Name: Carl Thomson
Company: The Whitehouse Consultancy
Job title: Director
Did you go to university?
I went to the University of Dundee, where I studied Modern History and Political Science. I spent six months working as an English teacher in Moscow before going to the University of Glasgow to study for a Master of Philosophy in Russian and East European Studies.
My original career goal was to be an academic and lecture in Russian politics. However, once I completed my Masters I knew that I wasn’t prepared to spend another three years studying and started to think about doing something different. I wanted to get experience in politics, and when the opportunity came along to work in Parliament I grabbed it with both hands. Working in politics gave me a fantastic grounding to go into public affairs and political communications, which is where I’ve built my career over the last six years.
What was your first job in PR?
I started as a Political Consultant at The Whitehouse Consultancy in 2010. My first job in politics was working for the Conservative MP Theresa May for a year, doing policy research around the time of the 2005 General Election.
I then went to work for John Redwood, another Conservative MP, running his Westminster office and arranging campaigns, organising events and responding to enquiries from his constituents. I learnt a lot from John and he instilled in me an appreciation for business and the innovation of the private sector. By the time I was ready to leave Parliament I knew I wanted to work for an agency specialising in political PR.
I’m lucky that I joined an agency that’s dynamic and sees its people as its best assets
How did you get from there to your current role?
My experience in the House of Commons and involvement in politics gave me some good insights which I was able to translate into a public affairs career. I’m lucky that I joined an agency that’s dynamic and sees its people as its best assets. I was given a lot of freedom to look after major accounts and to grow and develop within the company.
I was a Political Consultant for two years before being promoted to Senior Consultant in 2012 and to Associate Director in 2013. In 2014 I was made a Director with responsibility for supporting the Managing Director in the running of the company, with a focus on business development, providing strategic advice to key clients and managing our team of 20 consultants. It’s a challenging but rewarding role and one that I find incredibly fulfilling.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
There’s a great deal of variety in what I do. One day I can be in Westminster with a client meeting MPs and Peers, or travelling to Brussels to brief MEPs and European Commission officials. I also do a lot of work on business development. This includes leading pitch teams, writing proposal papers and identifying opportunities to promote the company externally. I spend a lot of time out of the office, attending conferences and going to networking events to try and build our reputation and find new clients.
As with any small business there can be a lot of bureaucracy involved, such as dealing with suppliers, looking after our accounts and financial projections and all the day to day challenges of keeping the company going.
What do you like most about working in PR?
I like getting involved in different issues and having the opportunity to be creative. Being at Whitehouse has allowed me to work on global brands such as Google, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Britvic. PR and public affairs is a very outward facing industry and I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from some talented people.
the most challenging thing is always being aware of the need to deliver enough fee income to pay salaries and turn a good profit
What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
Working in an agency environment, the most challenging thing is always being aware of the need to deliver enough fee income to pay salaries and turn a good profit. I think the most useful thing I’ve learned during my time at Whitehouse is how to be commercially minded and think like a businessman as much as a PR consultant.
Who is your PR inspiration?
The best people in our industry aren’t necessarily the ones who feel the need to brag about it. People who I rate are Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the guru behind the No to AV campaign; Francis Ingham from the Public Relations Consultants’ Association; and Richard Royal, formerly of Ladbrokes and Britvic.
it’s important to be a kind person
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
When I decided to get into politics my Dad told me, “be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you’ll see them again on your way back down”. I think that’s a good principle to live by. PR and public affairs can sometimes feel like it’s dominated by pushy and aggressive people. In that kind of environment, it’s important to be a kind person and treat others the way you would want them to treat you.
Which PR blogs/newsites/websites etc do you read?
I find Public Affairs Networking one of the best resources for those working in the public affairs industry. I also enjoy reading Public Affairs News, PR Week and of course, PR Careers.
If you want to work in public affairs, the best thing you can do is become involved in politics
What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
Get as much practical experience as possible. Your degree subject and result matters less than being able to demonstrate that you can go out and make things happen. Seeking out internships can help break the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario that most graduates face when they can’t get a job because of a lack of experience, but can’t get experience without a job.
If you want to work in public affairs, the best thing you can do is become involved in politics, whether that’s by volunteering for a political party; doing research for a think-tank; going out campaigning or writing articles for political websites. I stood as a Parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party in 2005 and in my spare time I’m an elected local councillor. The insights and experience that this gives me are a tremendous advantage when advising clients.