In conversation: Bea Udeh and Charlie Morrison

In conversation: Bea Udeh and Charlie Morrison

By Bea Udeh


Bea Udeh, the Arts Marketing Association's Head of Diversity in conversation with the CEO of Walk the Plank, Charlie Morrison before his session at Inclusivity and Audiences Day 2024.

Bea Udeh: How would you explain your style of leadership to the delegates at Inclusivity and Audiences Day 2024?  Many of the arts, heritage and cultural marketing professionals in the room have experience of being lead, but not have your insight of leadership.

Charlie Morrison: I like to have as good an understanding as I can about as much as possible – it gives me confidence – but this is mostly only possible with the insight of others. So I think I’ve become a good listener and a good absorber – not just of information but of dynamics and situations. Often I feel like I’m just facilitating something forward by pushing the right buttons and creating the right process and conversations, but with a good understanding of the relationships between things.

It’s also important to me to create a sense of stability in an organisation – and that includes when it needs to move at 100 miles an hour, which Walk the Plank often does! This means showing reliability, consistency, calmness, but also fallibility and awareness.

I’m happy to admit a mistake, or to change things if they can be done better. That sense of stability is also helped by people being heard and understood, helping them to have confidence and direction in their own work, and sharing insight with one another. To enable this I want to be approachable and helpful as much as possible, and have a good trusting relationship with people across the board. This turns me into a go to person, which can take a lot of capacity, but it also helps me to have a grasp of what’s going on across the company, and what our team are experiencing.

Bea Udeh: What do you see as Walk the Plank's challenges over the next 10 years as team dynamics change with increasing diverse appointments?

Charlie Morrison: We have a change of leadership coming as our founders step down (gradually). They set the company up 31 years ago and it reflects their personalities in many ways. With this transition will come a shift in company working culture, possibly some directional shifts with work or the make up of our portfolio, priorities may shift.

Holding a steady course (or at least zig zagging with confidence) and surviving will be the priority as we make that change to a company led only by appointed leaders. It will throw up plenty of challenges, possibly existential ones, but plenty of subtle ones too. In the midst of that, training and recruitment are the pathways to diversifying our team and these will be embedded enough to continue, but it is slow and needs commitment from the whole leadership, and integration into comms, production, governance, freelancers - everything.

The best thing we can do is give ownership of that to more people across the organisation.

Bea Udeh: What is your immediate strategy over the next year with elections likely to take place in the UK and around 40 countries globally causing chaos, thus uncertainty?

Charlie Morrison: Everything feels like chaos and uncertainty already. We have had our fair share in the last 4 years, and so we are adaptable in chaos, and better at holding our nerve and working through challenges. We’ve been building up our resources at the front ‘selling’ end – marcomms team and producers – as we know that creating leads and generating new work is harder than ever, and it’s a case of running even faster to stay still.

We have some good talent – some appointed in the last 6 or so months. We have a strategy for them to work to, we are paying more attention to the small margins and easy wins, and laying a reliable foundation in order to be ready for the riskier, large, imaginative projects when they come along. We anticipate that a change in government may take some time to make any difference to the funding/local authority climate, and so we are not getting carried away with any positive predictions just yet.

Bea Udeh: Is governance of your organisation gently guiding or harshly hacked?  How can perspectives be flipped for better board interactions or oversight?

Charlie Morrison: We definitely have a gently guiding board, but they will ask tough questions and want a thorough response. I’m aware of how much they need to do already, and how much they are responsible for in terms of financials. ACE requirements, risk analysis etc, before we get on to more open strategic conversations. Their first priority is to be assured the company is being well run, or be clearly informed of any issues and what we’re going to do about them. I try to give really clear info and headlines, and I do work with our Chair to look at how best to use those open sections in our board meetings. We try to involve board members outside meetings where they have availability – company days, or specific conversations, or sub groups. I feel pretty confident that if we take a conversation to them with good quality info, they will listen and support.

Bea Udeh: What is the most important thing you want to leave with the audience of delegates on 6 March at Inclusivity and Audiences Day?

Charlie Morrison: Hopefully what I will talk about will connect in some way to give clarity or ideas, or just some myth-busting around working practice or possibilities. I always like to come away from things like this thinking “Oh OK - yes – I can do that.”

Head and shoulders Bea Udeh             Head and shoulders Charlie Morrison

Bea Udeh                              Charlie Morrison 

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EDI Inclusion Inclusivity Leadership
Resource type: Articles | Published: 2024