Telum Talks To... Carolyn Kerr, Managing Director & Co-founder of Anthem

Telum Talks To... Carolyn Kerr, Managing Director & Co-founder of Anthem

Telum caught up with Carolyn Kerr, Managing Director and Co-founder of PR agency, Anthem New Zealand, to talk about how Anthem has grown over the last nine years.

You co-founded Anthem almost nine years ago with Jane Sweeney, who is now Executive Chair, and recently reached that tipping point in an agency’s growth, where it made sense to establish a dedicated People & Culture team. Tell us about your team and agency, and how it has evolved over the better part of a decade.
When Jane and I started Anthem in 2014, we set out to create a purpose-led, values-driven company that others would recognise as a world class, leading edge, integrated communications and marketing agency. Our vision remains the same to this day.

Right from the start, we’ve always wanted to address a gap in the market between traditional agencies and strategic consultancies. We designed and developed Anthem informed by the views and advice of 30 C-suite executives, who said they were looking for nimble, agile agencies who could provide strategic thinking resulting in stellar integrated work, at pace and for a competitive price. This was and continues to be the backbone of Anthem’s offer, and we are always continuously adapting and innovating in line with the business community.

Our top priority is to invest in our industry leading team so that we provide our people a place that allows them to thrive personally and professionally. We’re looking for people who are at the top of their game and can shape and fast track change inside and outside our business. For us, seeing our team grow to over 20 permanent team members and a growing dynamic agile team of around double that, meant it was the right time to establish a dedicated and experienced People and Culture team to take our business and culture forward as we grow.

You launched a new research series in 2022, called Fair Enough?, with the latest instalment looking at restricting the use of cars in Auckland’s CBD, and the impact on organisations’ reputations. What prompted the launch of this series, and how does it tie in with Anthem’s core values?
Our Fair Enough? research series, in partnership with Talbot Mills research, was born of the belief that fairness has become the currency by which reputations are made and lost. From home ownership and the skills shortage through to carbon reduction and the cost of living, fairness underpins many of the key issues on the business, social and political agenda and should be a touchstone for leaders in any walk of life.

Every couple of months we research the public on their views related to a topic that provides differing perspectives when it comes to what we deem fair. Our most recent edition in February 2023 saw us ask and answer the question: Is it fair enough that changes being made to our city to reduce carbon emissions are affecting the way Aucklanders live and move around by restricting the use of cars? For the findings click here.

At Anthem, we’ve always strived to help our clients find their most powerful voice around the issues that matter. In doing so, we’ve worked with a host of clients to tackle some of the most pressing business and reputational challenges facing organisations today. Fair Enough? allows us to stay in step with societal views, and create opportunities for clients and industry colleagues to consider topical issues and reputational impacts from different perspectives. It’s proving hugely popular!

Climate change is an issue close to Anthem’s heart, and the agency is a partner of Chapter Zero New Zealand. How did you get involved, and what is it all about?
For New Zealand to support the global goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it’s imperative the country’s business community takes assertive action.  To support this, in February 2022, the Institute of Directors (IoD) launched Chapter Zero New Zealand – a local chapter of the global Climate Governance Initiative (CGI) to help directors effectively govern organisations in their response to climate change.

Anthem is Chapter Zero’s official communications partner, supporting IOD to provide New Zealand directors with the tools, resources and information needed to lead and influence decision-making that will mitigate the effects of climate change. These include reports, Director guidelines and events. Anthem has co-produced the Climate Change Lexicon and Jane facilitated a webinar panel about how to communicate effectively on climate-related issues.

What was the highlight of 2022 for you and the Anthem team, and what has the year taught you?
Last year was one our most successful and rewarding yet. We welcomed a wealth of new team members who bring a depth and breadth of expertise. We also had the privilege of supporting a varied range of incredible clients to help them deliver meaningful and inspiring initiatives that drive their organisations forward.

A particular highlight was establishing our first dedicated People and Culture team, through the appointment of Kirsten Beggs, Head of People, and the promotion of Anna Timu to People and Culture Manager. This represents a significant and escalated focus on ensuring Anthem is the best place to work for our growing and diverse talented team.

2022 taught me the power of bravery, trusting your instincts and judgement and leaning into your values to make critical business decisions.

What challenges, and opportunities await Anthem, and the broader industry, in 2023?
At a Diversity Works event last year, where I was a panellist in a discussion on the rise of conscious consumerism, we talked about the ways in which heightened consumer and employer awareness will be more important than ever for organisations to be mindful of. Whether it’s climate change, global movements like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo from recent years, and the constant exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, people are more engaged and have higher expectations of companies around social, environmental and economic issues than ever before.

The stand organisations take on these issues will play a larger and lasting role in shaping their reputations. At Anthem, we’re excited to help our clients find and elevate their voice on the issues that matter in 2023. The year is set to have its own unique challenges, whether this be the rising cost of living or the looming recession, which we’ll need to help our clients navigate. But, it also represents an enormous opportunity for businesses to strengthen relationships and make new connections through thoughtful stakeholder engagement and authentic, honest and clear communication.

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