Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Annie Ross, global marketing & communications manager at Penspen, on marketing in the engineering industry:

Carlota Pico 0:13
Hi everyone, and welcome back to The Content Mix. I’m Carlota Pico, your host for today’s show, and I’m excited to introduce Annie Ross, who is internal and external Global Marketing and Communications Manager at Penspen, and also has a love for engineering. But she’ll tell us more about very soon. Welcome, Annie, and thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix.

Annie Ross 0:38
Hey, no, thank you for inviting me today really interested to kind of share some information with you guys.

Carlota Pico 0:44
Yeah, I can’t wait. So, Annie tell me a little bit about your background experience? How did you get to where you are today?

Annie Ross 0:51
So if I backtrack a little bit further, so I actually have a BA in business and economics, so technically, it’s not marketing. And so please, people don’t let it put you off of going into a career of marketing, even if your degree’s not quite there. So actually, as part of my degree, I did an industrial placement year in an engineering company. I always knew I wanted to kind of be in the engineering environment. And that year gave me a good foundation to understand where I wanted to go. Actually, I was involved kind of more in the pre-qualification, so that was kind of more of the sales focus, but great for developing your communication skills. Whilst I was there, and they actually offered me an opportunity to work part time in my final year, whilst I was studying my degree, and, and it was kind of more luck, I think—right timing. That was very fortunate. A colleague at the time signposted me to a marketing role in another local engineering company. This role wasn’t widely advertised and so I was very fortunate to come across it. Lucky for me, I got that role, and since then, it’s kind of just been taking these opportunities that have come to me. From that role I then joined and where I am currently, Penspen. And that’s where I am today really.

Carlota Pico 2:14
Okay, very interesting. How did you get into engineering in the first place? I mean, what drove you to want to pursue a career in engineering?

Annie Ross 2:23
I think it goes back to family. I think that kind of shapes you or molds you when you’re younger. I’ve grown up in an engineering family. My grandfather used to work for Rolls Royce, he designed kind of clean engines. So I kind of, I understand the quirkiness of engineering. And maybe I was the black sheep in the family, because I was the one who did a business degree and I think everyone was a little bit upset at the time. But I always knew that the engineering environment was where I wanted to work, I just didn’t quite have the mind to do engineering itself. And so I think that’s where it kind of stems from, the passion. And then since I’ve kind of worked in more engineering companies now, it kind of grows inside of you. You kind of understand the technical terminology, and how to translate it, kind of in layman’s terms and the audience. And I think it takes maybe a certain type of person—it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to work in engineering, and especially as it’s normally quite a traditional industry. But there’s been some really exciting developments in the industry recently, people are kind of starting to push boundaries on social media, etc. The likes of Shell, BP—the CEO of BP, Bernard Looney, has been doing some fabulous content. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, worth checking it out. So, you know, it’s a really exciting time in the industry to be in, and hence why I like engineering.

Carlota Pico 3:57
What have been some of the marketing moments that have shaped you as a professional?

Annie Ross 4:05
I don’t think…maybe there’s not one in particular. But I think something that’s shaped me as a professional is all my mentors have actually been engineers. I’ve never had a marketing person as a mentor. And I think, in my head—and feel free to debate this, it might be quite controversial—but engineering’s at one end of the spectrum and marketing’s at the other. And engineering is normally quite conservative. It’s very like black-and-white answers. They like it to be what it is. Whereas in marketing you know, it’s more creative, we’re pushing the boundaries, etc. And it’s kind of meeting in the middle. I think having that engineering mentor has really helped me. Simple example here, very, very simple, but years ago—and I always remember this—is we did a presentation and there was an image on screen of pipeline, and to a marketing person well you’re talking about pipeline, so that’s fine. To the engineer, it was that pipeline is in a high intensity kind of pipeline in what I’m talking about, and he actually said, “No, that’s the wrong image.” So it’s kind of getting that engineering knowledge to understand how an engineer will receive a marketing image, for example. And so it’s that crossover in between. And that’s really what shaped me is understanding that if you work in this environment, you need to understand to a degree, the engineering behind it, and how an engineer would think because they’re your target audience.

