Kathryn van der Kroft, Communications Director at 3i, shares a slice or two of the wisdom that 10 years of experience with one of the world’s leading investors has bestowed upon her.
Having attended school in the UK, France and the Netherlands before going on to study English and international law in London, I felt that my background was well suited to a role that offered the opportunity to work in an international context. 3i has a rich global network, with portfolio companies across Europe, Asia and the Americas. I joined in 2004 and am currently the Communications Director, responsible for internal, external and digital communications, as well as social media and our charitable activities.
Since 3i is a listed company, my remit also includes managing the communications around our financial calendar activity, such as full and half year results. There is a huge amount of variety in the role—no two days are ever the same and I am certainly kept on my toes.
3i has been around since 1945 and is a well-known business. People have heard of us and, for the most part, know us as a name they can trust.
On the downside, there can be a disproportionate level of interest in our activities given we are such a bellwether for the industry and being listed means there is plenty of information available on our performance; more than for most PE firms. Of course everyone has their view on what we are doing but overall there is definitely a greater appreciation and understanding of PE as an increasing number of firms move towards taking a more proactive approach to communications and building a more transparent relationship with the media.
Variety is what attracted me to this role in the first place and while it’s certainly what keeps me interested and motivated, it also has its challenges. I wear many different hats and work across a variety of disciplines and multiple geographies. Any given day may find me switching from working on financial calendar work to managing an interview with an editor of a UK newspaper to making sure we’re up to speed on the operations of the charities that we are involved with.
I also work with some of our portfolio companies across a number of different markets. These companies vary significantly, so one day I can be drafting a comms plan around our investment in Hilite, a German automotive business, and the next day I’ll be implementing the PR around the sale of Giraffe, a UK-based restaurant.
It’s without a doubt a role that requires the ability to think and act quickly and be able to change course at the drop of a hat.
When we invest in a business, we naturally make a concerted effort to get to know the Comms people and make sure that we keep everyone in the loop during the process. Once we have made our investment, some of the companies will just keep us updated on their news flow, while others will more actively seek our input. In the case of the latter, I may act as a sounding board on a range of issues, arrange interviews for their senior management or advise them on appointing a PR agency. We also work closely with our portfolio companies when we exit their business, again to make sure that everyone is aligned in terms of messaging and approach, including the new investor going forward.
3i has been a listed company since 1994, so for a long time it has been well understood at 3i that proactively engaging, and having an open and transparent relationship, with the press is fundamental.
While in earlier years it sometimes felt as though we were reaching only a niche audience, we now engage with a wider spectrum as increasing numbers of people take an interest in our story. With a presence on Twitter and LinkedIn we are now setting out to determine how social media can prove beneficial to a B2B company like 3i.
Being listed means we already have to abide by certain regulations but generally they don’t inhibit our ability to communicate our story. Compared to some other industries, I would say we have done well to avoid over-regulation. By telling your story and explaining why you are adding value to society, you can build trust and to a certain extent, manage the threat of becoming more regulated.
There are two things that spring to mind. One is maintaining a balance and staying calm with your focus always on the bigger picture. Building a reputation takes time. As the saying goes, ‘Life is a marathon, not a sprint,’ so look to the long-term and don’t get too hung up on the negative comments you may encounter along the way.
The other piece of wise counsel that has stayed with me is to stand by the courage of your convictions. In my role, I have to advise managers on what I believe is the best course of action to take and while I understand the importance of the need to listen, I also attach great weight to bringing one’s own experience to bear on an issue and having the courage to stick with it.
On a day-to-day basis, it can be brought about by mitigating a bad story, getting coverage across a variety of geographies or putting something back into the community through our charitable activities. On a broader scale, I would say that leading a Comms function that enhances 3i’s reputation and creates a brand that its staff can be proud of is a sure sign that we’re hitting the right notes.
I took up golf a few years ago and have since been impressed by anyone with a decent handicap, who can stay calm on the golf course!
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