Steve Blakeman, Founder & CEO, Influenza & Award-Winning Author

Steve Blakeman is Founder & CEO at Influenza. Prior to his current role, Steve was the Global Media lead for Nestle at Mindshare and was CEO for OMD in Asia for 4 years based in Singapore. He was named by LinkedIn as one of their top voices in 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015. He also won ‘Agency Publisher of the Year’ and has worked with Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Coca Cola and many others. He is the author of How to be a Top 10 Writer on LinkedIn and Billy Bullsh!t Talks Business. He was recognized by Media Week for their ’30 Under 30’ people to watch in the industry in 1995 and Drum Magazine’s ‘Rising Star’ nomination for 3 consecutive years. He has also been a regular judge at award events such as the Cannes Media Lions, AME’s, EFFIE’s, Festival of Media, Cristal and Spikes.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Steve shared his professional background, the top 3 skills every future-ready leader must possess, the secret sauce behind his success, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Steve, please tell us a bit about your background and areas of interest.

I have worked in advertising, media and communications for over 35 years now initially in the UK and then in Asia for a decade. Over the years I developed an interest in writing about the industry and then ultimately into fiction writing which led to two books being published. My areas of interest have always been driven by technology and more recently how that manifests itself in social media.

With more than 308k+ Followers on LinkedIn, our readers would love to know how do you tailor your content to your audience? Also, do you feel a sense of responsibility towards your followers?

The content I curate for LinkedIn is primarily on topics which I personally have an interest in. Thankfully my followers also appear to have similar interests. I also write with a level of playfulness that I think makes the content more accessible.

Are there any hobbies or interests that helped you develop your writing skills?

I just like to write. I always have done. And so, I am constantly writing something, whether it be an article and opinion piece or a tweet. As the author Stephen King once said, writers write.

You are also the author of 2 best-selling books, ‘How to be a Top 10 Writer on LinkedIn’ and ‘Billy Bullsh!t Talks Business’. What was the inspiration behind writing these books and what was the most challenging part for you as a writer?

Both books are very different. How to be a Top 10 Writer on LinkedIn is more or less a self-help guide on how to increase your following on LinkedIn. Through my own experiences on how to gain a following of over 300,000 followers I share hints and tips on how anyone can achieve the same. Billy is a comedy business book focused on a character who only ever speaks in idioms and jargon so run that up your flagpole and see how it waves in the wind!

What does literary success look like to you?

I don’t measure success in terms of sales, even though both books have been successful. I am more interested in people’s reactions to the books. On Amazon, both books have 5-star ratings and the comments I have received for them are glowing and that for me is far more fulfilling.

How do you unplug and step away from work?

I used to do a lot of running and cycling but after a heart attack 2 years ago I have had to dial back on those activities. So, more recently, I have started painting. I’m not very good at it but I enjoy it immensely and it gives me time to switch off and focus on being creative.

In your opinion, which are the top 3 skills that every future-ready leader must possess?

To me that’s an easy one to answer. Be authentic, be flexible and be inclusive.

You have been a recipient of numerous prestigious awards and accolades over the years. What is the secret sauce behind your success?

The secret to winning awards is focus. When I became CEO of OMD in Asia they had won less than 50 awards in the previous 3 years and yet they prided themselves on being the most creative media agency but that clearly wasn’t being reflected in award wins. So, I made a conscious decision to focus on awards, showcasing our best work in a stylized manner and turning it into a competition amongst our 20+ offices in Asia Pacific. The result? In the next 3 years we won over 500 awards.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

My CEO in APAC was Barry Cupples and when I first joined, he asked me what I personally wanted to achieve, and I said I wanted to win the Cannes Lions Media Agency of the Year. He said that we could make that happen if we worked closely together and we set a deadline of winning it within 5 years. It only took us 3 years.

What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

I think I achieved way more than I ever expected to when I first embarked on my career journey, so I don’t really have any more personal goals as I have already exceeded them. That said, I want to put something back into the industry that treated me so well and that’s why I have been exploring non-executive roles and teaching gigs.

What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Autocratic leadership doesn’t work anymore, your leadership needs to be collaborative, inclusive and respectful if you want your team to give their best.

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