Carlota Pico 5:43
Right. But then how do you get senior management to buy into a creative marketing strategy?

Annie Ross 5:50
That’s a very interesting question. I think it’s all about gaining trust. In former companies, I found that engineers have almost been burned a little bit by marketing. I think it’s kind of understanding the boundaries, and making senior management feel comfortable as well with your concepts, and making sure that there’s a clear message behind that, bringing them on the journey. A good example is with our flagship launch of THEIA this month, a kind of new offering to market. And again, that’s using marketing and engineering together as one. And actually, by kind of onboarding engineers in the process, they were the ones who are coming up with creative ideas. It wasn’t necessarily me, I kind of just create that facility to have that. And so yeah, I think that probably sums up that question, maybe?

Carlota Pico 6:51
Annie, could you tell me a little bit more about Penspen? What is it? Thirty-second elevator pitch, and then we’ll get into THEIA as well, because I do want to zoom into that project.

Annie Ross 6:59
So Penspen, we design, optimize and maintain energy infrastructure. We’re kind of a global company of about 1000 employees, and we’re quite well spread from kind of Bangkok, all the way through to Colombia and everywhere in between. We have kind of a real passion for engineering, and really making kind of a difference in the communities in which we work—that’s very important for us.

Carlota Pico 7:26
Okay, can you talk to me more more about THEIA? What is it?

Annie Ross 7:29
Yes, of course. So as mentioned, this month, kind of flagship launch THEIA. It’s a digital cloud based integrity management solution, which seems a lot of words, but I’ll kind of break it down to what it is. It’s been developed by Penspen and another company called QiO Technologies. It’s actually Penspen’s first project as part of their digital transformation product kind of strategy. So it’s very exciting for us. They’re really in the energy industry, we’re still very traditional. And so we’re still only kind of starting to adopt kind of these digital movements and technologies. And so we’re… we like to think that we’re kind of pushing the boundaries a little bit on that. THEIA itself has been designed to provide timely and critical information and initially for the safe and efficient running of pipelines, but our vision is kind of that is reaches out and we widen that to a range of upstream and downstream assets as well. THEIA essentially, it does have a wide range of functionality, so I won’t kind of go into lots of depth about that, but it’s looking at kind of automating some of the more standard engineering work, things that would normally take weeks to do by hand, can be done in minutes, which is amazing really what can be done. Something that I think THEIA addresses is something we’ve kind of coined as an industry quadrilemma. So the industry itself is going through quite a big change process at the moment, but there’s kind of maybe four main challenges—hence why we’ve kind of developed THEIA to kind of address these points. Obviously, it’s not going to solve all problems but it does help the industry kind of move forward. So when I refer to the core dilemma, there’s kind of four main points. So in the industry, there’s a lot of kind of aging assets—assets that are coming to the end of their design life and operators now have to discover what they want to do next. Do they want to extend the life of that asset? And if so, what does that mean? Or do they wish to decommission it? Another one is kind of scarce resources. I’m not just talking about oil in the ground, I’m also talking about people. A lot of people are coming kind of to retirement age in the industry. I think, generally, it’s maybe not the sexiest industry, if I can say that. And there’s not as many people kind of coming through. People kind of, in this day and age, you know, they want to work for the Googles, the ASOS, and, you know, all those, Amazon, and all those kind of sexy industries. And so we’re kind of struggling actually, with getting the resources into the industry itself. Engineering as well, graduates, we’re finding that a lot of going into kind of banking sector, so stealing our graduates. But that’s where the kind of scarce resources comes from. We also, operators have to deal with kind of more regulations coming in to ensure kind of the safe and efficient running of their assets, again, imagine more piling on to them. How can THEIA help with that? And also, a new one is the new financial outlook. The oil and gas industry historically has always been cyclical. So we’re used to peaks and troughs. But I think we’re now starting to understand that there’s a more stable oil price, and we’re having to adjust to the new normal. You might have seen, you know, when you go and fill your car up with petrol, and there’s been peaks and troughs throughout the years, so it’s kind of us adjusting to that new mindset. And I think THEIA, being digital, we’re looking at automating some of the kind of more basic engineering work. And the hope is that that will mean it takes less time, which means that they can make faster decisions with less resources, and ultimately a better outcome for the industry.

