Did you go to university?
I went to DMU in Leicester to study English. After that I did a post-grad in magazine journalism and went on to work for a number of trade titles. Since moving across to PR I’ve also completed the Second Steps course at Manchester Metropolitan University.
What was your first job in PR?
My first job in PR was in a local authority in the North East. I did some freelance work for Gateshead Council and then joined them as a communications officer. It was a great place to start because you worked with such a broad range of people and handled a very wide spectrum of issues. It could be anything from bin collections to a media enquiry from Brazil about the Angel of the North. Previously I worked as a magazine journalist in London and was lucky enough to cover a wide range of topics. The job involved interviewing a really broad range of people and I went from talking to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, to one-time England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
It was all about adapting the skills I had and applying them in a new way
How did you get from there to your current role?
I suppose it was the usual combination of hard work, timing and good luck. My first big break was probably landing a staff job on a trade magazine in London because the competition was so intense. In PR terms it was taking that first step, crossing the journalistic divide and moving over to the dark side (as some might say!). At Gateshead, Robert Schopen was the head of communications who took a chance on me as I had no previous local government experience. I learned loads there and was able to work on some fantastic, innovative and interesting campaigns at a really exciting time for the North East. It was all about adapting the skills I had and applying them in a new way. I made plenty of mistakes but also had a few wins which meant I was able to move to a head of comms role at the start of a completely new organisation.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
This role is an excellent mix of strategic and operational communications. I get to do the board level, theoretical aspect of PR that helps shape and inform some really important work, as well as some of the actual ‘doing’ which makes it much more interesting.
communication is an intrinsic and basic human need
What do you like most about working in PR?
We’re working in a time of great change but that brings opportunity as well as challenge. As practitioners we’ve never had so many opportunities to demonstrate the value we can add and work with so many exciting new tools. Without sounding too poncy communication is an intrinsic and basic human need. As a society we long to connect and converse with each other. The rise and rise of digital comms has actually helped us deliver proper public relations in a much more genuine way. If you can do it well you will always be in demand. In the NHS of course the work we do is so visible and often immediate, so we get to tell those very inspirational stories that impact on people’s lives.
What’s the hardest thing about working in PR?
Probably staying relevant. Like Steve Martin I went grey at about 30 so it shows what I know.
Who is your PR inspiration?
I’m lucky enough to work with inspirational people every day. Doctors, nurses, patients fighting terrible diseases and people fundraising for our charity just to help others. I think we sometimes look up for inspiration when actually we should be looking at our own teams. In my last job I ran an internship scheme for new graduates and I’m sure I learned more from them, than they did from me.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
You can get good advice from everywhere if you chose to listen to it, but I’ve come to realise that the most important thing is to trust your gut feeling and go with your instinct.
Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
Probably too many to mention but my essential read is definitely Comms2Point0 for quality, practical advice. Stephen Waddington also has an excellent PR blog and of course PRcareers [ed – thanks Ross!]. I should also plug a couple of projects I’ve been involved in that provide hundreds of great PR case studies so look up #FuturePRoofed and #PRstack for more free information.
find a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd
What are your tips for aspiring PRs?
Be yourself and stick to your principles. I think it’s much harder to break into the profession now than when I started 10 years ago. There are so many talented people that you need to find a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd, so think about what extra you can bring aside from the essentials. You will need to be able to stand out and demonstrate what makes you different from the hundreds of others. As well as being very good academically you should still remember that ultimately this is a people business. As they said in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way.