Mantis works with Cantium, a Local Authority Trading Company (LatCo) born out of Kent County Council offering professional HR, IT and Finance services to the health and public sectors. It was in fact the first client we won ‘virtually’ when the pandemic took hold in 2020. Account Director Lauren Gill sat down with Pete Fennell, Cantium’s Head of Marketing, to find out what it is like to move from a career in the private sector to work in the public sector, and in particular, for a LatCo.
Pete, tell us a bit about your professional background and what attracted you to this role at Cantium?
My background before Cantium was actually in high volume consumer facing industries – I worked for Carphone Warehouse, Currys PC World and on the retail side, for Tesco. But my roots were in the B2B space, as prior to that I held B2B focused roles at Visa International for EMEA, and agency side in the financial and automotive sectors. I think LatCo’s are an interesting proposition – they are born out of the public sector, but have a commercial edge. The business model and ethos of profit for purpose means that everything goes back into public services and so it feels worthwhile. I thought it would be great next career move and an opportunity to grow.
You joined Cantium just over a year ago, so you’ve spent most of your time there so far in lockdown! How have you found that?
I’ve been on board for a year and four months now – time flies! The key to it has been having good infrastructure in place and displaying the same behaviours as in the office, just on screen instead. What it has done for all of us is allowed us to critically re-evaluate how we will go back when we eventually do. I think there will be the emergence of a hybrid working model, the office will be a space for collaboration but your primary desk will be at home.
Starting a new role and doing it remotely is a challenge, but it’s increasingly become the norm. Other things which have helped are our flexible working policy – Cantium Working – which means if you want to take a break and go to the gym at any time of the day for example, you can. We’re very focused on outcomes as a business as opposed to making sure everyone is on their email.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the public sector?
I enjoy the challenge of it – the market structure, the complexity of the stakeholders make it a big challenge. Also, the pride in being able to give back, albeit from a commercial platform, makes it very rewarding. Our recent work in digital inclusion, and supporting IT infrastructure at vaccination centres for example, has brought home the scale of the pandemic and I feel proud that we’ve played a part in the response to it.
What has the impact of the pandemic been on Cantium’s business?
We operate a three-year business plan at Cantium. The pandemic has, in certain areas, taken customer focus away from procurement and into crisis. However, for us, the plan remains the same. We often say – the mobility has redefined the geography – meaning that the advent of home working now means you can engage with people irrespective of where they are in the country – and this has really opened up new opportunities for us. Our roots are in the Kent geography, but our reach is now much wider.
What is it about Cantium’s public sector heritage that sets you apart and how does it inform the way you do business?
It brings a unique insight into the challenges and expectations in the public sector. Being able to service both the public and private sectors enables us to cross-pollinate knowledge, which is useful to bring back to the public sector.
How have you met the challenge of starting out in local government and then expanding into other sectors such as health?
The health sector in structure is very complex, but we have long term growth ambitions for it, particularly as we see now more than ever the importance of integration across the full public sector spectrum. The pandemic has had an impact on the focus of integration. As we tentatively emerge from it, we see and hear signs from government that the people who went into the pandemic with a more data-driven offering for citizens saw the benefit of that. People are realising more focus is needed on shared care. We will see a day when interoperability is the default, but the individual sectors are still to go through a transformation piece.
It is also important to talk about occupational health too – across health, social care, education. Employee wellbeing has really risen to the fore – especially mental wellbeing – so it’s not just big transformation we are looking at, but wellbeing activity in health too.
How have you set about securing business beyond Kent’s borders?
Reputation is everything as a brand. Our work with Kent County Council (KCC) gives us great reference-ability which provides a strong driver with other areas. We have the insight, the leading edge tech, and a proven case study that we can meet demands.
How are you using marketing, what does your team look like?
I’ve organised the team so that there are brand managers for each sector – they sit at the heart of the business and market insight to understand the drivers for each sector. Doing this has enabled us to focus on two key deliverables. We had to expand our reach and awareness – which is where PR came in – and our digital capability. We see our website as a shop window, especially in times of remote working – so we’ve expanded our digital activity to drive visits and better understand customer behaviour. We’ve invested more in marketing in the last 12 months, and will continue to over the next 12 months. We’ve also added some other strings to our bow, like our podcast – Work Is Not A Place – which has been downloaded in over 30 countries to date.
During the pandemic’s first wave, from a messaging standpoint, we took our foot of the gas purposefully – it was a conscious decision to tell our customers we’re here if you need us, rather than direct propositions. As people started to adapt coming out of the second lockdown, we were well positioned to drive our propositions in the right channels, and we’ve had good results.
Why did you decide to work with a tech PR company and what made you pick Mantis?
We identified a gap in the mix – it was thought-leadership which would enable us to put the Cantium brand into the markets we serve with an interesting point of view. When it came to choosing a partner, we were looking for a tech PR agency which could cover the verticals and have a core understanding from a market and tech perspective. Our model now in terms of working is very much outcome-focused – we are used to and embracing the remote working environment – so we wanted a partner that understood and practiced that.
We could see that Mantis fits that brief perfectly and the proof is in the results – we set tough objectives, and they’ve been met, and often exceeded. We share the same ethos. To understand how important PR is now to us, PR and thought-leadership features on our company scorecard with metrics to be met in terms of reach. We take a holistic view though– we understand how PR contributes to raising our awareness. From a strategy point of view, we are identifying trends in markets and it is important for us to get our perspective in the mix. We’ve also learned that it’s important not to try and do everything – we focus on some key topics and themes to take us through each quarter and help us build a picture of Cantium as a thought leader in the public sector space.