Carlota Pico 11:50
Okay, Annie so is it a software? Or is it cloud-based?

Annie Ross 11:53
It is cloud based, we don’t kind of… we don’t say it’s a software as such, we call it a solution. What’s interesting is the cloud, I think everyone’s kind of started talking about that now. And I can’t remember the exact example. We had a webinar yesterday. But it seems like a lot of companies are starting to adopt it now. I think it was a question mark over security. But the standard’s coming in, so it is becoming kind of a more regulated way, or a new normal way of doing things. We are kind of customizing it, depending on clients. There’s different modules clients can kind of add on. But what is interesting as an approach we’re kind of taking to it, it’s kind of subscription based, which is something completely different. A lot of our competitors or other products out there are more lump sum, which obviously, is high cost, initially for the operator. And so yeah, we’re kind of taking more of a different approach to that.

Carlota Pico 13:00
Okay, Annie, from a marketing point of view, could you zoom into best practices for launching a cloud-based technology?

Annie Ross 13:09
Yes, I can. I think it very much depends on your audience and knowing your audience. With THEIA, we did a lot of work on personas. Fortunately, kind of the steering group with that, you know, we had various kind of engineers, we had kind of a bit of external input into it. Fortunately for me—and I wouldn’t suggest everyone does this—but my partner’s an engineer as well. So I can kind of gather what his mindset is and how he works. So we can say persona A is very much like my partner. So what does… what are his drivers, etc.? What platforms would he use? What would catch his attention, etc. So yeah, it’s very much to do with knowing your personas for your target audience, and from there, you can develop, you know, what your marketing tactics will be. I don’t think there’s one strategy for everyone but I think that’s where people should start. Definitely.

Carlota Pico 14:15
Okay. So Annie, let me take one step back, how do you know who your personas are when you don’t have any data on how that content is going to resonate with your future audience?

Annie Ross 14:26
Yeah, very interesting. I suppose you don’t know initially, and I think yeah, it’s… the best you can do is build your personas in terms of what you know in-house, what does experience tell you? And then you can build on it as well. We’ve got people in our organization who previously worked for large operators. So I did a lot of kind of internal quizzing from them—How does it work from operator’s perspective? What are going to be their drivers etc? Yesterday, we did an external webinar. We kind of ran a poll question, just to gather some insight into what people perceive to be the driver in the operator shoes. Hey listen, it’s not one size fits all. And I think it is also about navigating through it. So you can start at point A, you release something and then you realize that you need to realign, readjust slightly—that’s fine. But just remember that you need that flexibility throughout the journey as you release things. Something we’ve kind of released initially, and but we’re looking to run a series of short animations. This is kind of a big leap for us. It’s not something we’ve done previously. They’re kept very lighthearted, which I haven’t seen done yet. There is a baseline humor in it just to capture kind of those engineers. And also, it kind of makes it a bit more memorable. I am a bit apprehensive to see how it’s going to be received. Internally, people seem to be very happy with and it’s kind of a talking point. But yeah, I think, hey, listen, you don’t know what what’s going to happen. You can prepare as best as possible but I would say to remain flexible with your approach throughout it and adjust accordingly when you release different types of content. You can say yes, I like this. No, let’s not do any more of that, and go forward from there.

Carlota Pico 16:39
Okay, so don’t put all your eggs in the same basket, basically. Do some A/B testing and then figure out how to… figure it out along the way!

Annie Ross 16:48
Exactly. I think you’ve got to be like that. Yeah, you said it exactly. A/B testing, or even A/B/C testing. But yeah, no, it’s very much about that, and kind of responding to your audience from that.

Carlota Pico 17:04
Okay, excellent. I was on your LinkedIn profile, Annie. I was snooping around and you said that you organically doubled the number of followers from 25,000 to 50,000 followers on the Penspen LinkedIn page in less than a year! So obviously, I’m going to ask you about how you made that happen?

