Thanks for finding your way here, but I’m sadly no longer using this blog to publish anything new.

You can find an archive of writing to the right. Drop me a note at vikki@vikkichowney.com if you want to talk 🙂

Six vital things I learned from Tracy Robbins

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

I am incredibly lucky to have had incredible support from the people I’ve worked for throughout my career. The on-the-job training and guidance that has shaped my working ethos has largely come from direct bosses and line managers; the people I’ve worked most closely with on a day-to-day basis.

Almost six years ago, when I was at TMW Unlimited on a leadership-training course, I realised how useful it would be to have someone to talk to outside of this very immediate group of people. More specifically, how much value there would be in finding a woman to do this, in a structured way. After all, every single one of my managers (with the exception of Jen Janson and Lesley Booth back in 2006!) has been male.

Everyone feels differently about this particularly type of coaching; but for me, I wanted to understand the experiences of a woman going through her working life. How did she deal with sexism and pay, having a family and so on? There are many things a competent person of any sex or background can teach you – but there are some things that are unique to a woman in the workplace.

I waited a long time to find mine. The company running that same course for TMW. just add water, helped me find her. Jeremy Sturt, the company’s founder, contacted me almost three years after I first mentioned this to him while we were mid-training. He mentioned that a friend of his, Tracy Robbins, had just completed the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard and had joined the Meyler Campbell executive coach training programme. Because of the latter, she was looking for women to work with as part of her on-going education.

Tracy’s international business experience was second to none, a board member at IHG for five years, part of the executive committee for 10. HR Magazine’s Director of the Year and ranked consistently as one of their most influential. She was a Women of Influence Board Member for Cancer Research and had a reputation for delivery – most notably a $23m HR transformation project at IHG that led to 35% increase in global engagement score and numerous awards for best place to work. I couldn’t wait.

We met, we clicked, and my professional adoration of her was immediate. Her down to earth approach, active listening and warmth was central to every conversation we had, and she remains one of the most kind people I’ve ever met. In fact, her first comment to me after our meeting was “I think we could almost be dangerous together … :-)”. The feeling was mutual.

Sadly, Tracy passed away last year. She was already a breast cancer survivor when we met, and by the time we started working together she was graciously battling it for the second time. She never once complained, she simply retained absolute focus on what she wanted to achieve – sharing her knowledge & experience with others – all wrapped up in with wonderful sense of joy and positivity. I am amazed still that she was able to give me so much while she was under so much physical strain.

I think long and often about writing down everything from our sessions to keep that fire I saw in her eyes going, and I do think I will when I work how out how to frame it. But for today, I’m going to summarise the most helpful things she taught me. It’s a pity to keep them locked up waiting for the right time, when someone might get something truly useful from it right now.

Working with a coach

Tracy was much more practical than many a coach. For me, the psychologist-tested ‘but how does it make you feel?’ just doesn’t work, and it wasn’t her style either. In our early days she asked me to carry out a few straightforward exercises to help her get to know me, and shape what we hoped to achieve. It’s firmly my belief that anyone can do these solo, or in a team, to get the same effect.

  1. Produce a mood board for how you want your life to be three to five years from now. Yes, an actual mood board. Visualising things brings sharp focus to what you want from your life.
  2. Think about your life. Draw a line from birth to now and mark on it the moments that are important to you and have shaped you. Think about how these have in turn shaped your values and given you a purpose.
  3. Write down your coaching objectives. In six month’s time, what do you want to have accomplished? What will success look like?

Reflecting on this

The most valuable thing Tracy ever taught me was to surround myself with places and people that reflect my values. It sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. This is an incredibly easy way to make sure you’re building the right environment to flourish in – both professionally and personally. Do the people and places you spend your time reflect what’s important to you? Will they help move you towards where you want to be in the near future?

How others see you

One of the best things you can achieve through coaching is developing your leadership style and perception. Once you’ve gone through the values and reflection steps, you need to get even more insular. Focusing on yourself in the same way you might do a client feels downright weird at first; but it’s an important step in helping set measurable goals.

  • How do you want to be viewed in your first 30/60/90 days? This should be led from your purpose and values.
  • How does this affect how you need to behave?
  • What tactical things do you therefore want to put in place (office layout, how you conduct meetings, how you recognise people etc)
  • Is there a symbolic act that would help people better understand you? This can be really small like being more open about something important to you.

Maintaining professional progression

It’s vital to get clarity around your current role and objectives in order to make sure you’re succeeding, or moving towards your next step. This has to be a joint activity with whomever you report in to, or else you’ll be on totally different pages.

