What I've Learnt: Mark Pinsent, Managing Director, Europe at The Hoffman Agency

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Mark Pinsent

At the forefront of the European division global PR and communications agency The Hoffman Group is Mark Pinsent. He and his team handle accounts from across the continent, all from their Devonshire Square location.

Mark has a wealth of experience across various industry names - having been London MD at Metia, as well as holding positions at Weber Shandwick, Edelman and Shine Communications.

He's been MD, Europe of The Hoffman Agency - which has locations in China, Singapore, Indonesia, and the US among many more - since the beginning of 2017. We caught up with Mark to learn some of the most important lessons he's learnt.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

As a parent I’ve been conditioned to early mornings (though now my kids are teenagers, they’ll happily stay in bed until noon). But I’ve actually grown to really enjoy the bit of spare time ahead of the start of the working day that an early morning gives me. A cup of tea, radio on, catch up on the news, maybe even a bit of exercise before starting to think too much about work. It seems to set me up nicely for a positive and productive day. 

What’s been your luckiest break?

My second job was as a marketing executive at Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. But the lucky break was actually being made redundant after four months.

The company was being set up for sale and though I’d been a lifelong motorsports fan and it seemed like the dream job, the redundancy made me reconsider my career direction. With a bit of marketing and PR experience under my belt, and a degree in Computer Science, I combined the two, headed back to central London, and found my way into the exploding technology communications industry.

I was with Next Fifteen group agencies for the following eight years. I met my future wife, made lifelong friends and contacts and, frankly, had an amazing time. It was the foundation for my career.

What's your best failure?

This is a great question! There have been plenty along the way, and almost all can be attributed to a lack of preparation. It’s a hackneyed old saying, but there’s a reason for it: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. 

But failure’s OK, as long as you learn something from it. One personal failure that sticks in the mind (not least because most of those with me at the time frequently remind me of it) came while cycling in the Pyrenees back in 2009.

On a roasting hot afternoon, after perhaps one ham baguette too many at lunch, two kilometres from the top of the 15km climb up to Col d’Aspin, I got off my bike and jumped in the support van to the summit - I’d just had enough. Afterwards, I was incredibly frustrated with myself. 650km coast-to-coast, and I’d done them all apart from those two! 

In many more trips to the mountains since, I’ve always made it up every climb. I’ve never been quick uphill, but what I’ve learnt is that as long as you keep moving forwards, however slowly, you’ll eventually reach your destination.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

We only have three commodities we can personally invest: our money, our time, and our energy. The last two are, for me, the most important, and the best investment I’ve made is time and energy in maintaining a network of close friends and family, and professional contacts. Certainly, the latter has been incredibly valuable in my career, and the former more important to me than they probably appreciate. There’s also a lovely crossover between the two, with some of my professional contacts becoming the closest friends.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

If I say anything other than “pretty bloody good, thanks,” then everyone who knows me will immediately lambast me on various messaging apps and social media, so… pretty bloody good, thanks. 

We moved to South-West France about 15 years ago, and still live here. It’s a lovely part of the world. I work from home a couple of days a week, and most weeks also spend a few days in London (in my view, the world’s greatest city). I’m a huge advocate of using technology to bring more flexibility to my and the team’s working life. 

And while I think there’s an inevitability in sometimes having to work outside ‘traditional’ hours, this should become the norm or expected, and be balanced with flexibility. Though I saw a quote on Twitter the other day that made me smile: “We seemed to have become accustomed to sometimes working at the weekends, but not to going to the cinema on a Tuesday afternoon.” Perhaps we should.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I’m a pretty voracious reader, so it’s tricky to recommend just the one! It’s probably a bit predictable – and I know many who have read it don’t hold with its conclusions – but I did find Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus incredibly thought-provoking. It’s a great read for anyone who’s interested in where the current trajectory of technology is taking us, particularly in relation to AI, robotics and human augmentation.

And for those of us involved in tech communications, it highlights that many of the issues we’ll be dealing with in the coming years will be ethical and moral rather than technological.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

It would probably be to be bolder. As my dear mum might say, I was a bit of a “late bloomer” - quite reserved, a bit shy, and not one to push myself forward. So, 21-year-old me: you’re alright pal, so get a bit more involved. Work hard, be reliable, learn all the time, make friends, see the world, take responsibility for yourself. It’ll be fine. 

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My Dad, without doubt. He started a business when I was about four years old, and I grew up watching him build and grow it. I also used to work there during my university summer holidays, so experienced his management style first-hand.

It taught me that you can be yourself and succeed in business; that treating people with respect and compassion is always the best way, even when delivering bad news or negative feedback; that work can and should be fun; and that doing your best is as much as anyone can ever ask of you (and as much as you can ask of yourself). 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

It was as much a surprise to me as everybody, but at a recent karaoke evening I sang the whole of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, without once looking at the screen. 

What does success look like to you?

The ability to choose how I spend my time, who I spend it with, and where.