribute to her political skills, which were no doubt honed growing up while her mother was prime minister of New Zealand.

'Conversations over dinner at the Shipley household were never dull,' she admits - occasions that were no doubt enlivened by visits from the Clintons and Russian president Vladimir Putin. 'If anything my family has taught me to be adaptable and flexible, but also to be positive and get on with it.'

Not that Shipley has any intention of following in her mother's footsteps just yet. 'Politics for me personally? At this point I don't think so.'

Instead, Shipley attributes a heightened 'engagement' with the media to her background. And perhaps she gets all the politics she needs at Nokia - the massive Finnish company counts a bewildering array of cultures across its 120-country empire.

'Working at Nokia is like working at the UN,' she says. 'On my first day I had a meeting with a person and I couldn't tell if they were male or female and it was in a meeting room I couldn't pronounce. '

Shipley, one imagines, handled that particular test without alarm. 'That ability to be adaptable and get on with things is very central to who I am,' she says. It is a skill that is likely to be increasingly tested as Nokia continues its ambitious goal of refashioning its image as a company that provides services, rather than one that makes cheap phones.

'To be known as the world's biggest phone manufacturer is hardly a bad thing - but there's an appreciation that this isn't enough,' she muses. It is the furthest that Shipley strays from enthusiastic commercial advocacy. Spoken like a true politician.

 

ANNA SHIPLEY'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

There have been a few but the thing that made communications my career was joining the corporate affairs team at Saturn and seeing how fundamental it is to business and commercial success.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Several. Both my parents are amazing. Also Jack Matthews at Saturn, a go-getting American who gave me more opportunities than I could have imagined when I was only 22. And Mark Squires at Nokia continues to be a mentor and a good friend.

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

Be brave. Great people have the confidence to do things differently and while sometimes it's hard to step away from the norm, it's a great way to stand out.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Enthusiasm, confidence, new ideas and a sense of humour, combined with the ability to adapt to a new environment quickly but contribute and add to it, rather than getting swept up by it.

Tell PRWeek about your career turning point.

 

CV

2008: Head of communications, Nokia UK & Ireland

2005: Communications manager, Nokia UK & Ireland

2002: Consultant, Lexington Communications

1999: Corporate affairs adviser, TelstraSaturn Limited (New Zealand)

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