From adman to entrepreneur: How Paul Manning’s advertising background helped him build Helius Therapeutics

Paul Manning is the co-founder and executive director of Helius Therapeutics, New Zealand’s largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, but most of his career has been spent in the design and advertising sector. He launched an agency called Metromedia at the age of 22, which went on to become New Zealand’s largest independent agency before being acquired by Ogilvy on 2007. He was then the executive director at Ogilvy before joining Clemenger Group as managing director of 99. A former EY Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Manning has worked at the highest level with major agencies and consulted to dozens of New Zealand’s leading brands. Here’s five ways his advertising background helped him in becoming an entrepreneur. 

1. Diversity

Working in advertising exposes you to dozens of brands across every sector. I’ve had the privilege of working with the CEOs and CMOs of many leading international and local brands, from FMCG to retail, automotive, telecommunications, fashion, healthcare, finance, government and just about everything in between. You gain an understanding of how companies operate in different markets, the challenges they face, what drives consumer behaviour, how channels work and how value is ultimately created. These experiences give you a unique commercial perspective on the factors that truly determine success.

2. Customer-centric thinking

Customers are the lifeblood of every business. In my experience, the world’s greatest brands obsess about the people who consume their products. Understanding their beliefs, behaviours and motivations is central to creating great advertising. You place great value on customer insights, because that’s where the breakthrough ideas often get their genesis. Over the last few years I have invested a lot of time in understanding the role of customer experience (CX) on brand and communications. We began designing experiences that responded dynamically to customer behaviour. In the future, all businesses will work like this – personalisation on scale, throughout the customer experience.

3. Agility

Today, advertising in inherently agile. Campaigns can have hundreds of elements. Projects often have scores of contributors from across the agency. Technology is interwoven with creativity, meaning your ‘mad men’ are playing in the same sandpit as math men and women. To create quality results at pace and foster genuine collaboration, silos are broken down and processes are truncated. If you work in advertising, everything in your world happens at pace, so agility and adaptability become second nature.  

4. Creativity

Entrepreneurship is largely about seeing opportunities where others don’t. In my experience, working in a creative industry helps you hone your talent for discovering new ideas and novel ways to do business. There’s no substitute for creativity, particularly when you’re operating in an emerging sector. Working in advertising teaches you how to solve problems and how to sell ideas. Having sound commercial acumen is important for entrepreneurs, but to attract capital and customers you also need creativity.

5. Brands with purpose

Perhaps the most important thing that advertising teaches you is the importance of branding. You learn that great brands must be built on a higher order purpose, and a reason to exist beyond commercial gain. And that purpose must permeate your company, from the inside out. You learn that brands are influenced more by customer experience that any other factor. You learn that a company’s brand is a complex and precious asset that needs to be carefully managed and constantly nurtured. But most of all, you learn that your brand is a critical vector for success. We built Helius on a clear and simple purpose: to improve quality of life. The role of our brand is to bring this purpose to life.

  • This story originally appeared on Idealog.

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