Kathie Wilcox, Director of NGI Solutions

 Kathie Wilcox, Director of NGI Solutions  

Sharing her views on the importance of harnessing diverse skillsets and characters, putting boundaries around your time and never letting imposter syndrome stop you, Kathie Wilcox talks to UMi about her experience of being Director of NGI Solutions.

What is it the company does?

NGI Solutions is a research, marketing and PR agency based in the North East of England with a national client base. Born out of our parent company NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI), all profit we make goes back into NGI to help promote our region and drive economic growth.

We provide insight and research, creative content and PR, digital and traditional marketing and web design and development for a broad range of clients and sectors.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

As Director, my role is extremely varied, but business and team development are both key. With this in mind, I lead a team of senior research and marketing professionals, manage the agency’s new business pipeline and budget forecasting, identify and secure new opportunities, report to the board, drive product and service development and oversee all corporate and client communications activity. I also play an active role on the senior management team for NGI, inputting to business planning, strategy and direction for the organisation as a whole.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I began my career in communications 18 years ago in the days when press releases reigned and journalists had time to lunch. I worked both agency-side and in-house prior to joining NewcastleGateshead Initiative as Media and PR Manager back in 2003 and I haven’t looked back!

NGI is a fast-moving organisation, constantly responding to a changing environment and new challenges. This has given me an opportunity to progress in a wide variety of roles, eventually moving from my previous role as Director of Marketing and Communications into the organisation’s commercial arm in 2019 (NGI Solutions), as Director, leading the agency and its brilliant team.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Being able to acknowledge the significant value that a wide range of skillsets and personalities brings to a team is key for any leader. I feel lucky to be surrounded by such a passionate, dedicated and creative team and I believe that enabling this freedom and getting to know people’s personal aspirations allows us to deliver exceptional results for our clients.

Beyond skills, creativity and aspirations, great leaders should also place their team’s wellbeing at the heart of everything they do. As such, we have two members of the senior management team (including myself) on NGI’s health and wellbeing committee to ensure that wellbeing is given the prominence it deserves.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

An ongoing challenge for me is the need to establish NGI Solutions’ reputation in its own right. As the trading arm of NGI, an organisation which is well regarded and firmly established in the region, we’re seeking to build on the benefits this brings – reputation, shared skills and resources, networks, contacts and knowledge – whilst ensuring that we’re building our own reputation as a commercial agency. Our existing North East clients see the social value in the connection, whilst clients outside of the region don’t necessarily need or want to know about the link. But there’s still a job to be done to raise our profile further so that we’re front of mind for research, marketing and PR projects and don’t get lost or confused with the role and purpose of NGI.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I no longer sign up to the idea that you have to work 24/7 to be good at what you do. In fact, this approach is far more likely to result in burnout than success. As a mum of two, I know that if I don’t take care of myself properly I can’t possibly juggle work and family life happily and effectively – so I’ve got a clear sense of perspective and have become much better at prioritising and switching off as a result.

I’ve embraced work-related wellbeing benefits, including mindfulness sessions and our running club, and have made a conscious effort to build exercise into my weekly routine. Spin classes are a great stress reliever for me and I’ve just completed my first Great North Run - which was a massive achievement and provided a real focus to my training (i.e. I had to get out and run even when a glass of wine on the sofa was calling!)

I also make sure that I silence work notifications when I go on leave so that quality family time is uninterrupted, although I can’t promise I don’t check in from time to time!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school and did some work experience stints in a newsroom, which was a real eye-opener but also an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t stray too far from my childhood aspirations after my English Literature degree, when I got my first job at a PR agency. Writing, communicating, telling stories, developing content and working with the media has always been a key part of the work I do.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

My pet hate is negativity in the workplace. I can’t understand people who default to a ‘glass half full’ mentality without considering the potential opportunities first and I can’t bear people who display negativity towards colleagues. Diversity is at the heart of every good team and I think it’s important to engender a spirit of tolerance and kindness – everyone has something valuable to contribute if they’re supported, developed and valued in the right way.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We’ve developed strengths in a number of key sectors, and I anticipate that we will see real growth in our client base in terms of healthcare, culture, professional services, government and hospitality.

Our skillset has also been strengthened in the areas of SEO, web development, product development and social change over the last twelve months, which really complements our established insight, research, strategic marketing and PR offer.

We already contribute a significant amount to NGI’s income, providing sustainability for the very organisations that in turn support the economic development of the region. So I’d like to see this increase further within the next five years. We’re aiming to become the single main funding stream for the organisation, providing flexible funds to help achieve NGI’s vision and mission for the benefit of us all here in the North East.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Don’t be afraid to take risks and learn from them. Creativity is stunted if we remain firmly in the safe zone and feel deterred from trying new things. Failure always provides us with learnings and new opportunities – so don’t try to be perfect. Being willing to learn on the job and accept mentoring from colleagues at all levels will stand you in good stead for a successful career- and never let imposter syndrome stand in your way!

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Never let anyone tell you what you’re capable of. As a chronic self-doubter, I’m thankful to have had some incredibly supportive managers, including our current CEO Sarah Stewart, who have mentored, motivated and positively challenged me - on occasion I have really needed that extra nudge beyond my comfort zone! At a certain point in your career you realise that you make your own opportunities and set your own boundaries, and it’s really empowering to consciously acknowledge that no-one else can dictate your limits.


Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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