FHA’s Fiona Hutton: ‘Don’t kick up and don’t kick down’

The agency leader and comms strategist offers lessons form her career as an entrepreneur and business executive.

When talking to agency leaders, a common refrain is how difficult the shift is from focusing on clients to focusing on internal stakeholders.

It’s a subtle concept: Agency leaders still have to drive value for their clients and do plenty of handholding to preserve bottom line profits. However, they have a new stakeholder they must prioritize: the team.

For Fiona Hutton, CEO and founder of Fiona Hutton & Associates, this shift was one of the trickiest lessons to learn in her career. We caught up with her recently as part of our “Day in the Life” series and this is what she had to say:

 1. What’s your favorite part of your morning routine?

Hutton: I’m a first-generation Brit so tea. Not green tea. Not mint tea. But good old-fashioned PG Tips with a little milk and sugar. My husband, Gene, has been bringing it to me every single morning for 25+ years.

I literally can’t stand up, talk or look at my iPhone without those first few sips. It’s an interesting take on rituals and how important they are to our well-being and focus.

2. Who’s the most important person you talk to every day?

 Hutton: Anyone in my immediate family—my husband, our two basically grown children and my parents. They are the most grounding, supportive, loving facet of my life and I can’t function without them. If I could start an 8 a.m. zoom meeting with all six of us everyone morning, I’d be a rockstar for the day.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Hutton: As an entrepreneur that built this agency from the ground up, the biggest challenge was learning to be a leader. Shifting my mindset to focusing 100% first on my team, versus the looming client deliverable, seemed so foreign and scary to me at first.

We drive a “them before I” management philosophy here at FHA. Every day, my first action is what my team needs before switching to what I need to accomplish—and that approach is then driven through all managers.

If our employees are happy, challenged and motivated, then we ultimately get the best client quality and retain great talent.

4. What’s your best book or podcast recommendation for PR colleagues?

Hutton: I need to relax my brain after work and actually rely heavily on fiction (love my book club!) to recharge my brain. I’ve found my best advice comes from peers in my shoes and I’ve built an amazing network of CEO’s that I talk with regularly—my own kitchen cabinet.

We learn and candidly share our insights together…ultimately all boats rise, and I’ve found there are some fantastic minds out there that just want to help each other succeed. That interactive time is way more valuable to me than a static book on PR principles.

5. What’s your favorite tool you use regularly for your work?

Hutton: I’m a natural extrovert and connector…sometimes to the chagrin of my team.

Pre-pandemic, I roamed the halls of our office all day—checking in and supporting my team, offering advice or acknowledging a win. So, my physical presence was the tool. Now, it’s been replaced by Microsoft Teams…I’m an aggressive connector (in a good way) but they all know that I’ll just ring them up during the day, just like walking by their office.

6. Are you in an office/remote or both? What do you like (or dislike) about your current setup?

Hutton: FHA is based in Los Angeles where COVID rates are still high and businesses are under mandatory in-door masking, so we’re 100% remote again.

Prior to going back into quarantine, we adopted a new hybrid work model where employees would work three days in the office and two days at home. We’re collectively really happy with the policy. It supported flexibility and provided breathing room but also ensured we were able to collaborate and share.

We view ourselves as a teaching institution with a heavy focus on growing our talent, so I definitely miss “herd learning” and the informal sharing of knowledge and relationships that I believe is crucial to professional development

7. What’s one trick you use to promote well-being, make yourself feel good at work?

Hutton: I try to exercise a minimum of four days a week. I’ve tried to put health as a priority—it’s good for me physically and mentally—and that allows me to bring a better, calmer and more focused version of myself to FHA. I love to indoor spin (shout out to my favorite coach), hike with girlfriends and basically do anything outdoors. Fresh air is an amazing tonic for mind and body.

8. What’s the best advice any one has ever given you in your career?

Hutton: “Don’t kick up and don’t kick down” was drilled into me at 23 years-old by a very high-level political consultant. I have worked incredibly hard to hone my craft, elevate our agency’s strategy and execution but focusing intently on how you treat people matters…whether it’s a client, employee, peer or competitor.

I’d like to think I’m respected in the industry for supporting everyone in their professional journey and genuinely taking an interest in their personal achievements as well. It pays dividends in the long run, for both sides.



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