  • What are the skills, knowledge and behaviours your manager sees as your strengths and what are the ones they would like you to work on to succeed in that role?
  • How often would they like to review this? (this is usually once every three to six months)
  • Consider the ways you frame what you’re asking for; consider making it less inwards-looking (‘what you want’) and more about exploring further opportunities
  • Frame these ‘further opportunities’ in terms of what it will achieve for the business you’re in – aligning to company vision, aiding better synergies team to team, clearer focus on a certain goal, growing something faster
  • And most importantly, apply real empathy. Tracy & I spoke at length about the Brené Brown video on Empathy below (another incredible woman I’m super happy I can highlight). Even when you’re asking for something, how will it make the other person feel? Will they feel like you’re saying they’re not working hard enough for you? By considering opportunity and suggested solution, you change the conversation to something of shared value. Under the opportunity piece start with the most important business opportunity as your manager would see it.


A tough conversation for many, but the biggest learning is again a reframe. The very word ‘renumeration’ reflects salary for to work you’ve achieved, rather than just a brutal chat about money

  • The delivery element here is key; map the elements of your current role as a pie chart, then build a ring around it to show where your next role might extend to
  • By framing the additional responsibility you’ll take on, you validate a growth in seniority and in renumeration
  • Outline what that could look like, and what’s needed to get there (team, resources etc)

A simple way of working with people you don’t necessarily want to

Not everyone is going to be the ideal co-worker. It’s a fact of life. And as you go through life you can’t just avoid people and hide, you’ve got to lean in and work out a way to engage them in order to work harmoniously.

  • Though you can’t change the people around you, you can change the way you deal with them.
  • What drives them? Start there. Engage them on something they can get excited about at the start of every meeting, and you’ll find them instantly easier to engage with.
  • Be conscious of how that person is going to make you feel. If you find someone is extremely negative for instance, be prepared for it. You’ll find situations far less draining if you know how they’re going to make you feel, because you’re not caught off guard.

I’m sharing this on International Women’s Day to say thank you to Tracy for helping me find focus and remember who I am when I needed it most, but also to salute the incredible females in my life. In the words of my namesake Victoria Principal, “when women work together, it’s a bond unlike any other”.

Find out more about supporting Cancer Research here; through fundraising, donations or volunteering.

Thoughts on digital trends for 2018

(Originally posted to LinkedIn)

Last week I was asked by Holmes Report (paywall) to pen some thoughts on digital trends for the year.

While I could quite have easily said ‘everything’, because all of my work is ‘digital’ in some sense now, I gathered my thoughts in a more pragmatic way and have shared in full below.

Notable absences; video (seriously, nobody needs to be told this again), VR (see previous point), live (I’ve touched on this below in part, but it’s been important for years), chatbots/messenger apps (more service-led than brand-led IMO, which doesn’t make them unimportant – just disinteresting to me)

Data overload

If 2017 was about big data, 2018 is about data overload. To put it simply, we’ve just got too much of it. Monocle’s Tyler Brûlé once said of content: ‘Brands must learn to edit’ – but this is also incredibly relevant when it comes to data. We’ll see consolidation of tools, increase in spend on hiring analysts that can make sense of them, and increasing questions from clients about smarter, impact-led reporting that shows how we link comms & social to sales.

TV splits, and so does content

In his 2018 Media review, the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan spoke of the TV industry’s separation. On one side are the high-end, big box productions (Netflix style) and on the other, faster, live news. We’ll see this happen to content as well, in that clients are going to be more focused on video than ever, from both a long-form, documentary perspective and shorter, less-planned snippets or moments.

Quality over quantity

Finally, we’re seeing less interest in ‘filler’ content for social on a larger scale. Hooray! Yes, there are still clients that want to have an opinion on every seasonal moment going, but generally we’re seeing a move away from this. Now that we’re in the age of algorithms, having a drumbeat of social content doesn’t make sense any more. It’s more important to focus on impactful content that can be promoted and rise to the top of algorithmic feeds.

Experiences are king

Experiences are still the hottest property around; be it real-life ones that create opportunities to post that all-important Instagram, or digital ones that are just as memorable. On the latter point, there’s something really interesting in ‘virtual experiences’ (see, ABBA’s upcoming virtual tour) that throw open access to a more diverse range of people, and at a far larger scale.

Digital play

The dominance of eSports is now well and truly here, that’s no longer a ‘trend’. But the excitement around digital play doesn’t end there. AR has become more interesting as a method of putting interactive functionality in to, well, anything really. Shazam’s sale to Apple for $400m signals integration in this space, and virtual gamification is still really important when it comes to building relationships in a fun, accessible way.

Influencer marketing finally grows up

The last few weeks has seen further backlash to influencers acting irresponsibility. Logan Paul’s quite-dreadful filming in a Japanese ‘suicide forest’ and the release of a bookdetailing an Australian influencer’s faux ‘survival’ of cancer through healthy eating are just two big industry moments that reflect that the space is changing.