Annie Ross 17:27
Can I say luck? No, there was a strategy kind of behind it. So back in 2017, when I joined Penspen, they hadn’t kind of much of a marketing function for at least six months, I would say. So things had kind of died down a little bit. I joined from kind of a bit of a competitor. So it was quite good for me because I understood kind of external perception of Penspen. I think sometimes marketing’s overcomplicated. People may disagree with me on this. But my first objective for me was just get active. And the external perception was that Penspen, you know, were they still there? They hadn’t heard anything about Penspen for a long time. What were they doing? Were they still winning projects? What interesting projects were they doing? What challenges had they come across? What technical insights had they delivered? Technical papers, presentations? It kind of dropped off a bit of a cliff. So when I talk about just getting active, okay, that’s not very smart, there was more to it. But as a high-level objective, that’s what I wanted to do. And in that, part of it was LinkedIn. I wanted to get content out there as quick as possible on what Penspen was doing. Fortunately for me, there was lots of really good stories in the company. It was just people didn’t know what was available to them.So I was very fortunate in the sense that I didn’t have to go out and create the stories, they were there within the company. So what I did was more of an onboarding exercise. Firstly, the kind of the sales marketing personnel in the regions that then moved to kind of leadership and then kind of onto key influencers and everyone else within the organization, kind of giving them an understanding of why we would use social media—predominantly just LinkedIn for us—and the power that one individual can have to improving a brand, you know, being that brand ambassador or champion, and being proud to work for that brand. And actually, it was all about getting those employees on board and behind the brand and realizing it’s part of them, and part of their job role, and by them interacting with those posts, it had a multiplier effect. And, I was yeah, I was very chuffed to kind of double in that short period, especially organically. But it was… hey, it wasn’t me, I facilitated it, but it was the people and power of Penspen that did it and make it happen.

Carlota Pico 20:20
Why was growing your LinkedIn page so important for you?

Annie Ross 20:25
I think it’s…one, it’s there’s very minimal costs behind it. It’s a great platform for a b2b company to kind of spread a message very quickly. It’s becoming more and more crucial in our marketing strategy now. And I think it was something that we could do, we could make an instant impact on. When I first joined, I thought, hey, how can I make an impact quickly in terms of improving Penspen, and hopefully I’m showing that, you know, we are there, we’re available, what services we can offer, what projects we’re completing, why clients should come to us. And that, to me was so important, and why LinkedIn was the right platform for us.

Carlota Pico 21:11
Okay, Annie, do you have any tips or tricks in terms of repurposing content for other channels, for your website, or marketing brochures?

Annie Ross 21:20
We do do a little bit of that. I’m going to be honest, we’re probably not as forward thinking as some other companies kind of in terms of repurposing content. It’s kind of really only been this show that we’ve actually looked more of a content strategy. And I think this is something that I want to develop more so next year. What I would say… that’s a slightly tangent to this, but I think what’s important is to get involved with other companies’ content, and sharing kind of their successes, etc. It’s a bit more industry-wide. We’ve done a bit recently, and has had some really good success around kind of sharing industry posts from kind of nonbiased organizations, etc. And people kind of like to go and see what’s going on in the wider industry. So maybe not repurposing content as such, but kind of sharing and being involved with kind of wider industry posts, I think is important.

Carlota Pico 22:20
So linking back to other company’s material as well?

Annie Ross 22:24
Yeah, yes, very much so. Obviously, we’re quite selective on what we do, but I think it is important, especially within our industry, as it is quite close next. Most people, yeah, people know people, and I think it’s nice to support. We have something called “The Young Pipelines Group.” Globally, there’s various different ones. But I think it’s nice to kind of share content from them. And similar there’s something called “The Pipeline Industry Guild.” We like to kind of share some of their content and help spread the word you know about the industry. I think that’s very, very important, especially as I mentioned before, we are kind of facing that industry, quadrilemma. And when it comes back to scarce resources, you know, we want to… you know, those grad new graduates coming through, we want them to see social media that, you know, pipeline industry is an option or, you know, the energy industry is an option for them and why they would want to join us.

