PR Interview #8: David Wilkes (aka, my dad!)

As you may know, the reason I started studying PR was because my Dad knew about the industry and reckoned I’d be good at it. Obviously, as a 17 year old who didn’t enjoy being told what I was and wasn’t good at, I was like ‘yeahhh yeah sure dad I’ll look into it….’, but when I actually did look into it, turns out he was right and skip forward a couple of years and here I am! So I’ve decided to have a twist for this interview and not chat to a PR Professional, but a Marketing Professional and someone I think is very wise (but then again, I’m probably biased).

David Wilkes is the International Marketing Manager, running the Critical Care division, for Vygon SA – a French medical devices business based just outside of Paris. He has 25 years international marketing experience mostly in healthcare and manages a transversal team of marketing, engineering & subsidiary business managers. He is currently somewhere in North America, probably drinking coffee whilst researching the next block buster product or global marketing campaign.

David Wilkes, International Marketing Manager at Vygon SA

What led you to work in Marketing?

“The short answer is that after studying Production engineering & management, I had to agree with my boss that I was better at the sales and marketing side of running a business, than the production engineering element. Especially as I inadvertently managed to cause a walk out from the shop floor simply by looking at my watch; apparently it’s not something that managers did in the bad old days of poor industrial relations. So basically it was safer to get me to think creatively of ways to grow the business and let ‘safer hands’ plan production.”

What stood out to you about the industry?

“In the 80’s marketing was still a relatively new field. Most companies were either engineering or sales led and usually ignored the advice of marketing professionals or confused the broad term ‘marketing’ with advertising. What excited me then just as it does today is that marketing touches every aspect of a business so that we can meet existing customer need and anticipate future need.”

What skills did you have that you thought would make you a good marketer?

“Marketing covers such a broad range of skills from analytical to creative. For me I’m quite strategic in my thinking which is great if we want to plan for the future but it can be a nightmare for people working with me who need to sort out today’s problems; sorry team. I also enjoy variety, I especially love working alongside customers and I think that I am at my most effective when I’m interacting with clinicians in the hospital environment.”

Can you talk a bit about past jobs and roles that you’ve had?

“My first marketing job was as a Product manager, managing a range of intravenous devices used in the hospital environment; I traveled a lot mainly in Europe working on new product development and campaign marketing for heritage products. I then went on to roles including national sales & marketing manager to expand my skills and experience to understand more of the commercial side of a business. Then a very enjoyable period when the economy was healthy, working in interim marketing for a variety of companies.”

What have been the highlights of you career so far? Any major setbacks?

“Marketing gives you a fantastic insight into people and business management, which is unique. My marketing takes me into the clinical hospital environment and I have the privilege and awesome responsibility to make changes that affect patient outcome; it gives you compassion and the drive to make change happen. My favourite example of this is volunteering for the Princes Trust as a business mentor working with ‘interesting’ young people. We help them set up in business and it’s an amazing privilege to see lives turn around. It can also be heart breaking but boy, the wins are worth it.

There haven’t been many major setbacks; working in healthcare is fairly protected from recession. My advice is to stay positive, there is always something better just around the corner. Good marketers are never long without work, just be flexible and driven and you will always be given new challenges.”

What would your dream job be?

“In my arrogance and humour I would like to work as God’s PR man.”

Do you think that aspiring Marketing/PR professionals need a degree to be successful?

“If you aspire to lead an organization then yes, definitely. I work in France and my marketing team includes recent marketing graduates with a 4th year Masters degree and two years intern experience, so they arrive with both theory and experience. Plus they all speak perfect English!”

What advice can you offer to aspiring marketers?

“My first ever job involved work in Italy and every job since then has involved some aspect of international marketing. My advice is: learn the basics of a language, be prepared to travel, be European in your thinking and International in your actions. The world is getting very small and your marketing reach is much bigger than you realize. At a conference last year in Washington DC, a speaker arrived who had been influenced by the campaign we ran in Australia but was created in France. Within 48 hours this news was being shared globally and had a direct impact on business.”

And to sum up…

“It’s all about people; working as a team is critical and understanding how we interact makes for a more pleasant working experience. I always find coffee and a chat helps. Be bold, make a difference and don’t forget to give your knowledge away, it makes life richer and more interesting.”

Thank you, Dad! In all honesty, before this interview I don’t think I actually had any idea what work my Dad did – so we’ve all learned something today!

Liv xo

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