Leaders with Ambition - Claire Mason, Man Bites Dog

Leaders with Ambition - Claire Mason

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Claire Mason - CEO and Founder at Man Bites Dog.

Claire Mason wanted to be where the action was, generating rather than reacting to change. What that looks like, as we learn on this episode of Leaders With Ambition, is the phenomenally successful global B2B thought leadership and strategic marketing consultancy known as Man Bites Dog.

An Oxford graduate from a comprehensive school raised in an entrepreneurial family, Claire’s core values and openness have been foundational, not only to her branding, messaging and communications approach, they are also woven into the workplace culture for which Man Bites Dog is known – and highly decorated, including most recently being named B2B Marketing 's “Specialist Consultancy of the Year.”

Claire shares with Host, Nicky Acuna Ocana, the priorities that have shaped her illustrious career and the drivers behind her commitment to social issues. Her firm’s focus is on promoting positive messages and initiatives that support, among other things, sustainability, diversity and inclusivity.

With a portfolio of top-notch clients and delivering work across 20 countries, Man Bites Dog is also known for innovative workplace programmes around learning and development and ground-breaking reports such as, “The Gender Say Gap,” a term they coined to highlight the invisibility of women and diverse leaders in the corporate and public spheres.

You’ll hear about Claire’s career highs and challenges as well as important advice for anyone looking to hone their entrepreneurial, interpersonal and business skills. “We wanted to create (a firm) where you could be in a really supportive culture while working with the biggest and the best business brands and doing the best possible global work,” says Claire. It seems that’s exactly what this dynamo has done – and then some!

Visit this link to find out more about Man Bites Dog’s work on the “Gender Say Gap,” an influential report highlighting the lack of women and diverse leaders as authorities in business and public life.

Want to learn more about the team at Ambition? Click here to find out what we’re up to!

If you enjoyed this discussion, please visit this link to find previous episodes of Leaders with Ambition.

(This episode was recorded in September 2023).

Watch the full episode with Claire Mason

Key takeaways

Starting out

About growing up in Cheshire infused with a love of books and entrepreneurial ventures, including launching a phenomenally successful marketing effort on behalf of a book written by Claire’s father.

Oxford days

How Claire’s experience at Oxford University has influenced her life path, both professionally and personally. She learned the value of hard work and resilience!

A drive to create:

After an early glimpse into the world of journalism, Claire came quickly to realise that she wanted to be on the news making (rather than news reporting) side of things, setting the agenda!

Getting a foothold

How it felt like to land a career-making dream communications job (with a steep learning curve) as an International Network Executive with Cohn & Wolfe.

Stepping into her own

How Claire leveraged a side hustle writing a book and an opportunity in the growing knowledge economy to create the world’s first dedicated thought leadership consultancy in 2005.

The development of Man Bites Dog

Why the name 'Man Bites Dog'? Claire shares the story behind her firm's name and the intent behind it, integrating big-idea marketing, business development and consultancy.

Key solidarity

How the support of female business leaders enabled Claire to grow her young company and develop a niche expertise with enduring appeal – and results!

Growing the business

Why confidence and vision were key in quickly establishing Man Bites Dog as an award-winning (more than 100 and counting) major player!

Core values

About Claire’s unwavering commitment to creating a “virtuous circle” within her workplace, affording safety and inclusivity as well as access to work on the most exciting, sustainable global brands. No tolerance for “the brilliant jerk”!

Staying fresh

What it looks like to embed learning, development and new ideas into day-to-day workplace culture through innovative workshops, initiatives and programmes.

Investing in development

Why Claire believes it’s so important to integrate opportunities for growth and clear career progression accessible to everyone at the firm.

The Gender Say Gap

About the genesis of Man Bites Dog’s decision to create reporting to hold organisations accountable for the invisibility of women and diverse leaders in outward-facing campaigns. Consider diversity in who you’re putting forward!

Speaking Up!

How Claire committed herself to overcoming fears in order to step forward and be a voice not only for her firm but for women in all sectors.

Topics of interest

Claire speaks widely on subjects such as environmental sustainability and the power of thought leadership, including joint forums with Ambition.

Why ESG?

