Woman standing with open arms
Lindsay Pattison, Chief Client Officer, WPP

I’m a candour advocate, aren’t you?

Lindsay Pattison, Chief Client Officer, WPP

Pixar calls honesty ‘candour’ and believes it’s intrinsic to high-quality creative output. It can be tough, but also incredibly enriching. Being honest adds speed, builds relationships and trust.

So beyond the boring old adage of ‘constructive criticism’, how can we build real honesty into our daily practices? Let’s take a step back and look at why candour is worth talking about.

Candour underpins or overlaps with many things – from managing internal stakeholders, to building client relationships, and everything in between. It’s the cornerstone of quality human interactions. It’s essential for establishing credibility and trust – critical for clients – but also for effective collaboration and teamwork internally, including tough conversations and handling conflict.

Finally, let’s not forget honesty is not only helpful when directed outwards, but also when directed inwards on yourself. It helps you be more self-aware (although watch the difference between self-awareness and self-judgement) and can help uncover the blind spots that ultimately lead to your personal growth.

In my role as WPP Chief Client Officer, I think about serving, or enabling, three different cohorts and for each being candid has a real impact:

Firstly, are the 45 Global Client Leaders who are responsible for our biggest and most complex relationships across WPP. They are a strong group, many of whom have been CEOs or founders of very successful businesses in their own right. They are there to build relationships with our most senior clients within those organisations, bringing positive challenge, relentless innovation, and a growth mindset to our clients. At the same time, they ensure we collaborate in the way the client wants and needs to drive impact.

For the GCLs, candour shortcuts what can be long and circular conversations to get to answers fast. Both with the client and internally.

Candour is also needed to ensure we have the very best talent from across WPP aligned to each challenge – not always the talent that owns the relationship, but the talent that is truly best placed to deliver. Here candour is about calling that out and making sure every agency plays to their A game every time for the benefit, ultimately, of the client.

Most importantly, honesty for the GCLs is about establishing trusted advisor status with our senior clients – this starts with listening, asking really great questions, and being the one phone call your client will make when they either want to celebrate or when the sh*t hits the fan.

Secondly, we have created five really strong Communities across WPP - Business Transformation, B2B, Client Experience, Health and latterly strategy and it’s future, thanks to our newest community of Chief Strategy Officers.

These communities generally meet once every two months (some more often) and are each led by a different member of my small, but utterly brilliant central team. Generally, they focus on accelerating learning and best practice, as well as collaborating to solve issues everyone is facing. For our communities candour takes on a different role: here it is about creating connections. That starts with asking for help (and a bit of vulnerability). In a group session with lots of senior people from other agencies, this can take some time and investment to get to. Candour also enables the sharing of best practice which can then help scale it as a central team. It also fast tracks us to the new WPP by enabling more collaboration across agencies in the spirit of client impact.

For my role on the Exco, candour helps make sure we don’t become too inward – always asking ‘what’s in the best interests of the client’. This also means landing feedback on behalf of our client leaders and their teams, especially when it comes to escalating friction points.

Why is all this important? Because, above all else, candour is what clients want. They always urge us, to tell the truth; not what we think they want to hear. Great clients say: ”I’m not hiring you to make what I have in mind.” Our clients want and invite challenge, provocation, and a different point of view. This is all enabled by candour.

Clients trust us, and need us, to bring that honesty. And here is the truth about clients: the more senior and successful your client, the fewer people they have who speak their truth, the more ‘yes’ people you are surrounded by.

It can be quite lonely being senior for this very reason. Keep that in mind as you think about your role as a trusted advisor. Being honest takes courage, but it’s always worth it. When we embrace candour, we communicate our basic human facts instead of building a wall around ourselves. I’m a candour advocate, aren’t you?

Lindsay Pattison


published on

10 December 2021


Communications Experience

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