People are more-savvy to the ‘con’ and more open about saying when behaviour isn’t ok. There’s a direct line between social uproar and media coverage, and all this will lead to better filtering and expectation of the types of people brands will work with. Less focus on big numbers with no substance, and a desire for relationships with credible creators that are longer and reflect shared values.

Artificial intelligence

Yes, everyone’s talking about robots, but what’s the actually real-life impact on the world of brands? The most obvious? Making research really, really good and really, really quick.

With great power comes great responsibility

I had such positive feedback on the session I created for this year’s Silicon Beach, that I’ve reposted the article I wrote for the event’s accompanying book. The piece below was originally published there, and on LinkedIn.

‘Influencer’ is now a well-known, lusted-after job title, with many people (both young AND old) craving a life that appears to provide a high salary, lots of travel and an abundance of free products & parties.

We all know the stats; people trust influencers more, they pay more attention to them, and there’s a hell of a lot of money being thrown that way by advertisers. Bloomberg states it at $255m a month (which I’d say is probably far lower than the actual figure) – and this is only set to rise. Linqia polled US CMOs in November of last year, and 48% of them stated this investment would ‘significantly increase’ for 2017.

The developing influencer marketing space is popular, vibrant and of course, starting to be gamed by those wanting a piece of pie. Buyer be warned: there are far too many ‘gurus’ and ‘ninajs’ that will spin you a wicked tale of influencer marketing magic, only for it to turn out to be snake oil.

The secret sauce? Common sense and co-creation every time. It’s really not rocket science.

For me, what’s more interesting is the sense of responsibility that comes with holding so much influence. For an influencer, once they start to become popular and grow a following, there are additional factors that come in to play when their community truly starts to listen to what you have to say.

Whether it was Uncle Ben in the 2002 Spiderman movie, or Churchill, or even Voltaire that originally said it, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. And in the world of influencer marketing, this couldn’t be more accurate.

With greater access to more content, the things our influencers do and say now have direct impact of the minds of our youth. And not just teenagers, but kids, babies even – those in the most vulnerable stages of development. If you’ve got an iPad, you can watch a video of a blogger reviewing a new must-have product. It’s the evolution of pester power, but in a way, far darker because it’s not regulated.

Take this as an example; there’s a well-known fitness blogger in the UK that’s recently written a sponsored post about a fertility/contraception app. The app promises to be ‘as effective as the pill’ and is the first to be given government approval as a contraceptive. The media constantly points out that the app will work wonders, for some people. These people will likely have, in addition to a clean sexual bill of health, one or all of the following: a predictable sex schedule; regular periods; the time and ability to abstain from sexual activity on certain precise, consecutive days every month. That’s quite a tight set of parameters.

It requires proper reading to even work out how this app works, and while I have every confidence in people’s ability to use Google appropriately to look in to this, I’m also reminded of how low people’s attention spans are these days. Is it a responsible thing to post about such an involved product in among lighter 30 second reads on diet and workout tips? Possibly. Possibly not.

Then there’s the clearer cut examples like that of High On Life SundayFundayz, a group of four men from Canada and New Zealand who travel the world making videos of living life according to the mantra “if you can you should”. While on a tour around the US, they crossed marked boundaries and ignored well-posted signs forbidding their actions at Yellowstone National Park. In the process, they trampled a delicate ecosystem and were reported to the National Parks Service, who launched an investigation of their actions. This resulted in the group fleeing to Canada and shutting down their social media accounts for nearly two months.

While the group eventually faced appropriate consequences, things sadly don’t always work out that way.

YouTube recently decided to take a bold stance against videos that could be considered “controversial, religious and supremacist” but might not violate the site’s terms of service. This announcement ironically came at the same time that PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg), the world’s most-subscribed YouTuber, sees his company revenue climb. Kjellberg was fired from Maker Studios as well as his YouTube Red original series after making anti-Semitic jokes this past February, but that hasn’t appeared to slow down his earning. Although his company profits dropped 90% between 2015–2016 (dropping from $8.6 million to $930,000) the profit drop does not necessarily signify a drop in interest in his content, in fact quite the opposite.

What does this all mean to the individual? The influencer that genuinely wants to retain a sense of doing what’s right, but is then lured by the potential thousands of potential earnings. While some who act out of turn get their comeuppance, others continue to explode in popularity. Is it worth the risk?

In reality, we as agencies and brands have a big part to play. We’re the ones incentivising content creators to constantly make things bigger, better, more daring. There’s a sense from many influencers that if they don’t do it, someone else will. While this can sometimes stimulate creativity, it can also encourage taking short cuts ethically and legally in pursuit of content. Brands want the best possible content, and influencers rely on the income. As influencer marketing continues to grow, this tension is only going to become more prominent.