Carlota Pico 23:22
Okay, Annie, well, on that note, what major brands in the industry have resonated with you during COVID-19 times?

Annie Ross 23:31
I think what’s been really interesting, actually—two particular brands come to mind. One, BP, and the other Shell. BP they’ve had a new CEO, Bernard Looney, and he’s kind of becoming like a champion for their brand. It’s been so refreshing to see a corporate organization or perceived to be corporate organization openly sharing about their, the refreshing of their brand, and best strategy. And also some of the challenges and how they’re addressing it. There was recently an internal style email that was released externally purposely, and I read it and I was thoroughly impressed. I’ve not seen that openness or transparency before. If you get the chance, do have a look, follow him. I’m not paid, by the way, to say that! But I would really recommend it. I suspect there’s a team behind him but they’re doing a fabulous job. And it’s so inspiring and they’re doing a big transformation. You know, they’re moving the company more towards that carbon neutral ambition. And they’re kind of, they’re not only moving, you know, their employees and bring them on the journey. They’re bringing the external audience. And I’ve never seen that done in the industry previously, so kudos to them!

Carlota Pico 24:59
Annie that’s a really interesting subject. I’ve seen a lot of CEOs turn to social to engage with their audience. But when it comes to the energy and oil industry, what do you think the purpose is behind that? Why would a CEO turn to social?

Annie Ross 25:16
That’s a really interesting question. I think BP is a probably better place to answer it. But I think from an external perception, I think it’s kind of bringing the audience along on their journey and their transition. They’re obviously making kind of big changes with the company. And I think it’s nice that they’re kind of been so open and transparent about it with what they’re going to do. I saw something, they’re reducing kind of their input into the oil and gas industry and moving kind of towards more greener energy sources. I think it’s that journey process. I think you’re quite right as well, you know, people may be jumping on the bandwagon of having their CEO as kind of a brand ambassador. But I think what makes the difference is the authenticity of the content. What Bernard Looney posts is believable. You know, he doesn’t cloud over the challenges and he’s very open and he actually addresses them and says, “Look, I know this isn’t going to be easy for people. And here’s what we can do.” And he’s almost allowing them to think, “Okay, so what we’re going to do here?” And I think that’s fabulous. And but yeah, definitely, the authenticity of the content, I think, is where, you know, where it really works in terms of kind of a CEO, being that brand ambassador. But yeah, no, he’s definitely worth a follow.

Carlota Pico 26:44
And you’ve spoken a lot about BP and Shell’s diversity and inclusion programs. But what about COVID-19? How has COVID-19 disrupted the industry and What is Penspen doing to address a global pandemic?

Annie Ross 26:58
I think generally the energy industry is a necessity that carried on throughout COVID-19. I’m incredibly proud of the employees, you know. We’ve gone out there and maintained, for example, the gas networks in the UK, we’ve got people out in the Middle East to maintain infrastructure as well, you know. It’s kind of work as normal with new safety practices and measures in place. As a company, we do quite a lot internally to support employees as best as possible. We had access to a wellness app, and which, it was fabulous to have something called challenges on it. So you could do walking, running, or cycling challenges. It kind of—especially the walking one—it caused a bit of a stir between the regions, you know, a bit of competition—friendly competition. But actually, it was great, it got everyone up out of their chair, and positive, you know, walking up the stairs at home, walking around the circle, you know, a circle in the garden. And it’s got us all talking and bring us all together. Some other fabulous things, locally, especially in Abu Dhabi, they’re always, the government regulations have always been a certain percentage in the office, even during COVID-19—with obviously, safety regulations in place—and a lot of those people, you know, are away from their families. So it was important to us that we kind of do some activities to kind of make them feel part of the Penspen family. They did a fabulous video that kind of showed everyone at work what they were doing. And there’s lots of smiles and you could feel that sense of community and family. It’s often referred to as the Penspen family and it’s great in that sense. So we did that. We also had kind of various updates, and we transformed our internal intranet. We had a page dedicated—and we still do to COVID-19—and lots of useful links around mental health well being, you know, activities to do with the kids. That was a big kind of pain point for some people, you know, working from home, and having to kind of homeschool and keep the kids occupied, whilst you know, you’re still in your house. So we did lots of things like that. We had internal kind of pod groups where people kind of could have that coffee, coffee break chat, or water cooler chat. But it was great kind of meet more people. Something as well, our values—one of our values—is based around our people, and it’s important that people feel supported. And as we say, we care for our people. So one of the other things that we kind of implemented was in training sessions with our line managers, to make sure they were kind of equipped to deal with you know, either hybrid approach in terms of people working partially from the office, from home, or completely working remotely, how to build kind of that trust whilst working from home, and how to be productive. Line managers, you know, got some really good feedback on that and that was great. I think there’s lots of companies doing lots of great things kind of to support their employees through COVID-19. But yeah, it’s been a very interesting time. Particularly, as mentioned, and the launch of THEIA meant that we had to change kind of marketing tactics quite last minute. But I think it’s a very interesting time, and it’d be great to see how the working environment changes. I think people are realizing that working from home is maybe possible now.