The inside scoop about why community and sustainability have long been high priorities for Claire, who very intentionally established her business in Brighton to support the economy and transmit local values she wanted to reflect in the workplace.

Paying it forward

Why Claire believes women, in particular, should seek out board positions as early as possible in their careers both in order to learn about leadership and contribute important perspectives to the conversations happening in conference rooms.

Making entrepreneurship accessible

Don’t miss the “fantastic” network of business support and education available in many libraries across the UK.

Current challenges for Professional Services

  • The shifting new economy.

  • Geopolitical tensions.

  • Adoption of ESG and other challenging initiatives.

  • AI – both the opportunities and downsides.

Moving forward

About the sectors and global growth goals foundational to Man Bites Dog’s roadmap through changing economic, environmental, social and political times.

Claire’s career highlights

  • Winning “Specialist Consultancy of the Year” in 2022.

  • Pioneering the integration of thought leadership across communications/PR disciplines.

  • Influential campaigns that have made significant impact on the ground.

  • Building and growing a close-knit, supportive, inclusive team and culture.

Claire’s career challenges

  • Riding out economic shocks like the global financial crisis and pandemic.

  • Discerning when to take advice rather than “operating from the heart.”

  • Sticking with the team and going for it even in times of crisis (a decision that has inspired long-term loyalty).

  • Finding opportunities and silver linings when times get tough.

Words of Wisdom

  • 'Stay open to people and unexpected opportunity.'

  • 'Allow yourself to be a little “cheeky, a little bold.”'

  • 'Force yourself past shyness.'

  • 'Don’t be afraid to ask! If you don’t ask, you won’t get anywhere!'

  • 'Just get on with it, even when the odds seem to be against you.'

  • 'Make sure you’ve got a clear career path in mind.'

  • 'Do things that you’re good at!'

  • 'Face your fears because usually those are the things that can be the biggest accelerators for growth and success.'

  • 'Choose your tribe! Surround yourself with people who support, challenge and invite you to be better every day. '

  • 'Embrace networking as a fantastic tool for growth, inspiration and cultivating community.'

Key quotes

  • “I had this vision of building what I call intelligent brands – businesses built on knowledge and expertise that need to sell to the C-suite and board-level decision-makers ...in a very different way that demonstrated smart thinking.”

  • “Today I’m much more myself in a red dress, but I remember having to be really suited and booted and really fearless in knocking on those big (corporate) doors. That was a really scary time!”

  • “From small businesses comes innovation – and it comes from passion!”

  • “The culture piece is THE most important part of what we do …We’ve all been there in our careers where sometimes you have to choose between the best possible work for the biggest possible brand versus the sort of culture that you want to be in.”

  • “We wanted to create (a firm) where you didn’t have to choose; where you could be in a really supportive culture while working with the biggest and the best business brands and doing the best possible global work. That’s what I set out to create.”

  • “Ultimately you can achieve a lot more if you help each other rather than tread on each other.”

  • “People do want to work with good people and if you’ve got a group of very intelligent people they’re going to want to keep developing.” (Nicky)

  • “You should be putting forward the people that not only represent your workforce and customers but that represent the workforce that you want to have in the future.”

  • “It’s really worthwhile and career-enhancing for more female and diverse business leaders to step forward and be a role model for the next generation.”

  • “Those economic shocks have been the biggest challenges but actually from that comes a huge amount of innovation!”

  • “People can say ‘no’ and that’s fine. But if you don’t ask, you’re never going to get there in the first place.”

About Claire Mason

Claire Mason is an entrepreneur, NED, CEO and Founder of award-winning global thought leadership consultancy Man Bites Dog. Claire develops future thinking for intelligent brands to position them as leaders in the next economy.

With twenty-five years’ experience leading global strategic marcomms programmes, Claire and her team create signature campaigns for the technology, professional and financial services firms shaping the future of business.

Man Bites Dog specialises in storytelling to help business brands mobilise change on the world’s most important issues – from accelerating net zero to building a more inclusive world. Claire has developed global thought leadership campaigns on subjects from the future of work and global trade, to financing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Zeronomics (the economics of net zero transition).

About Nicky Acuna Ocana

Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.

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