Carlota Pico 30:44
Okay, so… Annie, so you’ve definitely been busy during COVID-19 times!

Annie Ross 30:52
Yes, very true. I’m sure other marketing and comms people have as well. It’s…I think my hope is—and I’m sure it will be for others—is that it will raise the profile of why the marketing and comms function is so important to the business.

Carlota Pico 31:07
Definitely. Okay. And we are coming towards the end of the section. But before we wrap up, after over six years of experience in marketing and communications, if you could do anything in this world, would it still be marketing?

Annie Ross 31:25
That’s a very interesting question, actually. I don’t think I’m set on sticking in marketing, maybe. I think you have to follow opportunities, and that’s where it’s got me today. When there’s an opportunity that’s come across, you know, take it if, it interests you. I’m going to be honest, when I was kind of doing my degree, I didn’t imagine that I would be in marketing. All I knew is that I wanted a career that would fund my horsing hobby and as long as it did that, I was going to be quite happy. But now I’m actually marketing, I do thoroughly enjoy it. I think what people need to remember, and maybe something I wish I had told my younger self is take that time when you’re at university, take all the opportunities that you get, because you don’t know where you’re going to end up, and what career, what industry etc. Do what you enjoy and always be willing to learn. I think there’s plenty of things to learn out there. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and believe in yourself. Many times, I’ve said that to myself. You know, you are a bright person, you know what you’re talking about, and go for it, and seize all those opportunities.

Carlota Pico 32:48
Okay, Annie, unfortunately, we are at the end of our interview. But to wrap this conversation up, you’ve already achieved a lot at Penspen in your last three years there: you drove 50,000 followers to your LinkedIn profile, you’re launching a new software or technology. Could you talk to me about what the next 12 months has in store for you?

Annie Ross 33:09
I think from a marketing perspective, I think we’re gonna move more towards digital marketing tactics, and then keep maintaining that momentum. I think there’s lots of exciting things to come. I hope that our audience have a look for our short animations that are coming out around THEIA. This is something completely new, so I’ll be interested to hear people’s views around these kind of short animations. So yeah, lots of things kind of to look forward to, but I’m not going to tell too much right now.

Carlota Pico 33:42
Okay, the best is yet to come.

Annie Ross 33:45

Carlota Pico 33:46
Okay, Annie, well, thank you so much for joining us on The Content Mix. It was awesome to meet you, to learn more about the energy and oil industry, to learn about THEIA and to learn about your experience as a woman leader in marketing in the engineering industry.

Annie Ross 34:03
Thank you ever so much, I really appreciate it. And I hope to kind of be part of the community that you’re growing. It’s sounds very, very interesting.

Carlota Pico 34:12
Thank you. I appreciate that. And to everybody listening in today, thank you for joining us on The Content Mix. For more perspective on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out The Content Mix. We’ll be releasing interviews just like this one every day, so keep on tuning in. Thanks again, have a fabulous day and see you next time. Bye!

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